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9 Ways Your Contact Center Can Boost Self-Service Options

Note from the editor: this post originally appeared on the Call Center Demo and Conference website . You can find Brad at Call Center Demo and Conference leading the pre-conference workshop: The Principles of Effective Contact Center Management .

Contact centers play an increasingly central role in supporting and encouraging the use of low-cost self-serve channels. For example, the contact center can provide a wealth of information on which contacts can be automated (or handled in customer communities), and what can be done to improve customer acceptance. Further—and perhaps paradoxically—providing agent assistance when and as needed encourages customer confidence in these alternatives.

Here are 9 ways you can harness your contact center to build and bolster self-service channels:

1. Collect and analyze data about contacts currently handled in the center. Look for opportunities to provide self-service features or build communities that customers will want to use. Improved speed of access and around-the-clock availability are often at the top of the list.

2. Observe agents handling contacts, step-by-step. Your best agents really know how to serve customers; watching them work can present many opportunities for developing and improving self-service systems. In many ways, self-service systems can be modeled after effective agent practices.

3. Involve agents in system design. Your agents should actively serve on project teams responsible for building self-service systems. They can also help monitor and test systems and interpret customer behavior and feedback.

4. Equip your agents to educate customers on self-service options. They should be trained on the advantages and use of these alternatives so that they can encourage customers to use these options when appropriate.

5. Integrate self-service and contact center systems and developments. Integrated systems can enable agents to use the information captured in self-service applications when assisting customers.

6. Capture and assess customer feedback about self-service systems. The nature of input is that you'll get a lot more of it when things go wrong than when they go right. Even so, customers who share their dissatisfaction represent the tip of the iceberg; in most cases, there will be many more who were dissatisfied but who did not bother to tell you. This information is essential to improving system design.

7. Enable customers to easily reach agents. If callers can't reach an agent when necessary, they will often resent the need to use self-service systems. Support may take many forms, such as:

  • A clearly identified way to exit an IVR application or mobile app
  • Prominently displayed contact numbers and links on your website and within apps
  • Text-chat, click-to-talk or co-browsing capabilities
  • Email addresses and Web templates for questions, comments and other input
  • Posting access numbers and alternatives in relevant social communities

8. Track data from all support modes and analyze it for improvement opportunities; specifically, why do customer contacts happen? Which do you want to encourage and which do you want to prevent (as possible)?

9. Just as you have included phone, email, social contacts and other channels into your overall strategic approach, you’ll want to include self-service systems into plans—e.g., they should be an integrated part of your customer access strategy. (For background on the components of a customer access strategy, see related blog http://www.icmi.com/Blog/2011/August/Updating-Your-Customer-Access-Strategy-for-Social-Media)

When self-serve capabilities are perceived primarily as a low-cost replacements for agents, your employees will probably not be enthusiastic about helping to improve them and encourage their use. Turn this (misconception) on its head and view self-service as complementary access that provides choices to customers and frees agents to do high-value work. By doing so, you’ll correctly position self-service systems as an essential aspect of delivering high-value services.