a peek into a commercial space with lit neon sign reading "Super Helpful"
PHOTO: Jonas Jacobsson

Providing customers with the option to self-service can be a winning strategy for both companies and customers alike. In the case of the company, self-service is typically the least expensive servicing option and, when done right, self-service can help customers receive the service they need more quickly than any other option.

But circumstances arise when direct customer support is the best option. How can companies find the proper balance between the two?

Optimize the Options You Provide Customers

“If a business would solely rely on direct customer support, then it would be much more expensive. Hiring, training, and paying thousands of customer care representatives is not a piece of cake. So, a balance should be maintained between self-service and direct customer support,” said Tim Uittenbroek, founder of Blinklist.com.

Both need to be optimized with a FAQ section and AI chatbots, according to Uittenbroek. He recommends narrowing down FAQs for those questions asked most often, otherwise the FAQs could become overwhelming for customers. Some questions may arise in two or more areas. A business should add such questions in all the relevant fields to help visitors find the answer quickly.

Related Article: Is Self-Service the Only Way to Save Money in the Contact Center?

Follow the Data

Identifying the line where self-service needs to segue into customer support and making the transition easy and seamless is the key. This helps businesses balance the time and cost-saving benefits of self service, and the importance of providing a positive customer experience and avoiding problems or leaving a negative shopper experience, according to John Moss, CEO of English Blinds.

“This means identifying where along a sales funnel or post-sales, people are either most likely to face issues that they are unable to handle via directed self-service, or are unlikely to be able to succeed in attempting to do this alone,” Moss said.

He recommended that organizations transitioning from a full direct customer support environment to integrate self-service for the first time ensure they have data on what types of support requests they tend to get, what issues come up most frequently, what issues pose the greatest problems for people, and what actions and remedies shoppers cannot undertake on their own.

This initial data to build up a broad map or spectrum along which you will be able to pinpoint issues and chains of events or queries that transition from self service territory to requiring support, either to achieve the desired action or in the interests of providing an excellent shopper experience, according to Moss.

Related Article: Reinventing CX Through Self-Service and Intelligent Automation

Give Customers Options for Service 

“Every consumer has their own personal preferences for how they want to receive customer service; and not every customer problem is suited to a particular channel of service,” said Ted Mico, CEO and co-founder of Thankful. “Some favor self-service options for certain problems, whereas others would rather interact with an agent or virtual agent. The key is to provide the kind of support that resolves customer’s issue quickly and thoroughly.”

Giving the customer control over this method of interaction is paramount, Mico added. The customer is in charge. Having the ability to select the type of service they want to receive can help shape each customer service interaction as well as their overall brand experience.

“Regardless of what type of customer service a consumer is seeking, consumers expect excellent service, immediately,” Mico said. “Offering self-service and direct customer support is not enough. Both means of customer service must be top notch, so that no matter what route a customer takes they are able to quickly find the answers they need.”

Those who prefer self-serve often do so because they think it will be faster than dealing with customer service, but today, most customers expect the best of both worlds — speed and expertise — that feeling of being looked after by the brand that only full-service can generate, Mico explained. Providing options shows your customers you care and providing excellent service is what will keep them happy.

Related Article: Call Center Employees: The Superheroes of Customer Experience

Ask for Feedback on Service Options

“We find that the best course of action is to allow customers to reach us in as many ways possible to voice their concerns,” said Akiva Aranoff, co-founder of Maestra. “Once we know what we could do better, we take their support questions and rebuild the software to ensure that customers won't have this problem in the future.”

It's important for us to always listen to our users to find out what we can do better, Aranoff said. “For example, we noticed too many users were having trouble finding the ‘upload’ button to share their files on our site. We reengineered the user interface to make the button more prominent, and began including a tutorial to make it easier for customers to find the specific.”

Integrate Both Self-Service and Direct Support

We recommend that companies integrate self-service and direct support to create elegant handoffs between the two, said Jen Snell, vice president of product marketing for Verint. “We caution against the notion that once you find the right balance, you’ve reached an endpoint. We have learned from countless implementations of IVAs that proper balance is a moving target, and it’s vastly more important that the systems and business processes at play are adaptable and extensible.”

Self-service and direct support are part of a larger whole that may include a multitude of services including self-service, direct support in the contact center and customer communities, Snell added.

“By taking stock at the outset of how your system is designed and how it is functioning, as well as bringing AI into this system to serve as the bridge between different customer options, it should be easier to integrate the different methodologies and understand the interplay between self-service and direct customer support,” Snell said. “By employing these two methodologies, customers enable their businesses to be more resilient and reactive to evolving customer needs.”