Effective Customer Self-Service Begins with Empathy

The Money Saving Expert, Martin Lewis, recently caused a stir when he called for followers to report incidences of organizations reporting “Higher than usual levels of contact demand” when their customers try to get in contact. And he wasn’t alone in his skepticism of this all-too-common claim. The post received thousands of replies, with followers quick to call out what they saw as an endemic problem. 

It’s no secret that businesses have been struggling with their customer service. In January 2024, the UK Customer Satisfaction Index reported the lowest level of customer satisfaction across the entire nation since 2015. Levels of customer contact have been rising consistently for years, and customer expectations seem to be rising with them.

So why have so many businesses settled on the same, “Higher than usual levels” message?

  • In short, organizations want to direct customers to their self-service channels, rather than forcing them into queues to speak to a human agent.

  • With rising levels of contact, these queues are longer than ever – There simply aren’t the agents to handle the number of incoming contacts.

  • Self-service channels are often cheaper, quicker, and more convenient for simple inquiries, but when they backfire, they put your organization at risk.

In this whitepaper, we break down the ways in which customer self-service goes wrong, how your customers will respond, and possible strategies for countering these pitfalls. Read on to discover more.

When it comes to tracking key trends in customer contact, Content Guru never takes its eye off the ball. To learn more about customer self-service, download our recent whitepaper, Mapping the Customer Journey: Why Customer Journey Mapping is Your Business’ Secret Weapon.

When Customer Self-Service Goes Wrong

As a Customer Experience (CX) leader, there’s nothing more frustrating than when customers won’t cooperate. After all, it’s not their job to be convenient for you; in fact, quite the opposite. Many customers want to make themselves inconvenient, forcing you to deal with their concerns as quickly as possible. That’s why customer self-service often struggles; in a choice between human support, and going it alone, customers often choose support.

Increasingly, customers are learning to appreciate self-service options. Rather than wait in queues, younger customers in particular prefer to look to your website and self-service channels first, before turning to asynchronous options such as live-chat or social media. When these customers call you up, it’s usually as a last resort.

That’s where the friction appears. No one likes being told that they’ve done something wrong. No one likes being sent in circles. When a customer who tried your self-service options and found they couldn’t reach a solution is told that they should go back to self-service, that’s going to spark acute frustration. What’s missing is empathy.

  • Your customers want to feel like they’re on track to a solution. Being contradicted, corrected, or told that they’ve done something wrong quickly kills that sense of forward momentum.

  • What’s important here is empathy. You want your customers to understand that they are a priority. Hitting them with the same pre-recorded message as thousands of other companies isn’t going to achieve that.

  • Your Customer Experience is what sets your organization apart; you can’t afford to do what everyone else is doing, especially when it’s not actually working.

So what should you be doing? Elevating your self-service is easy. It’s about thinking empathetically and creating a sense of forward progression for the customer.

The Future of Customer Self-Service

Customer Experience should be seamless and frictionless. That is, when challenges arise, your customer shouldn’t even notice them. Not enough agents to handle voice contacts? The customer doesn’t need to know. Self-service options failed to resolve a problem? That’s not the fault of the customer. And neither should stop you handling their contact seamlessly.

So, how should this interaction pan out?

  1. The customer picks up their phone once they’ve exhausted all possible customer self-service options. Perhaps the service is down, or perhaps their query is too complex to be handled via self-service. Either way, directing them back there isn’t going to help.

  2. The first thing that greets the customer is not a pre-recorded message, but an intelligent routing system, that asks the customer to state the nature of their problem. Speech recognition technology within the system picks out the words ‘website’, ‘self-service’, ‘not working’ and is able to identify that something isn’t quite right here.

  3. Based on this information, the system can route the customer to the best available outcome, whether that’s a human or a machine agent. Patronizing interaction avoided.

In this case, the self-service option was genuinely unavailable. It wasn’t the customer’s fault. But, though the customer is always right, they are not always infallible. Sometimes, your customers can’t figure out your customer self-service options, or they don’t want to, or they never found your self-service options in the first place. In these cases, you need a response that doesn’t sound like ‘go away’.

  1. Once your customer hits your routing systems, and states the nature of their problem, it’s time to try directing them to a self-service option. Getting this right takes tact.

  2. You need to shift the customer across channels; in essence, create a channel agnostic experience. Rather than queue the customer up for a human agent, the customer can be transferred to a conversational Machine Agent.

  3. This Machine Agent, communicating through text-to-speech, tells the customer that ‘they’re going to fix the problem together’. The customer is then sent a link, and following the link will take them to the overlooked self-service options. Without ending the interaction, the Machine Agent provides step-by-step instructions on how to use the self-service, using the customer’s responses as an indicator of their progress.

  4. If the customer states ‘I’ve already tried this’ or something similar, the Machine Agent can take appropriate action, routing them to a human agent. Similarly, if real-time sentiment tracking drops too far, a human can take the reins to bring the interaction back up to scratch.

The crucial detail here is that the interaction didn’t end when the customer was directed to self-service. The Machine Agent stuck around to guide the customer through the system, and never phrased the channel-shift as a consequence of the customer’s mistakes. They were always moving forward, together. Machine Agents don’t replace human agent; rather, they function as a guide to your self-service options.

The Benefits of Customer Self-Service

Self-service options might not be popular with all customers. After all, when given a choice between superior customer service from an agent, and no customer service at all, who would ever choose the latter? This doesn’t mean that customer self-service isn’t essential to your contact center, though.

  • Self-service take some of the pressure off your agents, diverting particularly simple or repetitive interactions. This allows for agents to devote more time to the most complex interactions, ensuring that customers with the most difficult problems receive the most attention. With agents prioritizing higher-value tasks, efficiency per capita goes up dramatically.

  • Fewer customers trying to reach your agents means shorter queues. Shorter queues means less time spent waiting, more satisfied customers, and more SLAs met.

  • With today’s intelligent routing and channel-agnostic technologies, self-service can be totally frictionless. The customer won’t even realize that they’re not speaking to a human agent, and will leave satisfied.

And it all begins with empathy; showing that your organization understands the customer’s frustrations, and creating a constant sense of forward progress throughout the entire interaction.

Customer Self-Service with storm®

Looking to optimize your customer self-service? With decades of experience designing frictionless customer journeys, Content Guru stands ready to help. Content Guru’s cloud CX solution, storm® includes a no-code customer journey mapping interface, FLOW™, and conversational chatbots through Machine Agent®. To discover more solutions, get in touch, and a member of our sales team will be in touch within 24 hours.

Ready to learn more about what Content Guru can do for your self-service? Continue your customer self-service journey by downloading our new whitepaper, Mapping the Customer Journey: Why Customer Journey Mapping is Your Business’ Secret Weapon.