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Quick Wins (and Longer-term Planning) for Customer Self-Service Success in the Contact Center

Without reporting and customer satisfaction measurement processes in place for self-service (and other non-agent) channels, we can say that there are many contact centers that don’t know if their systems are functioning properly and are user-friendly. Some of these key practices can help you more immediately buoy customer satisfaction with self-service channels, while others will require technology implementation or upgrades.

Revisit Your Self-Service Strategy

Inventors know that when an invention isn’t working right or isn’t flying off the shelves it’s best to go back to the drawing board. The same applies to customer self-service. Ask yourself (or better yet, put together a team and invite group input) these questions:

  • Why do we offer customer self-service?
  • Why should we offer customer self-service?
  • Do we know if our current self-service strategy is meeting customer and contact center needs and demands?
  • What do we know?
  • What don’t we know?
  • How can we use what we know?
  • How can we find out what we don’t know?
  • Who runs customer self-service in our organization? If it’s not the contact center, what department owns it? And how can the contact center take ownership of or work with that department to make sure it’s meeting both contact center and customer needs.

Whether your self-service strategy is succeeding or failing, asking these simple questions will be helpful in getting a faster turnaround for self-service success.

Conduct Frequent Internal Testing

Testing self-service applications is critical, not just before and during implementation, but also during regular intervals after they are up and running and over their entire life cycle. Constant change in contact center strategies, company products and services and customer demands mean frequent testing — and even changes — of self-service channels is a necessity. The good thing is that you can do a good amount of testing without additional technology or the help of external vendors.

Testing prior to deploying an IVR typically entails duplicating actual call volumes that the center experiences and identifying any system glitches or snags that could impact the customer experience and create system bottlenecks.

If your IVR’s already live, frequently dial into the system, just as a customer would, and evaluate such things as menu logic, awkward silences, speech recognition performance and — to gauge the experience of callers who choose to opt out of the IVR — hold times and call-routing precision. You can also ask some of your agents to do this and report their experiences back to you.

Web self-service testing is similar. Carefully check site and account security, the accuracy and relevance of FAQ responses and the performance of search engines, knowledge bases and automated agent bots as well as evaluate how easy it will be for customers to access personal accounts online and complete transactions.

As with IVR testing, such things are meticulously examined both prior to application deployment and after the Web self-service initiative is up and running.

For enhanced IVR and online self-service testing results, you can even purchase products that automate the testing process. For instance, powerful end-to-end IVR monitoring and diagnostic tools can dial in and navigate through an IVR transaction, just as a real caller would, and can track and report on key quality and efficiency issues. There are also third-party vendors that specialize in testing voice and Web self-service systems.

No matter how you do it, whether automated or manual or tested by your own staff or a third party, the frequency with which you test your systems is key. You want to identify and correct problems before your customers encounter them.

Measure Completion Rates

The top key performance indicator (KPI) for self-service is completion rates. When you don’t measure completion rates and transfer-out rates, agents are left without critical information needed to support the customer who couldn’t use self-service. And customer frustration will be higher, too — when they abandon your IVR or your shopping cart or your knowledge base, they’re likely coming to your agents with a less-than-sunny attitude (if they’re attempting to complete their transaction with your organization at all).

When you don’t measure completion and transfer-out rates, you also can’t measure the ROI of your self-service technologies. This is a large investment for many organizations, so it doesn’t pay not to know how many customers can’t successfully use these channels.

If you’re looking for a quick route to upgrading technology and/or increasing completion rates (which will have a definite impact on cost), focus on tuning and improving and on preparing agents for service recovery.

Monitor Customer Self-Service Sessions in Detail

In addition to internal testing, you’ve got to monitor actual customer interactions with self-service channels. It’s as important as monitoring live-agent contacts.

All major quality-monitoring vendors now provide customer interaction recording applications that capture exactly what each customer experiences from the moment they reach the contact center until the time they end the transaction.

Whereas we often use quality monitoring to see how our agents handle calls, this vital process can also let us know how easy it is for customers to navigate the IVR and complete transactions without agent assistance, as well as how effectively such front-end systems route each call when a live agent is requested or required.

In addition to enabling quality monitoring specialists to clearly view a random sample of IVR calls, today’s advanced recording systems can be programmed to alert specialists about callers who get entangled in the IVR, or who seem to get confused during the transaction. This enables the contact center to fix any glitches and to contact the customer immediately after the interaction, before their frustration leads to defection.

For the Web self-service environment, multimedia customer interaction recording tools can capture the complete online customer experience. Such monitoring applications can tell you much about the interaction, including:

  • How well customers navigate the Web site
  • What information they are looking for and how easy it is to find
  • Whether the right content is housed in the right place
  • How easy it is to receive service, locate and update information, fill out an application or form or make a payment
  • How well the checkout process works — e.g., when, where and why error messages occur
  • What actions or issues lead most online customers to abandon their shopping carts
  • What causes customers to call, email or request a chat session with an agent, rather than continue to serve themselves?

It’s important to note here that we realize that many self-service strategies aren’t born in the contact center; rather, they come from marketing and sales. This is where it’s critical for the center to be a real partner in the organization’s business unit structure. If the contact center isn’t running self-service, who is? And what critical information does that unit have that can help you guide improvement in the customer experience and in the efficiency of your contact center?