Why you need a self-service customer support knowledge base

Catherine Heath | November 18, 2019

Customer self-service has been the norm in many areas for a long time. Just take the example of libraries. Readers are empowered to find the tomes they’re searching for by browsing the catalogue and using the Dewey Decimal System. They don’t have to wait for a librarian to be free every time they want to find a book. 

Research shows that 67% of customers prefer to use self-service options and self-service has come to be a normal part of customer support operations. Self-service is bang on trend, and it’s estimated that 85% of customer interactions will be automated by 2020. 

Some basic examples of self-service in the physical world includes ATMs, supermarket barcode scanners, and self-service buffets. 

Customer self-service in the online sphere means

“Proactive customer service that provides support for customers who want to find their own solutions. Rather than working with one of the company's customer service representatives, customers use self-service options to research and troubleshoot issues by themselves.”

Customers now expect brands to provide them with an online self-service support option, alongside stellar human customer support. A knowledge base should be a big part of your self-service support strategy, along with potentially customer forums, contextual help, and chatbots.

We’ve already demonstrated the value of a self-service knowledge base. In case you needed even more convincing, now we’ll go into a bit more detail about why you need one. 

1. It’s what your customers want

As we mentioned before, the majority of customers would rather use self-service support than speak to a human. According to Zendesk, 91% of customers would like to use a knowledge base solution if it met their needs. 

One reason for this is that customers like troubleshooting themselves, and you can empower them to find the right answers without resorting to a phone call or email. 

The key thing to remember is that customers want self-service to be an option, but it should still be incredibly easy to contact a customer support agent if necessary. Self-service is not a replacement for, but a supplement to, human service. 

According to Kerry Stokes, Chairman of the Seven Network, "The most important adage and the only adage is, the customer comes first, whatever the business, the customer comes first." 

2. Self-service is faster than humans

There are some good reasons why customers prefer self-service support. For one thing, it’s really, really fast. As long as you surface content with good Information Architecture and a powerful search engine, customers will be able to find what they need in a few clicks. 

As dedicated as you might be to providing gold standard customer support, there are times when your customer ticket queue gets busy. Your agents are tied up helping other people, and there is still a substantial number of customers waiting for an answer. To make matters worse, your customers’ problems could be easily solved by consulting a relevant knowledge base article. 

And for those simpler queries, self-service content is more quickly accessible and better than expecting your customers to wait for an answer. 60% of customers would rather use an automated self-service solution for simpler tasks. And if you can provide faster answers, this translates to better customer service. 

Speeding things up makes good business sense. “Customer service means making it easy and fast for your customers to get the help they need―when and how they need it,” says Steve Benson, the Founder & CEO of Badger Maps.

3. It’s available 24 hours a day

Again, your customer support agents are superb, and they make your customers very happy. Your Customer Satisfaction Score is sky high and your Average Handle Time is fast – but, there are still times when your agents are offline. Customers always need help, and there are times when your support agents may not be online (especially if you are a startup or a smaller company). 

While your agents are rightfully taking time off and customers in different time zones run into problems, tickets build up in the queue. This leads to a backlog which your agents have to tackle when they get back to work. And customers don’t want to wait – 64% of consumers say they want to do business with brands that meet their needs in real-time. 

Happily, your company’s self-service support options are always available for customers – which is even more crucial when you’re serving a global customer base. Customers don’t care how they receive information, as long as they can access it any time. “There is a place in the world for any business that takes care of its customers – after the sale,” says Harvey MacKay, founder of MackayMitchell Envelope Co.. 

4. It’s part of proactive customer service

Self-service customer support is one facet of proactive customer service. Proactive customer service is about anticipating your customers’ needs and providing solutions without them even having to ask. 

89% of businesses are competing based on the level of Customer Experience they can provide, according to Gartner. Proactive customer service is becoming the new normal, as businesses explore how they can improve the Customer Experience. 

