Enterprise Apps

The Age of Customer Self-Care

Today, the first place your customers look for help is online. Gartner Group has estimated that capturing a new customer is 4 to 10 times more expensive than providing good service to an existing one. They additionally said over 68 percent of customers defect due to poor service.

In a more recent study according to BenchmarkPortal, 51 percent of North American small and medium-sized businesses are simply ignoring support requests from high-value buyers. The reason? Many firms are unaware of the best practices that have developed around online customer care and self-care.

Give the People What They Want

The digital age has arrived for publishers. Virtually all print content that’s going to survive is moving online. As competition becomes increasingly fierce, your greatest differentiator will be a customer service offering enhanced with a self-care, or Web-based solution. Self-care not only gives customers the instant relief they seek when attempting to resolve a technical issue, but it also saves — and can make — you money. Customer self-care significantly reduces the operational costs that result from traditional channels of support.

So what is self-care exactly? Customer self-care features are the services and functions on a Web site that allow the customers to administer their own interaction with the site. From a business perspective, self-care falls into three categories: routine account maintenance, revenue generation and data aggregation.

Empower Your Customers

Routine self-care functions put the responsibility of account maintenance on the shoulders of the users — and the majority of them prefer it that way. Examples run the gamut from resetting passwords and viewing payment histories to updating personal information and any other activity that does not require manual approval. Shifting routine account maintenance to users significantly reduces customer service expenses. It can also reduce losses due to invalid credit cards.

Customer self-care can also have a hand in generating additional revenue. For example, alerting customers when credit cards are about to expire or when subscriptions are about to lapse can have a direct positive impact on recurring revenue. These messages can be conveyed by e-mail, or they can be posted as notices on the user’s welcome page or other pages he or she is viewing. A link to the appropriate account management page closes the interaction loop and makes it easy for the customer to complete the task.

Finally, self-care can be closely linked with data harvesting efforts, presenting requested information either alongside or in the workflow for tasks the customer wants to complete. Simple dialogs such as, “Do you want to make zip code 10013 your default location?” when the user is using a local search function provides personalized data that can be harvested as location demographic information. Similar dialogs and one-click queries can be used as tools to validate the accuracy of user profiles. All of this custom user data is extremely valuable for creating new marketing and sales programs.

Consistency Is the Best Policy

Something to note when designing self-care features: the workflows and policies that you need to enforce differ depending on the sensitivity of the information managed.

Have you ever visited a Web site where the password modification rules are more stringent than the rules for your online banking account? Names, credit card, social security numbers and demographic information require different levels of access. If you keep your policies and workflow restrictions commensurate with the purpose at hand, you will keep your users satisfied, encourage them to use self-care functions and reap their benefits.

Give Your Company a Boost

A little bit of forethought about which self-care functions to implement, and how to implement them, can result in significant benefit to the bottom line. Reduction in customer service expenses plus new ways to generate revenue equals a profitable operation and happy customers.

Caroline Crilly is the Director of Support for eMeta Corporation — a provider of access control, subscription management, and e-commerce solutions for media and software companies.

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