3 Flaws to Fix in Customer Self-Service

December 15, 2020

Contributor: Rama Ramaswami

Keep more customers in self-service by addressing the three main reasons they pick up the phone instead.

Customer self-service is highly efficient and cost-effective, so it’s not surprising that customer service and support (CSS) leaders invest heavily in digital capabilities such as online portals, community forums and chatbots. And yet many customers still opt for assisted service involving a service representative.

“ Most self-service flaws relate to three failure points: External search, site navigation and self-service capabilities”

“To increase self-service effectiveness, customer service leaders should continue to improve self-service capabilities but must also prevent customers from bypassing these channels in their digital service journey,” says Philip Jenkins, Senior Director Analyst, Gartner. 

The 2020 Gartner Loyalty Through Customer Service and Support Survey shows that 37% of customers pick up the phone to call the service center before they even reach the organization’s website.

Most self-service flaws relate to three failure points: External search, site navigation and self-service capabilities. Identifying and addressing these gaps will encourage more customers to opt for self-service or keep them there.

No. 1: External search

External search is the part of the customer journey that users conduct through search engines such as Google or Yahoo. What is displayed on the first results page affects the type of service customers choose. For example, by typing the name of an organization alongside “customer service,” contact phone numbers often appear on the first page of results.

Many companies also highlight this number prominently at the top of the page, obscuring any other service options available to the customer. This practice creates an immediate bypass point for customers who are trying to call from the outset or are just looking for an easy resolution. The risk of customers calling also increases if the first page doesn’t offer relevant search results or route them clearly to the answers they want.

Gartner outlines the address three self-service failure points that drive customers toward assisted service.

No. 2: Site navigation

Site navigation includes any part of the customer journey on the organization’s website except for self-service capabilities that may be hosted on the site, such as chatbots, or parts of the site that provide a self-service capability, such as FAQ pages.

Site navigation has a substantial impact on the success of self-service because of the sheer volume of users — Gartner research indicates that 44% of customers access an organization’s website first before accessing an assisted-service channel.

If the site is difficult to navigate or self-service capabilities are hard to find, assisted-service channels become the easiest path to issue resolution.

No. 3: Self-service capabilities

Self-service capabilities encompass all direct customer interactions with the organization’s self-service offerings, such as conversations with chatbots or carrying out self-service transactions through an online portal.⁠ Self-service capabilities can fail if they are poorly designed or lack the content or functionality necessary for customers to resolve issues on their own.

“It is not enough for the relevant self-service content or functionality to be present — it must also be accessible,” says Connor Seidenschwarz, Principal, Research, Gartner. “This is especially true for self-service capabilities that require a degree of navigation, such as online account portals or FAQs.”

Improve self-service performance by driving the customer journey

To optimize self-service performance and reduce assisted-service volume, CSS leaders should carefully orchestrate customers’ digital journeys. Consider these steps:

  • Reevaluate self-service strategy by assessing the potential impact of external search and site navigation (rather than just self-service capabilities) on self-service containment.
  • Use search engine optimization to remove or limit access to assisted-service channels in external searches and create a clear pathway to organization-owned customer service pages.
  • Simplify the customer journey on the organization’s website by directing customers to relevant self-service capabilities and limiting or reorganizing access to assisted-service channels.
  • Reallocate digital self-service investments toward improvements that facilitate external search and site navigation, guide customers to relevant self-service content and, where appropriate, route them to assisted service.

Experience Gartner Conferences

Join your peers for the unveiling of the latest insights at Gartner conferences.