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Delivering an excellent customer experience through self-service

customer experience
(Image credit: Image Credit: Georgejmclittle / Shutterstock)

When it comes to service management, enhancing customer experience is on the top of many organizations' lists of priorities in the coming year – but how to go about it successfully? For years, customer experience has been a hot topic. Rightly so, customer preferences and demands have shifted significantly over time, leaving organizations wondering how they satisfy the customer while making internal processes more efficient. 

Why now?  

As access to information and technology enables customers to find what they need when they need it and have open two-way communication with service providers, it puts tremendous pressure on organizations to follow suit. When it comes to service management, if your organization is still relying on using email, phone calls, or direct channels (teams or walk-ins) to seek from technicians, you're not only running the risk of inefficient service delivery, but you're potentially creating a negative stigma around the service desk. 

When a customer cannot quickly find resources to help them solve simple issues or contact the service desk, they become frustrated. If they feel the engagement process is antiquated and there is no open two-way communication between them and the service delivery teams, they're frustrated. This makes for a less than ideal experience for the user and the technician. Customers want, and are demanding, self-service. 

These shifts in customer preferences have forced us to think about how we move towards a customer-centric model with greater engagement and transparency between customers and the service desk, facilitating a more remarkable customer experience. 

Recent findings in support of self-service 

Recently, TOPdesk reached out to more than 500 C-suite leaders in the UK to understand how their businesses have transformed and collected insights about the industry's future. We called the effort the “Transforming the Norm” survey. While the results reflect leaders' voice in the UK, the findings translate to the US seamlessly. Here are some highlights related to self-service:

Most organizational leaders believe they are in touch with their customers, and they know what they want. Most of those (86 percent) that we spoke with said they are in contact with their customer base and understand what customers see as valuable. They also think that the demand for customer self-service will increase over the next two years. In fact, 78 percent said their experience working with customers proves that their customers strongly desire to serve themselves or would like the ability to identify solutions to any issues that they face. 

According to the survey, meeting customer expectations remains critically important to organizational leaders, but whether they are meeting these expectations is an entirely different story. Based on our research, only 42 percent said they are currently able to meet customer expectations for self-sufficiency but doing so requires “some work.” Only 29 percent said, “Yes, everything's in place" to meet customer expectations.” Perhaps most interesting is the honesty of 16 percent percent of survey respondents who said they could meet customer expectations for self-sufficiency but only with “big changes” to their internal processes.

The challenge 

Many organizations leave decisions in the hand of the user, whether they realize it or not. While user empowerment is critical to enable customers to find what they need quickly and efficiently, we may be empowering users to embark on a journey to frustration. 

Multiple departments in an organization make things complicated. Typically, numerous departments mean multiple tools and contact methods, leaving too many decisions for the user to make. You never want the user to question where they should go for help. If the user is confused or must spend too much time trying to find the answer, they will go back to the perceived easiest or most convenient way of contact the service desk (email, walk-ups, etc.) as in the eyes of the user, this is the quickest way to find answers. On the flip side, managing and maintaining multiple tools likely means organizations have to keep up with numerous tools. This often results in out-of-date information and insufficiencies as they toggle between tools to service customers, not to mention higher costs. 

Shared, unified documents are beneficial for users but can be hard to come by. If information isn't accessible by all users or is cumbersome – you guessed it, customers won't use it. Sometimes companies have great resources available to users, but they are not easily accessible or searchable for users or are rarely kept up to date. Many organizations are failing to deliver information and resources to their customers that are in a consumable language. Remember, your customers are not IT experts. They do not always understand what we require from them to resolve issues or the language in which we are asking for it.  When it comes to maintaining documentation, it doesn’t have to be a daunting task – if everyone is marching to the same beat. 

There are also user permissions, that is, which customers get access to what services. This has manifested itself into many access points that are confusing to the customer and technician. 

But in a siloed organization, how can you efficiently merge communication channels and documentation for the best user experience?

How to master self-service  

Self-service best practices focus on removing barriers to the kinds of information customers need. The best tool to implement to master self-service and increase customer experience is a single portal for information and communication with the service desk. 

A self-service portal should act as a communication tool that allows you to be transparent with your customers and be accessible wherever they are, on desktop or mobile. It should serve as a singular point of contact with the service desk that empowers users to be self-sufficient to self-solve. When done right, this not only increases customer satisfaction, but it allows technicians to move away from simple fix issues to more complex problems (Shift Left), also improving technician job satisfaction. 

Your self-service portal should be so intuitive to use that navigation within the portal is seamless for your users. A service catalog organized by logical content groupings and easy search capabilities should be presented, along with a centralized knowledgebase. The content housed in the portal should be dynamic and ever-changing, for example, with relevant announcements or notifications and updates around any major outages. When a user searches on a topic, the ideal tools push the most relevant content to them from the service catalog or knowledgebase, just like your typical Google search. 

When issues cannot be self-solved, even after searching in the knowledgebase, the user needs to have a simple path for getting help. Forms presented to your users should be as simple as possible while ensuring you are collecting all the correct information. Having long forms, with too many fields or choices for the user of which they might not be sure of (categories, routing, impact, etc.), can lead to frustration and end up with phone calls or email instead. Automation of forms and routing based on the issue type should be set up by the service delivery teams; this helps eliminate the ticket triage, which can defeat the purpose of the form altogether.

As the user is filling out the form to the service desk, a helpful feature can be peer-to-peer support. This means that other colleagues within the business can be tagged on the job, so they are alerted that a ticket has been submitted and have visibility into status updates. This lessens the customers' burden as they know a ticket for a shared issue has been submitted and alleviates duplicate ticket entries for technicians. 

An overlooked element of self-serve efforts is collecting feedback. In a service management portal, you should have the capability of collecting feedback after every ticket is resolved with the service team. This allows you to have a flow of communication on where future improvements are made. 

Service portals should facilitate explicit user permissions, so customers only see the information and services that are available to them. 

Remember, portals should be created with the customer in mind and be easy to maintain and manage for the service team. If not, the portal will not be successful. 

Service portals are not free but implementing them and allowing users to access the information within them drives user engagement at a fraction of the cost required to staff a larger service desk.

The focus on the customer experience within service management is here to stay. With growing customer demands and preferences for self-service, every organization must explore ways to make users and technicians happier with the services they receive and perform. The answer is to merge service desk communications and information in a singular portal created with the customer in mind. A service management portal is an investment that can produce excellent results when done correctly.

Pamela MacMillan, sales and marketing lead, TOPdesk US

Pamela MacMillan leads the sales and marketing teams at TOPdesk US.