The trick to convincing your customers to use self-service

Catherine Heath | January 3, 2019

Illustration of three owls holding a wing up, with the title overlaid on it

Customer self-service is becoming more and more important. It not only saves money in the long-term for your business, it’s in keeping with customer support trends. 

Providing the right self-service at the right time reduces customer effort. Reducing customer effort score is an important measurement of customer success, and it also means your customers are getting more out of your products. 

It’s confusing when customers don’t seem to want the help you’re offering them, even when it would make their lives easier. 

When self-service doesn’t succeed

So why is it so hard to get customers to self-serve? How can you get your customers to start helping themselves?

Often it’s because companies are effectively hiding away their self-service options. Or, they offer self-service but customers lose trust in the content. They’ve come to believe that the path of least resistance is to pick up a phone or fire off an email. Asking them to change is fighting a losing battle. It’s just the way we’re wired.

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Customers want to do what is easiest, not what is desirable for your company. They are self-focused, and rightly so. The solution is to align your business goals with your customer’s goals, so that everybody wins.

And it’s important to understand that customers actually want to solve problems for themselves. 57% of customers attempt to self-serve before they make a call to your support line. And those customers get upset when they fail to find the solution independently.

It’s quite simple, really. Travelocity improved the help section of its website and reduced customer calls by 5%.

1. Identify common pain points for your customers

This is one way of picking the low-hanging fruit for self-service. Among your support conversations will be queries that come up over and over again. Or you can use tools like FullStory to track how customers are using your software, and identify areas that cause customers to ”rage click”. You can also provide feedback forms on every page of your knowledge base so customers can tell you what they think of your content. 

These are common pain points for your customers, and they will appreciate if you proactively try to help them overcome these obstacles. 

2. Avoid overwhelming your customers

When customers have too many options to choose from, they get discouraged and don’t do anything. Research shows that more options actually have a demotivating effect on people; it’s cognitively harder to choose between ten options that it is to make a decision between two. Barry Schwartz calls this The Paradox of Choice

Your job is to show your customers the one right solution to their problem: consult your self-service knowledge base. Of course you need to have a way to contact your support team, but don’t make your contact details too obvious. 

3. Emphasize the speed of self-service

Studies show that a majority (75%) of customers value speed of response over any other customer service attribute. Well, self-service support is the speediest solution to any problem, since customers don’t have to wait for one of your agents to become free. All it takes is a browser, internet access, and a few clicks to find the answer. 

This won’t be the case for all customer problems – as in the case of a billing problem, for example – but customers expect that garden-variety problems be simple and quick to solve. 

“Customer service means making it easy and fast for your customers to get the help they need―when and how they need it.”―Steve Benson, Founder & CEO, Badger Maps

4. Automate the easiest actions

Studies show that the more complex the issue, the more likely a customer is to want to call your support team. In fact, when a problem is rated as “difficult”, the highest percentage of customers (58%) would prefer to call your business, versus only 14% when a problem is rated as “simple”. 

There you have the argument to automate the easiest actions. Customers want a password change, or add an extra user? Create knowledge base content and make sure your customers can find it. 

5. Publicly share your content

Much of the time, failure to use your knowledge base results from a lack of awareness. Your customers simply don’t know that your help content exists. With that in mind, there are many ways to make your knowledge base content more visible. 

You can occasionally promote your self-service content in social media channels, for example. Highlight new self-service content within your software application, if possible. 

Most importantly, correctly index your self-service knowledge base so it shows up in search engines. When your customers search for solutions online, they will come across your self-service content. Most knowledge base software (such as our own KnowledgeOwl) is compatible with Search Engine Optimization. You can submit your site’s domain to Google, and add metadata on an article level. 

6. Empower your agents to promote self-service

Customer self-service has to be embraced from the top-down. Customer support leaders must empower their agents to promote the company’s self-service knowledge base, so they don’t feel that they’re wriggling out of their duty to help customers. 

Executives must emphasize that promoting self-service is a valuable way to provide scalable help to customers, not intended to replace, but rather supplement, other methods of customer support. 

Try linking to your knowledge base in an automated email customers receive after opening a conversation with your team. Ask your agents to link customers to relevant content every time they help someone, and to describe the content as a quicker alternative to contacting support.

7. Highlight your knowledge base during onboarding

A great time to introduce your customers to self-service is during the very first phase of their contact with your service, and take advantage of the power of first impressions. A well-thought out series of onboarding emails linking to relevant knowledge base content can be just the thing to encourage self-service. 

This approach develops a pattern of behavior you want your customers to continue, and it also begins to form an impression of your service in your customer’s mind. All it takes is a brief snap-judgment for customers to form conclusions about your business. This way, they will naturally come to expect self-service to be an option, and continue to look to your knowledge base when they need help. 