Proactive service adds value to the Customer Experience and creates more opportunities for customer delight. It’s all about offering solutions to customer problems before they arise, and documentation on known issues is one way to deflect a potential customer support query. Customers will be happy that you put in the effort to anticipate their needs. 

“Whenever possible, try to understand your customers’ needs at such a high level that you’re able to provide solutions to their problems before they were even aware a problem existed. They will appreciate the attention to detail, and you’ll stand out as a trusted expert from the competition,” says Jeremy Schaedler, President of Schaedler Insurance Agency.

5. You can save time for your support reps

We’ve already covered the fact that Customer Experience is extremely important. We know we want to provide amazing customer service that involves your business being more proactive, and yet the question remains: where does this time come from? 

Customer support is known as a tough area to work in, and support agents consistently report being short of time. In fact, 36% of support professionals complain about having too much on their plate. When your support team doesn’t have enough time, their ability to help your customers suffers. Luckily, this is where a self-service knowledge base comes in. 

A quality self-service option saves time for your support agents by helping them to deflect common and mundane queries. Customers can turn to your knowledge base instead of calling or emailing your support team. As we mentioned earlier, customers actually want to help themselves, so the situation is win-win. 

6. It’s cheaper than employing more people

Why not hire more agents, we hear you say. The reality is that it’s not easy to find talented and dedicated support staff, and every new hire represents a risk. You may not be in a position to hire more people, so you have to find ways to automate some of the work of your existing agents. 

Although it’s not easy to invest in your customer self-service operations, once you have your knowledge base up and running, this can represent a significant cost-saving over employing more staff to help your customers. “Good customer service costs less than bad customer service,” says Sally Gronow, Head of Customer Service at Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water.

Instead of investing the time, money and resources into hiring and training new customer service representatives, you have made an investment in your company Knowledge Management strategy and customer-facing knowledge base

7. Self-service helps your company scale

As we just stated in the previous section, self-service support enables you to help more customers without hiring more people. This benefit is crucial at a certain stage of a company’s lifecycle. 

In the early days of a company, it’s likely that you will be helping every customer individually, and you probably pride yourself on your personal customer support. Unfortunately, one of the challenges of scaling a company is maintaining a level of quality service, while expanding your operations and raising your profit margins. 

The reality is, as your business gains more customers, it becomes more vital to automate some aspects of customer support. With the best will in the world, you cannot hope to help each individual customer personally as your business scales – and this is where self-service support comes in. Investing in a knowledge base can help your business scale sustainably. 

“Customers aren’t just embracing the do-it-yourself model of customer support. They are demanding it. Younger people are used to dealing with automated systems and less inclined to need to talk to a human being. Smart companies see this as an opportunity to create a better customer experience.” says Don Brown, CEO of Interactive Intelligence.

8. You can improve product onboarding

As you gain more customers, you have to automate aspects of the customer journey. For example, one of the biggest reasons for customer churn is poor onboarding, and the fastest growing SaaS companies manage to control their churn rates successfully. How do they do this? 

It’s not enough to acquire signups for a software trial; you need to invest in customer education so customers can learn how to use your product properly. It’s important to reduce the time it takes between a customer signing up, and first success with your product, so your customer feels they will be getting value for money. 

A solid Getting Started guide is one of the best ways to help your customers learn about their fancy new product, and reduce the chance that they will abandon their trial out of frustration. An effective self-service knowledge base that includes a Getting Started guide is a core part of your customer education efforts. 

“After-sales service is more important than assistance before sales. It is through such service that one gets permanent customers,” said Kōnosuke Matsushita, founder of Panasonic.

Final remarks

We’ve barely scratched the surface of all the reasons why you must be investing in your self-service customer support. It’s what customers expect, and a central means of scaling your customer support operations, all the while helping to keep costs under control. 

“We have entered the era of the customer. Today, providing customers with outstanding customer service is essential to building loyal customers and a long lasting brand,” said Jerry Gregoire, the former CIO of Dell Computers.

Invest in your self-service support strategy now. Take our knowledge base software for a test 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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