Everyone is an SME in the self-service economy

Everyone is an SME in the self-service economy

February 5, 2018
Everyone is an SME in the self-service economy

Self-service experiences play a valuable role for scaling companies, helping them optimize internal resources and give customers more value. Even better, the same self-service content that helps your existing customers succeed is becoming increasingly important in obtaining new customers.

Amid this self-service win-win, the role of subject-matter expert (SME) has broadened. SMEs are no longer solely folks who sit within product teams. They’re employees across all functions and across your customer base. Well-implemented knowledge bases give more internal users the ability and motivation to become product experts, while more engaged customers become brand advocates.

The unfortunate reality is that companies don’t always provide the information their customers expect at any given moment, which means fewer opportunities to convert and more risk for churn. Let’s explore three key aspects of the relationship between customer expectations and self-service content:

  • How the self-service economy created new customer journeys and pathways.
  • Why internal and external SMEs can and should contribute to self-service experiences.
  • How self-service metrics can facilitate data-driven design and culture.

The self-service economy

Self-service experiences had a big hand in creating the customer journey we know and measure today. Google Trends data going back to 2004 shows that the term “customer journey” was barely searched for before 2012, but those searches have increased dramatically year-over-year in the past five years. This is no doubt due to increasing consumer demand for more seamless support, whichever pathway (or pathways) they took to interact with a brand.

Today, consumers expect and prefer to self-serve more than ever before. We know that informed buyers, sometimes SMEs in their own right, want to know product specs before they contact a sales person or complete a purchase on their own. Data shows that 89% of successful businesses recognize how critical it is to anticipate customer needs with assistive experiences. One of our global technology customers reduced inbound ticket volume by 25% after implementing a knowledge capture and reuse strategy, which leveraged self-service content, benefitting employees and customers alike.

Self-service content now plays a role in your product story long before a potential customer interacts with a human at your company, if they even get that far. Meet your consumer expectations with well-designed, thoughtfully created customer self-service portals, or they will jump to a competitor as fast as Google will take them there.

Empower SMEs across functions

Your content should be delivered in a seamless way that makes your functional divisions imperceptible to outsiders. Users don’t have the patience to dig through web versions of your user manuals for some information, explore a training portal for further product education, and search a user forum for answers to their specific questions. All the information they need should be accessible from wherever they are.

To pull off a seamless self-service experience, you need a sophisticated delivery strategy and the right tools and processes to empower everyone in the organization to contribute to the shared knowledge. In sum, effective self-service is a cross-departmental effort.

Sales folks can use technical content to push prospects through the sales funnel. We have customers in the SaaS and Manufacturing industries reporting that their sales agents use technical documentation from a knowledge base in up to 80 percent of all closed deals. Support agents in all tiers can leverage and optimize content to become masters of small domains. Furthermore, self-service knowledge can turn product users into product experts or even brand advocates, which leads to increased customer retention and upsell opportunities.

Your product knowledge should become a content ecosystem, where internal and external SMEs all have a role in influencing its evolution.

Data-driven design

The best part about a rapid increase in self-service interactions is the expanded opportunity to capture valuable data. Every measurable customer interaction feeds a pipeline of information, telling you exactly what your customers want and what their priorities were.

Think of this as a feedback loop that enables data-driven design. It can contribute to the evolution of individual features and help you identify small bugs before they become bigger ones. If a popular search term in your knowledge base also has a high ratio of tickets being created on that same topic, you could improve customer experiences in a big way by improving your self-service. Or, at a macro level, data can help promote a design culture at your company, influencing iterations of your products and services from the ground up.

Speaking of data: A global leader in subscription commerce and billing implemented a standout self-service content experience that resulted in Net Promoter Score (NPS) increase of 20 points. Think of the other untapped opportunities data can uncover for you.

Low effort, or else

In the new self-service world, customers are even more prone to taking the path of least resistance. Acknowledge how content plays a crucial role to deliver low-effort experiences across the customer journey. It pays off; organizations that prioritize self-service say:

  • Sales reps leverage self-service content to ramp up and close deals.
  • Customer support agents can more quickly understand problems and take a holistic approach to solving them.
  • Customer retention increases after providing relevant information in real time, either via a knowledge base or via an SME or agent finding relevant content on their own.

Self-service content allows internal and external users alike to play the role of SME, wherever they sit on your customer service landscape. Think of self-service as a chance to empower them—or lose them.

5 departments (other than support) that benefit from self-service

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