You can use a software application like MailChimp, GetResponse, or Campaign Monitor to set up a series of onboarding emails. 

7. Include your knowledge base in customer training

Even if you introduce your self-service knowledge base at the beginning, customers have fallible memories. And perhaps you’re now launching or revamping a self-service strategy. 

You may offer a type of high-touch software package that includes customer training sessions. Get your self-service content featured during training so customers are continually made aware of what you offer. 

You can even include content that is designed to increase the value that customers derive from your product, and use it as learning material for your training sessions.

8. Offer incentives to use your knowledge base

Instead of trying to punish customers who don’t use your knowledge base, provide positive incentives for them to take the action you desire. 

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If you want to encourage self-service adoption, then you can consider offering giveaways to your customers who self-serve. This could take the form of Amazon vouchers, company swag, complementary advertising, or free/discounted upgrades for your product. 

Perhaps you could also launch a program that rewards adopters of your knowledge base with early access to new software features. Consider offering anything your customers would find valuable as a reward. 

9. Increase the value of using self-service

It’s important to avoid making your customers think that you don’t want to help them. Customers get frustrated and angry when they feel like a company is trying to avoid providing proper customer service. That’s why self-service should be presented as a highly viable alternative to phone, email, or chat. 

One thing you can do is properly design and format your knowledge base to look as appealing as any other brand website. 

“In an era when companies see online support as a way to shield themselves from costly interactions with their customers, it’s time to consider an entirely different approach: building human-centric customer service through great people and clever technology. So, get to know your customers. Humanize them. Humanize yourself. It’s worth it.”―Kristin Smaby, Customer Service Expert

10. Integrate contextual help platforms

One of the most powerful ways to make your content more visible is to make use of contextual help solutions. This means that appropriate self-service content is surfaced directly within your software application, exactly when your users need it.

Contextual help ranges between different levels of “embeddedness”, from in-line instructions directly in the User Interface to entire knowledge base applications embedded within your software. It becomes part of the User Experience so often customers don’t even notice they are being “helped”. 

KnowledgeOwl offers a powerful widget feature that you can embed in your site that links to relevant knowledge base content.

11. Speak the same language as your customers

Once your customers are actually on your knowledge base, they’re leaving in droves because they don’t like your content. They have decided it’s easier to call you than to decipher the content you have offered them. 

Complex and technical language has an off-putting effect on your customers – as does dry corporate-speak. Don’t assume that your customers have the same knowledge as you of your products: always imagine coming to your content with a clean slate. 

Try to use the same conversational tone as your customers to improve comprehension, and label your knowledge base navigational elements clearly. 

12. Highlight the most popular articles

If one person has a problem, it’s likely that more customers will be running into exactly the same trouble. You can save customers time by surfacing commonly used content so they don’t have to search for it.

Check your knowledge base analytics for the most popular articles and link to them from your site’s homepage. Our own software KnowledgeOwl offers a feature that automatically highlights your most popular knowledge base articles based on usage analytics. 

13. Keep your knowledge base up-to-date

There’s nothing worse than self-service content that fails to meet expectations. Customers waste time looking for the solution, only to find that the content is out-of-date or just plain wrong. 

Organize a regular audit for your self-service content on a weekly or monthly basis. Set up a process to update documentation, especially if customers contact you about expired content. If possible, tie the release of your software to appropriate documentation, so you’re always in step with new features. 

14. Arrange your content into the most intuitive structure

Many companies fail to pay attention to the structure of their knowledge base. This may have something to do with the prevalence of search: every one of us is now used to typing into search engines to find answers. 

But when you don’t organize your content logically, customers may not know where to find answers. Perhaps they don’t have the words to describe the problem they want to solve. 

Every knowledge base will have a different Information Architecture depending on the nature of your products and services. We recently talked about a knowledge base reorganization we undertook here at KnowledgeOwl that you use for inspiration. 

Turn self-service into the path of least resistance

All of these recommendations will be worth nothing if your customers end up deciding that it’s still easier to pick up the phone to customer support. Turn self-service into the past of least resistance by subtly crafting a customer experience to favour customers helping themselves. 

That being said, always keep a line open to a human in case customers decide they can’t solve a problem themselves. It’s a fine balance between empowering customers, and making sure they always get the help they need. 

Invest in the right tools for self-service. Take our knowledge base software KnowledgeOwl for a free spin. 


About the author
Catherine Heath
Catherine Heath

Community builder at KnowledgeOwl. Blogs. Copy. Documentation. Freelance content writer for creative and ethical companies. Contributing to open source and teaching technical tools.

Catherine blogs on her personal websites Away With Words and Awkward Writer. She runs the Write the Docs Northwest meetup group. 

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