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Salesforce Commerce Solution Guide

10 Steps to Customer Self-Service Nirvana

By Swamy Viswanathan
Jan 4, 2011 5:00 AM PT

Self-service is a concept that has been evolving. In decades past, self-service meant providing a detailed manual. The downside, of course, was that a printed manual could not be updated dynamically and was costly to distribute.

10 Steps to Customer Self-Service Nirvana

In the late 1990s, with the advent of the Web and content management, self-service meant the publishing of information on the company website, where it could be updated and where customers could find information.

This type of content management was one sided -- meaning that it was about pushing information from a company to its customers.

Today, customers expect to self-serve whenever possible, and lack of support can have a negative impact on the company and its brand. To effectively reach new and existing customers, businesses need to expand their self-service strategies to deliver on expectations of the Web-savvy, empowered customers they are serving and targeting today.

If your business is looking to create a more positive self-service environment and drive customer engagement, following are five tips to deliver better self-service, plus five things to consider when evaluating tools to deliver on your self-service strategies.

5 Tips for Delivering Positive Self-Service

1. Deliver Relevant Content.. When most people surf the Internet, they are surfing with a purpose. They want to find information that helps them learn something new, solve a problem, or help them make a decision. Know what your customers are looking for, and make sure that you have processes in place to deliver relevant content -- from articles, to product information, to case studies, to support content -- to help them find information about your company and its products/services. If they have to look too hard, or click the mouse too many times, they will go elsewhere. Make sure that your content is relevant and easily accessible.

2. Publish Content Early and Often. As with most things in business and in life, timing is everything. Customers want fresh information on a regular basis, so take every opportunity to publish relevant information as soon as it's available. If your company has a new case study or a new fix to a product issue, get the information out as soon as possible. Even bad news can be positive when communicated early, since that conveys transparency and honesty. Timely communication helps enable self-service and drives customers to your content, so don't delay.

3. Utilize Multiple Channels. One of the biggest changes in content management is the increased number of channels that companies need to support. Customers are using many more online channels than a few years ago -- from forums to live chat to Facebook -- and have become much more self-sufficient. Each of these channels represents an opportunity for a company to enhance communication and self-service. Each of these channels enables a company to reach a different demographic or a different need for a given demographic.

One of the most popular channels used today is a knowledge base or FAQ. This type of content helps customers find answers to their questions on their own, and can dramatically drive down support costs. Other channels that are gaining traction for self-service are forums and chat. With forums, companies empower customers to help each other, and enable them to discuss the company and its products/services in a channel that the company manages. Chat is also growing in popularity, because it is another way to provide information in real-time without forcing the customer to make a phone call.

Not all channels are right for every business, so know your customers, and know the places they look for information. This will enable you to have the right tools in place to help them find the information that they are looking for.

4. Listen and Engage. One of the best ways to support self-service channels is to listen to what your customers are saying, and engage with them across the channels that you support. Discover what customers are talking about on your forum, or what they are searching for on your knowledge base. Contribute to the conversation so that you add additional value to the content and keep them coming back.

5. Don't Forget About Global Customers. All content published to the Web can be accessed by a global audience. If these global customers are important to your bottom line, then self-service across languages should be top of mind. Make sure your website is in multiple languages, and that the timely, relevant content you create is published across languages and channels as well. Language shouldn't be an afterthought, so make sure you include "global communication" in your self-service plans early on.

5 Factors to Consider When Solution Shopping

There are a lot of solutions available to help you deliver on these tips. Whether you're considering a solution for chat, forums, knowledge bases or something else, here are five things to keep in mind so that the solutions you implement can meet the needs of your business.

1. Scalability. Whatever solution you decide to add to improve self-service, make sure that you can scale it effectively. For software, look for cloud-based platforms and applications, so that you can increase use as needed. Also, make sure that you have set up processes internally to help you scale. For example, if you are committed to publishing one new article per day, make sure that you have the resources and process in place to support that commitment. Think big from the beginning so that you don't get stuck with a solution that you can't expand when you need to.

2. Security. Security requirements will be different for different industries and for businesses of different sizes. However, make sure that you aren't compromising your security needs for a good price -- "free" is never actually free! Ask how the vendor protects your information and ensures that your data is not mined for advertising.

3. Usability. If Web 2.0 and the social revolution have taught us anything, it is this: Software doesn't have to be complicated! When you are looking for new applications and solutions to improve self-service, make sure that your customers and internal users will be able to interact with them easily. If something seems hard to use or will require lots of services to get it up and running, you may want to explore other alternatives before signing on the dotted line.

4. Personalization and Flexibility. Customers expect solutions to be tailored to their needs, so make sure that any solution -- whether it is a knowledge base, chat, forum or other solution -- can be personalized and easily customized to meet your needs.

5. Language support. Last, but definitely not least -- make sure that any solution you deploy has the ability to support multiple languages. Many companies are managing each language in a silo, which creates a lot of extra work and is difficult to scale efficiently. Look for solutions that integrate language support and translation of content as part of the solution, not as an afterthought or separate process. Integrated translation solutions and multilanguage architecture enable you to deliver timely content, across channels and languages very effectively. For global businesses, it isn't a "nice to have," it is a "must have."

The opportunity to deliver more positive self-service is evident. Now it is up to customer-focused businesses to take this opportunity and deliver timely, relevant content across channels and languages, and improve engagement with customers.


Swamy Viswanathan is VP of products at Language Weaver, a provider of automated translation solutions for digital information.


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