Businesses run into problems, and customers are the first to let them know. It’s always been like this and it always will be like this. What separates good businesses from the bad is how they handle and move forward from these problems.

If a business doesn’t acknowledge anything is wrong, customers will pick up on that and spend their money elsewhere; if a business gives their customers the opportunity to solve their problems for themselves, or by clearly and efficiently walking the customer through them, customers will most likely remain loyal. Support lines are supposed to help customers voice their issues, but many don’t want to be stuck on hold all day.

To understand what clients are looking for, and how they perceive customer service, we took a close look at Zendesk and Radial’s recent report on Customers Prefer Self‑Service to get a better idea of how customer service is evolving.

Why Do Customers Prefer Self Service?

Providing customers with self service options benefits businesses in a number of ways. It’s a cost effective solution that gives customers the power to solve their problems on their own, reducing time spent on the phone, or on a live web chat with agents.

This both frees up time for your agents to handle more complex issues, and gives customers the power they want to help themselves, instead of feeling like they have to waste time getting in touch with your business.

There are many reasons why customers prefer self service, but they all boil down to these three desires: convenience, consistency, and speed. Let’s break down each one.

1. Convenience

It’s a rare thing to come across a problem with a product or service, call a representative, and not be put on hold, go through endless automated instructions, and speak to a representative that understands what your problem is after the first explanation.

Thankfully, the soul-crushing odyssey of customer service has been simplified significantly over the years and will continue to do so – businesses are constantly looking for ways to reduce friction in the customer journey.

This is exactly where self-service comes in handy. It’s much easier for customers to find a tutorial online than to go through everything mentioned before — this just creates a much more convenient experience for customers, allowing them to fix any issue on their own accord.

2. Consistency

Customer Service representatives are people too, and they might have different takes on specific problems, or they might simply make a mistake. Unfortunately, customers have little-to-no patience and want one, easy-to-follow way of solving their problems.

Self service options like FAQ’s and step-by-step guides offer customers at least one reliable solution to whatever problems they have. As long as they’re easy to find and are easily understood, customers can spend a few hours at most out of the day instead of the entire day on hold, troubleshooting fifteen different solutions. Self service options just help provide a consistent support experience, avoiding human error.

3. Speed

Like we said before, customers want fast solutions. Most people have to work, or spend their time doing literally anything else, instead of being on the phone explaining to everyone in the customer service department what your simple problem is.

Self service is convenient and consistent, which speeds up the entire process of solving problems with little guidance from the business itself. There is simply no need to waste an entire day on the phone in the age of the internet. If there are faster solutions that customers overwhelmingly prefer, why wouldn’t you take advantage of them?

Some customers are also much more educated than a business might expect, and self-service options allow them to work on their own speed, instead of being bogged down by basic troubleshooting. Most of the time, the customer did in fact try to turn it on and off again before calling, yet agents will still ask them to try this step — that just wastes everyone’s time.

Useful Statistics

It’s generally understood that customer service could be better. Zendesk is aware of this and came to the conclusion that customers prefer self service. Customer experience is trending, and customer support is often the team that works closest with the customer, so these numbers matter if you’re trying to improve customer experience.

  • “90% of consumers expect a brand or company to offer a self-service portal.”
  • “Reducing customer effort is a critical factor in driving loyalty and customers who have the best experiences spend 2.5 times more than those who don’t” (Harvard Business Review).
  • “73% of consumers want to be able to solve product/service issues on their own” (Business Insider).
  • “94% of customers will return to a retailer if their issues are resolved promptly” (McKinsey).
  • “Mobile commerce will make up 45% of total eCommerce by 2020” (BI Intelligence).
  • “77% of consumers have selected, recommended, or spent more money with a retailer or brand that delivers a personalized experience” (Forrester).

Customers typically have high expectations for businesses, but when the numbers are this high, it should be signaling businesses to change the way they handle customer support. Self service is clearly trending, and it needs to be taken advantage of.

Key Trends for Self Service

Zendesk’s report on self service clearly outlines what’s trending for self service. Self service is not a new concept, but like most recent business trends, it’s more about using technology that already exists and using it to make customer experience better.

AI and Visual IVR

AI is rapidly taking over the business world. Elon Musk believes they will take over the world in general, but as long as we remain vigilant in what we develop AI for, we should be okay, and the business world should continue to thrive.

Chatbots are one of the more widely-known AI applications in business. Chatbots are usually used in the tiny instant messaging box in the corner of your screen when you’re looking at a business’ webpage that offers technical support in SMS form. They’re pre-programmed to answer certain questions, and are used to offer customers fast and easy solutions while reducing costs and time spent on the phone.

Visual IVR is a necessary improvement from traditional IVR, by taking advantage of the customer’s desire for a more visual process. Instead of having the customer listen to a million automated instructions, visual IVR can be used in-apps or on websites and lets them look at their screen and simply tap the option to speed things up.

