Customers and contact centres want speedy resolutions to their problems, and self-service customer support is fast becoming the preferred way to achieve that. A Nuance Enterprise report revealed that 67% of respondents preferred to use self-service rather than speak to a customer representative.
While it remains crucial to have a regularly upgraded IVR system, it is now only one piece of the self-service puzzle. The rapid adoption of new mobile technology, advances in voice-activated systems and the rise of omnichannel customer experience design has transformed how customers interact with organisations.
Customers demand more – they want a menu of self-service options that reflect their communication preferences and help them resolve their queries quickly and conveniently from web platforms, knowledge centres, SMS chat with ‘pushed’ instructions and forums to chatbots and mobile apps.
They also expect that using self-service customer support options before speaking to someone will provide them with a better experience. For example, if they’ve already completed identification information, they expect customer service staff to greet them by name and have data about their recent interactions available immediately. If they are transferred to someone else, they don’t want to have to repeat their ID validation or details of their enquiry.
In this post, we’ll look at a few reasons why widening your self-service offering is vital for business sustainability, before highlighting several self-service innovations that you may want to consider.
Customers now expect a variety of self-service options
People naturally want support options that require the least amount of effort. Studies have shown that their perceived level of effort is usually higher when speaking to a representative or using a chatbot. While lower, perceived effort varies across different self-service channels. Offering more than just IVR will ensure everyone has a self-service option that feels easy, whether that is a mobile app, virtual customer assistant or SMS chat.
Additionally, customers have different service needs at each point in their journey. You must meet their expectations by aligning various self-service and in-person support options with those stages.
For example, when researching a product, customers are looking for pricing, bundling and support information or service plans, so they may prefer web platforms, live chat or virtual customer assistants. As new customers, they may require assistance with product or service activation or training via mobile apps, SMS and knowledge bases. As they become mature customers, they will seek support for troubleshooting and billing via IVR, live representatives or webchat.
As suggested in a CMSwire article, this does more than just reduce call volumes; it ensures customers have a smooth digital experience with your organisation and engage with you on their terms.
COVID-19 forced many organisations to implement more self-service customer support options to deflect calls away from contact centres, or augmented contact centre experiences with mobile apps and SMS. Some customers may have encountered this type of customer support for the first time; however, now that they are familiar with these features, it’s what they expect.
Organisations that use a variety of self-service options are more competitive
Excellent customer service is a proven competitive advantage. An American Express survey found that 90% of customers use customer service as a factor when deciding whether or not to deal with a company. Providing self-service channels that speed up and simplify transactions makes a significant difference to customer retention.
Furthermore, offering multiple self-service options gives organisations insights they can use to finetune aspects of their business. The data collected via digital self-service interactions (such as which channels they prefer, what the most common problems are, and how fast issues are resolved) can be shared within the organisation to improve contact centre operations, refine products and services, and tailor customer experiences.
Comprehensive self-service options allow representatives to do their best work
One of the primary purposes of self-service technology is to allow customers to complete easily automated tasks or those with predictable outcomes. Different self-service channels lend themselves to particular tasks, so by utilising a combination, you can empower customers and free up phone staff to deal with more complicated enquiries.
Reserving CS representatives for more complex enquiries not only saves time and money; it increases employee engagement and retention. Complex queries require a broader skill set and are more intellectually demanding, making this work more exciting and fulfilling.
For example, queries relating to emotionally strenuous events (e.g., insurance claims for fire or flood or cancelling accounts for a deceased relative) require staff with technical expertise and emotional intelligence.
Furthermore, this unlocks training and professional development opportunities (a critical factor in employee engagement), as team members need to learn to handle more diverse, multi-part queries with several systems in play. Training needs to be personalised to play on individual strengths and fill specific skills gaps as technology evolves.
Self-service innovations and trends to consider:
Now that we know why we should expand our self-service capabilities, what innovations can we use to enhance the customer experience?
New IVR technology
IVR remains a cornerstone of self-service contact centre technology, but it has moved well beyond old-fashioned phone trees. Recent innovations include:
Businesses are rapidly adopting conversational IVR in response to the rise of digital assistants like Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant. People are now comfortable speaking naturally to digital assistants, but this means they prefer a conversational experience from brands. Additionally, organisations can now assign a personality to their IVR to be the ‘voice’ of their brand, which becomes a recognisable part of the customer experience.
This technology allows IVR to use information about previous customer interactions (for example, they received an error message or made a payment) to deduce what they may need and personalise the experience accordingly.
Visual voice helps the IVR system complete complicated transactions by augmenting voice interaction with SMS notifications, forms, maps, weblinks, and more. Customers use their phone to submit open-ended data (like an email address) or schedule an appointment while the IVR is still on the line, enabling them to complete actions using self-service rather than speaking to a human being.
Chatbots and virtual customer assistants
Gartner estimate that artificial intelligence (AI) will handle 15% of all customer service interactions by the end of 2021.
AI-powered chatbots, voice bots and virtual customer assistants can respond to high volumes of enquiries very quickly, guiding customers to the right resources or performing basic transactions with a well-defined process in a fraction of the time it takes for a human.
You may have already experienced having a text-based conversation on a website with a virtual assistant when looking for information or seeking help.
Technology is evolving to make bots more efficient and enjoyable to interact with. Higher quality text-to-speech processing is supported by improvements in natural language understanding (NLU) and natural language processing (NLP), and machine learning is becoming increasingly sophisticated.
Integrated mobile app and contact centre experiences
Mobile phone-enabled self-service functions can now be deployed across multiple channels, including SMS, chat, web, email and native smartphone apps.
Customers can undertake transactions via SMS and chat, engage with an app while speaking to a representative, view their status in a queue, or even click a button to talk to a live representative.
Omnichannel communication is heavily influencing technological trends in the customer service and contact centre spaces.
Customers expect that interactions with self-service technology flow seamlessly into their communications with a representative over the phone. This should preferably happen without repeating their query or personal information or explaining what they have done to resolve their issue previously.
While multi-channel communication is a core component of a contact centre’s communication strategy, each channel’s customer experience tends to be different. Adopting an omnichannel approach means considering all customer touchpoints, regardless of which device they use as part of the one, seamless experience. Customers can then navigate between touchpoints with ease.
Omnichannel communication helps companies standardise service delivery, understand their customers better, and use AI to pull up relevant information and responses to speed up issue resolution.