Customers seek instant access to information and the ability to resolve their queries independently. Organisations increasingly turn to digital channels to empower customers and streamline support processes. A well-designed and robust customer self-service capability can significantly enhance your customer experience, reduce support costs, and foster more significant customer satisfaction.
Most importantly, this is what your customers expect.
The rise of social media, on-demand services, search engines, and now generative AI, has conditioned customers to seek immediate answers and solutions independently and in their own time.
We have categorised these Customer expectations as follows:
Let me do it myself: Numerous studies and surveys have shown that customers prefer self-service options when resolving their queries. According to a study by Nuance Communications, 67% of consumers prefer self-service over speaking to a company representative.
Let me do it when I want: Technology allows us to ‘fill the cracks’ in our day with valuable work. For example, we can check out account balance while standing in a line or pay a bill while on public transport. Making tasks easy for customers is critical for loyalty, and a self-service capability is essential for making tasks easy and convenient. A paper published in the HBR suggested reducing customer effort, that is, the work they need to do to solve their problems, if far more influential than dazzling them with an amazing service experience.
Let me do what I want: Allowing customers to access and manage their data, view the status of their account, change their subscription plans, monitor the progress of their orders and even making it easy to cancel their service can significantly improve trust and loyalty in a brand. Giving customers this power also reduces operational costs for support staff to manage these tasks for users.
Let me do it how I want: Advancements in technology have enabled customers to access vast amounts of information at their fingertips. They can search for answers, access knowledge bases, watch video tutorials, and interact with interactive tools to find solutions independently. These tools are the new normal, and customers will increasingly be frustrated when they cannot access the information they expect.
Building a digital customer self-service portal capability requires careful consideration of various factors to ensure its effectiveness and success. From optimising user experience (UX), integrating back-end systems and prioritising security, each aspect is vital in providing customers with a seamless and intuitive self-service experience.
This article explores the top five topics to consider when embarking on the journey of developing a digital customer self-service capability. We will delve into each aspect, providing insights and practical tips to help you create a self-service portal that empowers your customers, increases operational efficiency, and strengthens customer loyalty.
By focusing on the top five items below, you can build a customer-centric portal that meets and exceeds customer expectations.
1. Let customers serve themselves:
The primary purpose of a self-service portal is to enable customers to find solutions to their problems independently. To that end, a Self-Service solution must be more than a simple portal where users can find their account balance. Here are some key considerations:
Interactive Tools: Provide interactive tools or calculators that allow customers to perform tasks or make decisions on their own, such as product configurations, comparison tools, or financial planning tools.
Account Management: Offer self-service features for customers to manage their accounts, update personal information, view order history, track shipments, or make changes to subscriptions or services.
Knowledge Base: Create a comprehensive knowledge base that covers frequently asked questions, troubleshooting guides, product/service information, and any other relevant resources. Organise it logically and make it easily searchable.
Support and Ticketing: Enable customers to submit support tickets or inquiries through the portal. Integrate an efficient ticket management system to ensure prompt responses and track resolution progress.
Hand-off to a Human: While letting customers serve themselves is the key purpose, there will likely always be a point when a hand-off to a human is needed. A “digital first, human when it matters” strategy is a concept where these important human touch points are considered from the start. Live chat tools are a great way to solve this part of the experience.
Where do you start:
Start by mapping out your Customer Journeys to understand the fundamental transactions and processes your Customers navigate when interacting with your business. Understand the current state but spend most effort in mapping the future state. Consider all their interactions, from purchasing a product, requesting support, paying a bill, and even cancelling your service. Map the journeys as Service Blueprints, capturing the high-level process, interactions and hand-off between people, systems, business rules and pain points.
2. User Experience (UX):
User experience refers to how users interact with and perceive your digital services. Designing the portal with the end user in mind is crucial, making it intuitive and user-friendly at all levels. Consider the following aspects:
Understand your users: This sounds obvious, but spending the time to conduct user research and understand your user’s needs, the different types of users and their behaviours is one of the most essential parts of your UX design. Don’t take it for granted that you understand your customers – you need to speak with them.
Navigation: Ensure the portal is easy to navigate, with clear menus, logical information architecture, and intuitive search functionality.
Clear Instructions: Provide concise and easy-to-understand instructions for using the portal’s features and accessing relevant information.
Visual Appeal: Design an aesthetically pleasing interface with consistent visual language, appealing colours, and appropriate use of imagery. According to research from the University of Missouri, it takes 2.6 seconds for a user to make a first impression of a website. The better the first impression, the longer they will engage with your services.
Responsiveness: Optimise the portal to be responsive across different devices and screen sizes, providing a seamless experience for users accessing it from smartphones, tablets, or desktops. Understanding your user persona, as referenced above, is critical to this item as it allows you to prioritise the channels that make the most sense and provide different experiences depending on the devices they are using.
Where do you start:
Start with a User research study. Map out the different types of users as a set of User Persona. Interview your users and stakeholders to understand their needs. Research what your competitors and peers are doing for inspiration. Use your Service Blueprints to understand the key touch-points where your self-service solution is needed. Build a prototype of the application in a tool like Figma to test your concepts and designs with your users.
