In 2020 customer service teams across many sectors experienced unprecedented levels of pressure due to the COVID 19 pandemic. From travel operators to grocers to financial services, phone lines were jammed with anxious customers wanting to know everything from why they couldn’t get a supermarket delivery to how to claim for a cancelled flight or whether they could take a payment holiday due to a reduction in income.
And it wasn’t something that could be planned for – neither a calendar event like Christmas, nor something likely to come up in planning for specific scenarios such as extreme weather. Customers often had to wait for a long time to get answers, and although for a while they were prepared to make allowances because of the unexpectedness of the situation, goodwill doesn’t last forever. Businesses now need to improve their customer service and find new ways to manage spikes in demand.
This is where customer self-service really come into its own. Already a popular choice, with between 40 and 91% of people saying it’s their preferred option, self-serve enables people to be in control of their experience and get quick solutions without having to spend 40 minutes on hold. Customers see the ability to self-serve as a mark of credibility; from a business perspective it reduces cost, drives site traffic and allows call centre staff to focus on solving complex problems, rather than getting bogged down with basic queries. By the end of 2020, Gartner predicts that 85% of all customer service interactions will start with self-service.
Having a knowledge base that customers can access to find answers to their questions is a good start. But how can businesses take it to the next level?
Create product training for keen customers
Good quality, up-to-date knowledge bases enabling customers to troubleshoot, find answers and watch how-to videos are highly valued but there are ways to enhance the experience.
A knowledge base could become the basis of customer ‘training. Some super users enjoy working through learning modules on products and services, earning badges and certificates that show they’ve become an expert. It might not be for casual customers but will interest enthusiasts who may go on to help others by sharing their knowledge in community support forums.
Utilise the knowledge base in a different way with a chatbot
Chatbots help customers find the information they need without having to hang around on the phone or wait for a human to be available on live chat. The more sophisticated they are, the more customers enjoy interacting with them. As well as answering general queries chatbots can be designed to deal with specific issues which create a spike in demand, for instance product recalls or travel cancellations. Affected customers can quickly self-serve and get the information they need on specific topics without causing delays in response for those with more general enquiries.
All chatbots need an option to escalate problems to a human, directly if possible – there’s nothing more annoying than trying to get an answer in one channel, only to be told you need to phone the helpline. In an ideal world a human advisor should not only be able to jump in but should also have access to the chatbot conversation, so the customer doesn’t have to explain everything again from the beginning.
Harness the power of AI
Using artificial intelligence capabilities like natural language processing means that customers can ask chatbots questions in their own way with a far greater chance of success. In the next few years artificial intelligence and machine learning will also increasingly take on the heavy lifting in terms of setting up, managing and improving knowledge bases, flagging gaps and suggesting new potential answers for review by human colleagues. In turn this will reduce the costs of running a knowledge base, empowering smaller businesses who may not have the resources of the big players to offer far better customer self-serve options.
In time, service is also likely to become more proactive. Predictive AI will see have the ability to problems before they arise so they can either be dealt with automatically or customers can be contacted and offered help before they realise they need it.
Personalise self-service support
Companies often have access to vast amounts of data about their customers; it can be put to use within self-service support to give the customer a better experience. If you can see all a logged-in customer’s behaviour and interactions with a brand – what they’ve bought, when they bought it, where they live, what other contact they’ve made – it’s possible to serve them with personalised answers. Even anonymous guests on a website will leave a trail of information about their interests which will give context if they are trying to self-serve.
Explore voice-assisted self-service
Using Siri to check the weather, play a song or translate a word is one thing, but as capabilities increase voice assistants will carry out complex tasks. Some call centre staff may be replaced by automated voice assistants with natural language programming like PolyAI. These are far more sophisticated than the ‘Press one to start a new claim’ basic filtering options that customers currently have to deal with and are not only able to deal with large call volumes but also allow for naturalistic dialogue with responses that are either pre-recorded or created dynamically.
It’s also possible that the voice assistants like Siri and Alexa operated by the tech giants could expand exponentially to become a whole ecosystem. Individual consumers could give permissions to a voice assistant in order that they carry out tasks that may involve accessing their customer profile across different retailers and service providers as well as payment details and personal diaries.
Focus on the possibilities for enhancing self-service
As lockdown is lifted, we will enter a new, post-COVID normal, but there will always be pressure on businesses to provide high-quality customer service, pandemic or no pandemic. With self-service options already being a popular choice with consumers, it makes sense to focus on this aspect of customer service, adding the capabilities of artificial intelligence, personalising the experience, and exploring the latest possibilities appropriate to the brand.
The BIO Agency work with businesses to create exceptional experiences based on real human behaviour. If you’d like to talk to us about how we can help you improve self-service support for your customers, email email@example.com