Skip to main content

Article 6 min read

Self-service support: Why companies need it and how to do it right

See how self-service support and agents can work together to provide an exceptional service experience that keeps your customers coming back.

By Emily Miels

Last updated January 23, 2023

To offer superior support, customer service teams need their systems, tools, processes—and most of all—people to work in harmony. But in lieu of personalized service, self-service support is your stand-in, and it needs to be just as good as your agents.

This harmonious approach is important because 69 percent of customers want to resolve as many issues as possible on their own using self customer service options, according to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report.

Of course, self-service options don’t replace human support, as many customers still prefer speaking to a live agent when they have an issue. Rather, the two should seamlessly work together to provide an exceptional service experience that keeps your customers coming back.

Solving for speed and complexity

Time and complexity are key factors in choosing between self-service and an agent. Our Customer Experience Trends Report revealed that half of customers choose a channel based on how fast they need a response, and about 40 percent choose a channel based on the complexity of their issue.

With that in mind, self-service is ideal for customers who have simple queries and want a fast response, while those who have more complicated issues may need live assistance.

When customers prefer self customer service

Many customers want the ability to resolve problems on their own. A report from Microsoft found that 86 percent of customers expect a self-service option. Here are a few scenarios where a customer may opt for self-service options:

  • For a quick answer to a simple question. Self-service resources—blogs, FAQ pages, videos, chatbots—are all capable of resolving straightforward issues without intervention from an agent. Customers get their answers without waiting, and agents don’t answer the same question hundreds of times a day.
  • When wait times for representatives are long. Most of us have experienced the dreaded “Your call is important to us” automated message that repeats over and over as we sit on hold. When COVID-19 shutdowns began in March 2020, many customers spent hours on hold with airline and credit card companies. These long wait times are frustrating, so customers often prefer using self-service support options instead of waiting a long time to speak to an agent.
  • When support is needed after hours. Customers expect 24/7 support, but it isn’t feasible for most companies to have agents available all the time. Self-service allows customers to get the help they need outside of business hours without the cost of hiring additional employees.
    The goal for providing self customer service in these scenarios is to streamline interactions—especially to resolve simpler issues—saving both customers and agents time.

The goal for providing self customer service in these scenarios is to streamline interactions—especially to resolve simpler issues—saving both customers and agents time.

When customers rely on live assistance

Customers may require extra guidance when issues are more pressing, emotional, or anxiety-producing. Here are some situations where customers may turn to phone, chat, or messaging support with a live agent:

  • For urgent or “high-stakes” issues. If your child is sick or injured, for example, you’ll want to speak to a real-life medical professional—not a bot. When something is high-stakes, we tend to gravitate toward people to alleviate anxieties. A Harvard study found that simply having the option to contact a support agent directly (whether the customer did or not) significantly helped to relieve apprehension.
  • For complex issues. Some situations are ambiguous and complicated. In those cases, AI often isn’t suited to adequately respond and often leaves customers feeling dissatisfied. Since they’re not operating off a pre-programmed script, humans can provide more creative solutions and go the extra mile when necessary to increase satisfaction and resolve difficult issues.
  • When unable to access technology. According to the Pew Research Center, 15 percent of adults in the United States don’t own a smartphone, and 23 percent don’t have a computer at home. Even if they do have access to technology, many still feel uncomfortable using it and don’t fully embrace self customer service. These consumers will likely prefer direct contact with agents regardless of the nature of their issue.

When situations are more nuanced and emotionally charged, a human touch is often necessary. In cases like that, live agents provide the extra support customers need to feel confident and taken care of.

3 helpful self-service examples for customer service teams

Many customers prefer to start with self customer service because it’s convenient for simple issues. They can then get an agent involved if necessary.

Self-service is also a useful, cost-effective solution for businesses. Research from Gartner showed that live channels, including phone calls and emails, cost an average of $8.01 per contact, whereas self-service solutions cost about $0.10 per contact.

By offering self-service support, you’re freeing up agents to handle more complicated situations. It also empowers you to serve more customers and save your company thousands of dollars. To get started, consider implementing one of these three self-service solutions to work in tandem with your customer service reps.

Quiz: Improve your self-service with the right metrics

Take this quiz to identify the metrics that best capture the impact of your self-service efforts.

  1. Chatbots

    Chatbots communicate with customers across chat, messaging, email, Slack, and more. Bots use AI to understand user requests and provide a response based on programming.
    Chatbots are always online and great at answering basic questions, gathering information, and handling low-priority tickets to save your support team time. Case in point: Trustpilot, an online review platform, reached a 10 percent self-service resolution rate by using Zendesk’s Answer Bot as their first line of defense for deflection.
    If an agent is needed, chatbots can quickly connect the customer to live support. They may also transfer important background information and provide context, so the agent can quickly get up to speed with the customer’s request.Chatbot self-service support
  2. Help centers

    Help centers, also known as knowledge bases, are online support hubs that provide quick access to key resources, tutorials, and information for both customers and support agents. They should be searchable and easy to navigate.
    This type of self-service option is great for customers who want to research and troubleshoot issues on their own before contacting support. They can read in-depth guides or watch instructional videos at their own pace, rather than having to wait for an agent to walk them through it.
    Help centers should also include contact information for your support team or use a bot/live chat integration; that way, customers can get in touch with a human rep if they’re confused or need additional assistance. Agents can use knowledge-base articles, too, to answer customer questions and remain consistent in their responses.Help center self-service support
  3. Communities

    Communities are online forums and groups that allow customers to ask and answer questions publicly and share knowledge with others. These responses are generally saved and searchable so customers can view previous inquiries if they have a similar issue.
    Much like help centers, communities allow customers to dig in and problem-solve both basic and more complex issues when it’s most convenient. Because answers come from their peers and fellow users, customers enjoy a sense of camaraderie and human connection there as well.
    Your customer service team can monitor discussions and respond directly when necessary to avoid escalations. Given that the forum is open, agents can often assist multiple people with the same issue at one time.
    Communities as self-service support

Blend self customer service options with human support for the best results

Customers are happiest when they’re able to choose how to connect with you when they have a question or issue that needs to get resolved. By offering both self-service options and live assistance, you empower customers to get the answers they need—in the way they want them—and set agents up to provide the best customer service experience possible.

Related stories

1 min read

Zendesk AI: Unlocking the power of AI across your entire service experience

At a time of sky-high customer expectations, staffing shortages, and economic uncertainty, AI helps customer service teams scale—and stay nimble.

2 min read

How software and cloud services companies can scale CX with self-service and intelligent triage

See how top performers in the software and cloud services industry are using self-service and intelligent routing to scale their CX without sacrificing profitability.

8 min read

How to optimize your knowledge base for SEO

An effective knowledge base and SEO go hand in hand. Learn how to tailor your knowledge base to your customers' needs and help them find answers faster with these SEO best practices.

8 min read

Creating an FAQ page? Here's what you need to know.

Get creative with your FAQ page to provide robust self-service options and enrich your customer experience.