This piece was co-authored by Michael Rendelman, Senior Specialist, Research, and Keith McIntosh, Senior Principal, Research in the Gartner Customer Service and Support Practice.

Self-service has been regarded as a game-changer for customer service, but many organisations still struggle with low resolution rates. Customer service leaders say they have an average self-service resolution rate of just 41%, according to Gartner research. With many younger customers having what’s now called a “self-service or no service” mindset when facing customer service issues, customer service and support leaders have the opportunity to evolve their self-service options to retain and engage the younger generations who are making up an increasingly larger proportion of the customer base. 

Organisations with the most successful self-service programmes are the ones that prioritise CX and engagement, rather than just reducing assisted service volume. There are several key priorities organisations with successful self-service programmes implement and today we will share how organisations can rethink their self-service investments to produce stronger results.

Self-service remains a challenge for customers

According to a Gartner survey of customer service and support leaders, there are three important differences between the leaders and the laggers when it comes to how organisations are addressing self-service resolution: 

  1. The outcomes they expect from their self-service channels
  2. How they decide what customer issues to address in self-service
  3. How they manage self-service capabilities they’ve implemented

Organisations with the highest levels of success treat self-service as more than a numbers game at driving down assisted service contacts. These organisations focus on delivering quality customer experience and addressing needs that customers might not otherwise contact service to resolve. 

Going beyond deflection when setting self-service objectives

Among leaders surveyed, the overwhelming majority identified reducing the volume of contacts into assisted service, or deflection, as the main objective of their self-service channels. By reducing touchpoints in the customer experience, organisations are able to deliver both cost savings and free up agents who are then able to engage in more complex and value generating activities. 

The idea of deflection is an important balance as at times, it can come at the expense of CX if customers feel their needs are not being addressed. Leaders who report high rates of success in their self-service channels therefore differentiate themselves by balancing satisfaction. They are thinking beyond deflecting customers with self-service and are instead prioritising what happens when customers enter those self-service channels.

This is the shift successful organisations have and why thirty-two percent of successful organisations also expect their self-service channels to build customer loyalty.

Deciding which customer issues to address 

Determining what self-service solutions to develop is a challenging decision for customer service leaders. Surveyed leaders who used live contacts as their organisation’s primary means of deciding what self-service capabilities to build, report lower rates of resolution in their self-service channels. Sixty-three percent of leaders reporting low success rates agreed that calls were their primary signal for creating self-service resources, compared to forty-five percent of leaders reporting high success. 

This approach falls short because incoming calls provide leaders with an incomplete view of how customers are attempting to use their self-service channels. While customers may take the time to contact an assisted channel should self-service fail to meet their needs, others will simply abandon service entirely. 

Instead, here are four other methods of sensing how customers are using self-service: 

  1. Customer journey analytics and orchestration solutions which enable leaders to analyse cross-channel customer journeys
  2. Surveys asking customers for feedback on content, knowledge based articles and their experience with self-service
  3. Clickstream analytics evaluating how users are engaging with the site, content usage and mouse moves 
  4. Insight engines that track what users are searching for, what they’re finding, if they’re clicking on the results and the performance of individual pieces of content

Managing and continuous improvement of self-service capabilities

Continuously improving and updating self-service capabilities is critical to achieving ROI on an organisation’s investment. Despite this critical step, one in four customer service leaders surveyed by Gartner do not commit resources to improvement when launching a new self-service capability. 

Self-service resources cannot be developed as a project with a fixed endpoint. Forty-five percent of leaders reporting high rates of self-service success in self-service channels review their content at least quarterly, and only thirteen percent wait longer than a year before doing so. When managing self-service resources, leaders must:

  1. Make a long-term commitment to improving self-service content over time.
  2. Complement technology investments with the employee roles needed to continually identify needed changes and improvements. 
  3. Budget for permanent staffing and resources to implement these improvements.

Final thoughts

Overall, customer service leaders have made significant investments in self-service, but customers still struggle to resolve issues in those channels. Leaders should use a variety of demand signals when determining issues to address in self-service. They should protect investments by making a long-term commitment to improving self-service solutions over time. And, they should be more proactive in connecting customers to assisted service support if they are struggling with self-service solutions. 

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