[Support] Self-Service that Actually Serves: 7 Essentials

6 minute read

March 14, 2018

[Support] Self-Service that Actually Serves: 7 Essentials

From a business perspective, self-service makes great financial sense as well. According to a Forrester study, online self-service systems have the potential to save up to an impressive $11 per service call.

All this helps to explain why, by 2020, 85% of a customer’s interactions with a brand will likely be performed without any human interaction on the side of the business.

It also explains why improving self-service is one of the top 3 priorities for companies wanting to compete on the customer experience battlefield.

Yet despite all the buzz around self-service, only about 55% of customers find their current self-service experience to be less than satisfying. That means there’s something of a gap between the obvious demand for self-service and the quality of the supply.

The gap isn’t just frustrating for the customer; it’s actually costing businesses money.

In this post, I want to move towards closing that gap. I have no interest in selling the virtues of self-service. I’ll assume you’re already there. That said, let’s consider a few of the essentials that need to be in a self-service solution people will actually want to use.

Easy to Use

73% of customers say that the most important thing a company can do is value their time. How do you do accomplish this with a self-service platform?

Just having the platform is a great start. Instead of spending precious minutes on hold (or hours, in the case of a certain cable company we all love to hate), your customers can simply log on for quick answers to their questions.

But all this relies on the usability of your platform. What good is online self-service if your customer must jump through a series of unintuitive hoops just to find the answer to a simple question?

So begin with a simple and clear user interface. Trim out the fat and make your navigation as intuitive as possible.

Start with a landing page that features top content. By highlighting the most frequently requested information, you give customers a clear onramp to instant value. What’s more, you increase the likelihood that the information they need will show up on the very first page they see.

Regularly revisit your self-service site and ask yourself the question: how can I make this easier for my customers to use? Gather copious amounts of feedback from your customers as well.

At the end of the day, your self-service resources will set you apart from your competition, but only if customers actually want to use them!


A startling number of businesses have failed to see the value of optimizing their web presence for mobile. In fact, a survey from BaseKit tells us that around  91% of small business websites aren’t mobile-friendly.

Yet, mobile and tablet usage has officially surpassed desktop usage across the globe. For customer service, specifically, 75% of customers think a company should make all the answers to their common questions available via smartphone.

There’s a disconnect here… one that needs to be addressed for self-service to actually make a difference in your customers’ experience. You must give them access to the information they want, when and where they want it — on their mobile devices.

Mobile-friendliness doesn’t only benefit customers, of course. The robots at Google tend to favor mobile-friendly sites much more than they used to. From an SEO perspective (see #5 below), then, you can’t afford to skip this feature.

Optimized Search

The internet is dominated by search. So, you’d think search functionality would be the easiest thing to nail in a self-service platform. The reality is that 63% of customers find self-service searching to be an intensely frustrating experience.

At a minimum, this means serving up relevant search results to your customers’ inquiries. You can do that, in part, by ensuring every support entry is tagged appropriately and labeled clearly.

Beyond that, optimizing the search experience itself is key. Often, customers don’t know exactly what they’re looking for. And the most frustrating thing you can do is deny a customer the answer they need because they didn’t articulate their question with enough clarity.

One way to tackle this problem is to implement intuitive search functionality to help customers feel their way to the information they need. Cross-referenced support material and related article suggestions will also help customers zero in on their target.


The great temptation when developing a self-service platform is to just set it and forget it. What happens then, however, is that you end up with a clunky legacy system. It may answer the questions your customers asked 3 years ago, but it’ll fail to give them what they need today.

Here are three quick and practical ways to keep your self-service up to date:

  • Include documentation in product development. As you develop new products and update the old, make documentation an integral part of the process. Add new content regularly to your self-service platform.
  • Make self-service a part of your regular customer service process. Train your customer service professionals to reference self-service materials and send customers to the portal as often as possible. For one thing, that’ll train customers to help themselves instead of contacting customer service. Additionally, it’ll create a natural auditing process as your customer service team is forced to comb through the system for relevant articles.
  • Update frequently. Just like it sounds. Retool FAQ’s to answer current questions. Release version notes and post new value-add guides. Conduct a periodic review of all your material to make sure nothing needs to be changed.

Companies with useful self-service platforms focus on serving customers with the information they need, in a straightforward manner. They do this without gumming up the experience with a bunch of extraneous data.

In addition to designing an easy-to-use, searchable platform (see above), you can do this by paying close attention to your customers’ most pressing needs and continually updating the self-service site to address them.

But don’t just make it relevant for your customers. You must open up your self-service site to the teeming digital masses so they too can benefit from your treasure trove of support data.

Don’t misunderstand; this isn’t an act of corporate altruism. Opening up your self-service site to the outside means drawing new potential customers into your orbit.

Make your self-service site available to Google and you’ll find competitors’ customers coming to your site to find answers to their questions. When you do that, you’ll have a prime opportunity to win market share without having to go out and beat people over the head to get it.


Step-by-step instructions can be helpful for some applications, but video walkthroughs present a more effective way to guide your customer through complex processes.

Even if you stick to the step-by-step approach, a few screenshots go a long way in demonstrating how to use your software.

Media enhances your customers’ self-service experience, even if your business isn’t located in the software industry. Whatever your brand, video tutorials, podcast interviews and infographics serve as valuable media-driven aids to help customers make the most out of your product or service.

In addition, there are added marketing benefits to media-enriched self-service, particularly with businesses who open their platform to the public.

Here are a few statistics to consider:

  • 92% of mobile video viewers share content with others
  • Blog posts with video content attract 3x as many inbound links as those without
  • Social video generates 1200% more shares than text/image content

Obviously, these statistics pertain directly to social sharing, but there’s a principle here worth capitalizing on: people share videos more than they share text!

So if you focus on developing videos that help your customers succeed, they’ll be more likely to share that content with business partners, and depending on the industry, with their own social networks.


More and more companies are recognizing the power of self-service to reduce customer service ticket volume, personnel burdens and overall expense.

They’ve also seen that the way to capitalize on those three benefits is to bring their customer community directly into the self-service process. This is especially true of self-hosted customer support communities.

In effect, utilizing a community takes care of most of the essentials that preceded this one:

  1. Ease of Use & Mobility — Choose the right host and these two will already be taken care of for you.

  2. Search — The ability to have conversations with product experts reduces your customers’ needs to go hunting for information.

  3. Timeliness & Relevance — Customers interact amongst themselves and with experts to discuss current issues in real-time.

By the way, I haven’t even scratched the surface of user-generated content’s value for marketing.

In this post, we reviewed 7 essentials for developing a self-service platform that customers will actually want to use:

  1. Easy to Use
  2. Mobile-Friendly
  3. Optimized Search
  4. Timely
  5. Relevant
  6. Media-Enriched
  7. Community-Driven

Of course, this isn’t the final word. What have I missed? Leave a comment and let me know.


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Kenny S.

Written by Kenny S.

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