Self-Service and Automation Customer Care Best Practices

Everyone’s talking about self-service automation, it seems. Of course, no one likes to talk about the amount of work that goes into automation. The more sophisticated and complex the system(s) undergoing automation, the more care and effort needs to be put into it to make it all work right.

Chatbots are fairly simple, right?

There’s a classic job interview question used by some organizations to discover how candidates think: Would you please walk me through instructions on how to make a peanut butter sandwich?

The candidate will often respond with, “Get two pieces of bread…” at which point the interviewer asks, “Where is the bread? How do I get it?” The candidate responds, and the interviewer continues to ask for more details. Where is the peanut butter? Is there only one kind, or do we need to specify “chunky” or “creamy”? Do we need a plate to put the sandwich on? Do we need a butter knife to spread the peanut butter? And so on.

Let’s consider chatbots—automated responses to customer or end-user queries. We envision the capability to have a user-facing chatbot that can answer basic questions and serve up links to helpful information. That’s great, and can certainly free up analyst time for more value-added work. But where does the chatbot get the information? If the chatbot can’t find the answer based on the user’s question, it’s useless. If it serves up the wrong answer, it’s worse than useless.

We’ve all seen impressive chatbot demos that cover just about every kind of question and response, but almost all of those demos are based on publicly searchable information, like the results of an internet search or on canned responses. What about your knowledge? Is it behind your firewall? Is it searchable by anyone on the planet? Chances are your knowledge is not accessible from outside your organization. So again: Where does the chatbot get its information about your organization and your systems? It comes from your knowledge repository and will only be as good as your knowledge.

Your knowledge, by the way, does not consist only of the articles in your knowledge base; it can contain configuration information, directory information, asset information, and so on. And yes, it can contain information from an internet search, as long as that information is accurate for your organization. In fact, the more data (pertinent data, that is) you make available to your chatbot, the better off you will be— as long as it is (say it with me) accurate, complete, and up-to-date. The chatbot in our example is capable of providing answers much faster than a human can either type or copy and paste, but providing incorrect information faster is quite obviously not the goal. Hence, your knowledge must be accurate.

Likewise, if your chatbot provides an answer that leaves out important details, its response will be confusing and likely unusable by the customer or end-user. Your knowledge must contain all the steps or all the information the customer needs; it must be complete. If the chatbot doesn’t have the information that a system or application was changed last week and has new instructions for use, the bot will serve up information that is out of date, leaving the user frustrated and obliged to contact you. This undercuts the purpose of the chatbot, which is to accelerate answers and keep the routine inquiries out of the support center. (Hint: Updating knowledge needs to be part of your release and deployment activities.) Your chatbot can’t do everything all by itself, so make sure your knowledge is ready to help it.

Beyond automation tools like chatbots, what are some other ways the contact center can effectively leverage self-service, and encourage customer adoption? Brad Cleveland shares these tips:

  • Equip agents to educate customers on self-service options. Agents should be trained on the advantages and use of these alternatives so that they can encourage customers to use these options when appropriate.
  • Collect and analyze data about contacts currently handled in the contact center. Look for opportunities to provide self-service features or build communities that customers will want to use. Improved speed of access and around-the-clock availability are often at the top of the list.
  • Observe agents handling contacts, step-by-step. Your best agents really know how to serve customers; watching them work on any channel, including mobile channels, can present many opportunities for developing and improving self-service systems. In many ways, self-service systems can be modeled after effective agent practices.
  • Involve agents in system design. Your agents should actively serve on project teams responsible for building self-service systems. They can also help monitor and test systems and interpret customer behavior and feedback.
  • Integrate self-service and contact center systems and developments. Integrated systems can enable agents to use the information captured in self-service applications when assisting customers.
  • Capture customer feedback about self-service systems. The nature of input is that you’ll get a lot more of it when things go wrong than when they go right. Even so, customers who share their dissatisfaction represent the tip of the iceberg; in most cases, there will be many more who were dissatisfied but who did not bother to tell you. This information is essential to improving system design.
  • Enable customers to easily reach agents. If callers can’t reach an agent when necessary, they will often resent the need to use self-service systems. Support may take many forms, such as:
    • A clearly identified way to exit an IVR application
    • Prominently displayed telephone numbers on your website
    • Text-chat, click-to-talk, co-browsing capabilities
    • Email addresses and web templates for questions, comments, and other input
    • Posting access numbers and alternatives in relevant social communities
    • Mobile channel communication for convenient communication
  • Track data from all support modes and analyze it for improvement opportunities; specifically, why do customer contacts happen? Which do you want to encourage, and which do you want to prevent (as possible)?

Final Advice

Self-service systems must be an integrated part of your customer access strategy. If they’re perceived primarily as replacements for agents rather than complementary access channels that free agents to do more high-value work, then employees will be less enthusiastic about helping to improve them and encourage their use. But by keeping the focus on cultivating better ways to serve customers, self-service systems become an essential part of building valuable, cost-effective, and more personalized services. Your IVR or knowledge base doesn’t have to stand as a silo. As you’re on the journey toward becoming an omnichannel contact center, consider the ways self-service can enable a more seamless, integrated service.

For other integrated contact center best practices on social, chat, email, mobile, and omnichannel cloud, download our complete ebook guide “Top 10 Keys: Creating, Measuring, and Improving Omnichannel Journeys”.

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