Text for Service and In-transit Delivery Updates

Zendesk’s report also says that “64% of consumers would prefer text-based service over the phone or computer.” These large numbers continue to show that the customer’s expectations and preferences are changing because of their desire for faster and more efficient customer service.

Texts are a quick and easy way for customers to reach out to a company without having to speak to a representative. Plus, they’re not ignored as easily as emails and phone calls.

In-transit delivery updates are also trending because customers want to know where their packages are. Your business can combine the two, and allow users to text a number, or recieve texts updating them on their purchase shipping status.

Amazon seems to keep getting bigger and bigger because more and more people are relying on their services. Companies can help improve customer experience by updating customers on where their packages are and how long it will take to receive them.

Personality Pairing and Advanced Analytics

Personality pairing is all about improving customer experience by matching customers with problems to the right customer support agents. Zendesk says, “Personality matching is achieved with personality-based call routing software that uses millions of behavioral algorithms to determine what agent is the best match for a given customer.”

These algorithms can be collected by using advanced analytics. Zendesk also says, “Infusing advanced analytics into your customer service program helps to engage consumers in ways that satisfy them, encourage future interactions, and drive more profitable experiences.”

This is also important in terms of speed because customers that are paired with the right agent after being carefully selected based on powerful algorithms could have a higher chance of connecting with the agent and working with them to tackle any issues.

Building a Better Help Center

Zendesk also outlines many ways to build a better help center. Building a better help center is important because the help center is the team that will engage with customers the most.

The way they handle certain problems, and the tools they have that are necessary for completing tasks, are telling of their views on customer experience. Here are some of the ways teams build better help centers.

1. Measure Improvements

Use the customer data collected by CRM programs and helpdesk software to determine whether or not your business is on the right track, meeting its goals and maintaining a positive customer experience.

Visual tools can be used, like sales pipelines and funnels, charts, graphs, and interactive dashboards. Make it clear and accessible to your sales team so they know what’s working and what needs work.

2. Mobility

Mobility is no longer an option; it’s a necessity. Customers are often on the go, and moreso on their phones whether they really need to be or not. But for those that are on the go, and they need some sort of help, they shouldn’t be punished by not being near a computer.

Customers also purchase tons of things on their phones. Zendesk mentions Adobe in their report who claims, “Nearly half of visits to retail sites on Cyber Monday 2016 were from mobile devices.” This shows how important mobility is.

It can no longer be one-dimensional and only offer customers another channel for purchasing products — options like in-app support and visual IVRs are a must have for any modern support team.

3. Employee Participation and Moderation

Just because the point of self service is to give the customer an easier way of solving their problems doesn’t mean whatever self service you provide can go completely unchecked.

Could you imagine what would happen to a community forum if there were no moderators? Trolls are everywhere and some purposefully derail important threads for reasons no one can explain.

Some people are genuinely misinformed, but come across as experts because the internet gives them the power to do so. It’s important that customers are constantly receiving correct and up-to-date information to avoid making any problems worse.

If your business offers forums or similar methods of community support, make sure you keep a close eye on the discussion to keep everything friendly, clean, and helpful.

4. Emphasize User Experience

One feature that everyone finds necessary is the search bar. If your help center doesn’t have an easily accessible search bar, you’re making it very difficult for your customers to help themselves.

They will be more likely to get lost on the website, and either give up or waste time on the phone speaking to a representative. The same goes for other options like FAQ’s and online tutorials — they need to be simple to find, simple to understand and simple to use.

People are visual animals and businesses should take advantage by providing customers with visual guides, video tutorials, charts and graphs, and picture-heavy articles.

When it’s all said and done, don’t leave the customer hanging. Leave them with a quick survey so they can tell you how their experience was, whether it was good or bad. It shows you care about their opinions and that you’re trying to make the experience even better, or you’re acknowledging the experience wasn’t perfect, but you want it to be.

5. Promote It

All of this is pointless unless your business is actually making it known that these tools exist. Make it clear to the sales and marketing teams that you want your customers to go to the help center first.

Calling the business wastes everyone’s time, and no one actually wants to do it. Customer support agents need to be ready to help, but they no longer need to be the primary source. People are willing to do the work themselves, so give them the tools they need and promote them.

The Final Word

Self service is trending because customers have high expectations in the age of the internet. These expectations aren’t unwarranted because businesses have access to technology that can make waiting on the phone for hours completely obsolete.

It’s imperative to provide customers with multiple channels to help solve any issues for themselves because it keeps them happy and will ultimately cost less for the business to maintain. There are tons of ways businesses can empower their customers while still being looked to for bigger, more complex problems that require human guidance.

Providing self service options for customers can lead to overwhelming boosts in positive customer experiences. Customer experience is a key business trend for 2018 and technology is continuing to evolve to work for the customer.

If your business hasn’t taken the necessary steps to improve customer experience, start with your help/support center. They are the ones that interact the most with your customers. Doing this will leave a lasting impression on them and encourage them to continue doing business with you.