Self-Service Support: Are You Doing It Wrong?

March 7, 2011

Customer self-service certainly has its advantages: customers can find answers they need regardless of call center hours, without waiting for an agent to assist them, at remarkable cost savings to the company.  However, when an interactive voice response (IVR) system is poorly designed, hard to use, or inefficient, irritated callers either transfer to an agent (who then has to cool the situation down) or worse, they drop the call – and maybe the company – entirely.

Customer contact professionals recently surveyed by the International Customer Management Institute gave most of their own self-service channels (IVR systems, web knowledge bases, virtual agents, etc.) a mediocre rating, and many say that they don’t have any idea of what their customers think of their self-service experience. Kind of surprising considering the amount of investment that goes into the systems, the level of cost savings these systems are supposed to achieve, and most importantly, the fact that these systems are the first point of contact to a customer who is reaching out to get a problem solved.

“There is a significant lack of tracking and measurement in the increasingly complex and dynamic multichannel contact center environment,” says Layne Holley, ICMI’s director of community services. “An alarming number of centers don’t know when customers have used alternative contact channels, or if they were able to complete their transactions. First-call resolution (and in this case, truly first-contact resolution, regardless of channel) remains dangerously low on the list of measurement priorities. Also problematic is that contact centers continue to neglect to measure customer satisfaction and gather and analyze feedback. The satisfaction survey process is critical to uncovering valuable customer data.”

As Holley noted,  two-thirds of survey respondents said that they don’t know if or when a customer has tried to self-service but then opted for a live representative. According to the ICMI, a transaction that is completed in an IVR system costs about 50 cents, but a typical call handled by a live agent costs more than ten times as much – about five or six dollars. Given this cost differential and the potential loss of customer goodwill, it seems critical that companies a) figure out what their drop and transfer-out rates are and b) take that information and get to the source of the problem.

Measure the success of your self-service channels

So first, how do you measure your self-service channel’s performance? For those using IVRs, Holley recommends computer telephony integration systems, which enable transactional analysis. These systems also pass the data from the self-service channel to an agent, so the customer doesn’t have to tell the story all over again – reducing call time and expense as well as customer frustration.  “The cost for this enabling technology will vary based on call center size and other factors, but it’s a solid investment in infrastructure for an organization that’s taking customer self-service seriously,” Holley says. “When you don’t measure completion and transfer-out rates, you also can’t measure the ROI of your self-service technologies. This is a large investment for many organizations, so it doesn’t pay not to know how many customers can’t successfully use these channels.”

Once you’ve measured how well your self-service channels are working for you and your customers, you can begin to improve performance by examining your system’s design.  You can start by performing self-tests on your technology. “If your interactive voice response (IVR) system is already live, frequently dial into the system, just as a customer would, and evaluate such things as menu logic, awkward silences, speech recognition performance and — to gauge the experience of callers who choose to opt out of the IVR — hold times and call-routing precision. You can also ask some of your agents to do this and report their experiences back to you,” Holley says.

Implement a formal customer feedback plan

What may even be more important than testing the technology is ensuring that the system is designed with your customers in mind in the first place. The ICMI study recommends giving careful, inclusive thought to design – “Use customer feedback and customer data to make customer-centric self-service and multichannel experiences. Understanding who you customers are – their segments, preferences, and expectations – must be part of your design.”

“For more companies than you might think, the best suggestion we have is that they simply initiate a formal feedback plan,” Holley says. “You’d be surprised at how many companies don’t have one.” Whether you are reaching out via post-call IVR surveys, pop-up web questionnaires, or e-mail correspondence, learning how your customer feels and acting on it can dramatically improve their satisfaction – not to mention your bottom line.

Don’t keep your customers on hold. Learn more about offering your customers top-notch support with our Guide to Multi-Channel Customer Support and our Guide to Supporting Your Customers With Twitter.