3. Data and Technology:
To provide a seamless, up-to-date and efficient self-service experience, you need to know where and how to access the data that the customers will need access to and interact with.
Here are some examples of the systems you will likely need to integrate with to access and manipulate customer data:
- Identity Management
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
- Case Management
- Order management and provisioning
- Billing / Finance
- Payment Gateway
There will likely be other systems, too, depending on your business.
One of the most significant decisions you must make is the technology stack used for your customer portal. If you have a core CRM, e-Commerce or ERP system, you can take advantage of the platforms provided by those technologies. Microsoft Dynamics and SalesForce.com, for example, have a Customer Portal technology that simplifies the process of building simple Self-Service capabilities. The key word here, however, is ‘simple’. Suppose your customer needs are anything more than simple forms and data lookups. In that case, these platform options will quickly become a limiting factor, and you will likely spend more time fighting the technology and compromising the user experience than supporting your customer’s needs.
Identity Management (IDM) is going to be an essential factor too. IDM manages your user’s identity and login credentials and can be used to access multiple systems with the same username and password. Identity Management is an integral part of data security and is not something that you should compromise on.
You may also need to implement an integration layer that securely collates and exposes the data from various systems to make it available to your self-service solution.
Where do you start:
Use your Service Blueprints to understand the systems and data needed at each touch point of your self-service solution. Evaluate the options for your front-end technology, weighing options against time, license costs, development costs, support costs, user experience, data integration and access to development talent.
Build an Architecture Blueprint mapping the key systems, infrastructure and data integration.
4. Security and Privacy:
Security and privacy are essential when handling customer data. Consider the following measures:
Identity Management: Implement a central Identity Management system so users can access your services with a single, secure identity.
Secure Authentication: Implement robust authentication mechanisms, such as two-factor authentication, to ensure that only authorised users can access sensitive information.
Encryption: Use encryption protocols (e.g., HTTPS) to secure data transmission between the portal and users’ devices, preventing unauthorised interception or tampering.
User Permissions: Implement access controls and user permissions to ensure that customers can only access and modify their data or perform authorised actions.
Regular Security Audits: Schedule security audits and vulnerability assessments to identify and address potential security risks or weaknesses.
Data Sovereignty: Cloud infrastructure provides tremendous flexibility in deploying technology solutions. It will, however, mean you will have less control over where (that is, the physical location) your customer data is stored. Given that different countries have different laws about accessing data, you need to consider this in how you protect your business and your customer’s data.
Where do you start:
Understand the types and sensitivity of data available in your solution. Be sure to align with your business’s Information Security Policy. Understand the difference between private and sensitive data. Refer to industry standards and frameworks for mitigating cyber threats, such as the Australia Cyber Security Centre’s Essential Eight and the OWASP Top Ten. Plan a Penetration Test before you go-live.
5. Analytics and Continuous Improvement:
Monitoring and continuously improving your self-service portal is essential for its long-term success. Consider the following practices:
Usage Analytics: Implement analytics tools to track user behaviour, such as search queries, page views, or time spent on different sections. Analyse this data to identify popular features, areas of improvement, or potential bottlenecks.
Customer Feedback: Provide channels for customers to provide feedback on their self-service experience. Collect feedback through surveys, ratings, or comments, and use this input to understand pain points and make necessary improvements.
Iterative Enhancements: Continuously update and enhance the portal based on user feedback, evolving customer needs, emerging technologies, and industry best practices. Regularly release updates or new features to keep the portal fresh and aligned with customer expectations.
Performance Optimisation: Monitor the portal’s performance, such as page load times or error rates, and optimise it for speed and reliability. Slow or unreliable portals can frustrate customers and lead to a poor self-service experience.
A Product Perspective: You should consider your self-service capability as a product in its own right. That assigning a Product Manager to manage and monitor the performance of the platform and allocating investment to continue to evolve and improve the platform over time.
Where do you start:
Plan to build analytics and continuous improvement processes from the start. Looks at tools like Google Analytics to track user usage.
Developing a digital customer self-service capability holds immense potential for organisations to meet customers’ evolving expectations while driving operational efficiency. By prioritising user experience, self-service capabilities, integration with back-end systems, security and privacy, as well as analytics and continuous improvement, businesses can create a self-service portal that truly empowers their customers.
A well-designed self-service portal provides customers instant access to information, enabling them to resolve queries and find solutions independently. It aligns with the growing preference for self-service options and caters to the demand for convenience and time efficiency. Moreover, the back-end systems integration ensures accurate and up-to-date information, while robust security measures safeguard customer data and build trust.
Embracing analytics and continuous improvement allows organisations to gather valuable insights into customer behaviour and feedback, enabling them to refine and enhance the self-service portal over time. By leveraging emerging technologies and keeping pace with customer needs, organisations can continuously provide an exceptional self-service experience that drives customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Building a digital customer self-service portal capability is a strategic investment in enhancing customer experience and optimising support processes. By placing customers at the centre of the development process, organisations can deliver a self-service portal that empowers customers, reduces support costs, and fosters long-term customer loyalty. With the proper considerations and a commitment to continuous improvement, organisations can unlock the full potential of digital self-service and gain a competitive edge in today’s customer-centric landscape.
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