What Is Self-Service? / by Jon Meyer Meyer

Hello and welcome to my first post :) I'm hoping to churn one of these out a week as long as I have ideas to contribute. It's been a while since I have written a blog, so everything will be a bit dry at first, but hoping to switch from drinking tea with my pinky out and upgrade to my light-absorbing, high octane coffee. Also, despite the title of this entry, I'll touch on what I have learned (and continue to do so) in my career and how each facet of the Contact Center has touched community, knowledge content, and social media. That said, if you want to know more about me, check out the About Me page just to show you all it's not 100% crazy talk.

So, Self-Service...

Briefly: self-service is allowing a customer to easily resolve a solution without directly connecting with your company's busy staff.  (I know, it sounds like I'm advocating the killing of the "personal touch" and "customer engagement", etc.)

Self-service can happen through a virtual agent (chat bot), knowledge base, static pages, FAQs, blogs, telephone IVRs, and even social media and community. Basically, if the information can be retrieved through browsing or searching without reaching a human, the customer has been self-served. The price of self-service is also far, far less expensive than even email (hundreds of time less in some cases).

Not to put my experiences on a pedestal, but self-service is a bit more complicated than many people believe. It's more than just a search box and some article links. Like any good site, it's a journey - a balance of customer satisfaction, quality content, and escalating quickly when that content isn't sufficient, and then filling those knowledge gaps to improve the site. A frictionless experience.

"But Customers Love to Call!"

Well, that really depends on a lot of things. Yes, if you place your phone number in a light box over your support site, people will call. If you hide that phone number and force people through an infinite loop of self-service (that dark side of the Self-service Force), then, hey, people seemingly can't get enough self-service - just look at those page usage metrics and the reduction of calls!

It also depends on your industry and company mandate. If you are a financial institution, then yes, it can be argued that a phone number should be easy to find - people tend to get antsy when asking about money and generally don't like jumping through flaming hoops like a poodle covered in the gasoline. However, an industry with more complicated questions, like software, may want to up their self-service with a robust knowledge search for all those crazy error codes when trying to install Windows 8.1 on their IBM ThinkPad. If there's a clear article that's well formatted and easy to understand, where the customer feels empowered to try it themselves, that's great for not only the customer, but the agent has more information of what the customer has tried and bolsters the resolution dialogue if they should call/chat/email.

As for the company mandate: are you a warm and fuzzy company like Zappos or a bit more austere like Microsoft? That's a huge part of the support customer journey and the offered support channel priorities as well. Zappos, who is centered on taking the stress of our buying shoes online, offers all channels evenly. Microsoft, on the other hand, wants to ask you a survey about their support before even using their services. But because of their size, customer base, and product lines, they have a heavy self-service presence and login requirement to reach an agent.

Microsoft's survey request on entering their Support Center, which has seen major improvements over the years.


A strong self-service experience not only helps your customers, but your support staff. Many customers, indeed, just want to call (any Support conference or webinar will have research on who calls, why, etc). Having a well curated knowledge resource speeds up handle time for agents/staff and generates SEO to enhance the frictionless support experience.

So Is This the 'Crazy Talk' Part?

For some readers: absolutely.

I have been working with self-service for almost a decade and a half and I've seen quite a bit from an execution level (do you really want an FAQ under that search bar?), platforms (do you even SEO, brah?), and people (Your natural language wizardry is trying to replace *people*! Will no one think of the CHILDREN?!). Surprisingly, the answer to all those parenthetical questions are equally "yes" and "no" depending on the problems that need to be solved. 

What I am getting at is that each company will handle Self-Service in their own way to accommodate budget, add value, teach, and most importantly, keep your customers happy and retain them. For example, financial institutions, software (especially SaaS), and retail will all have varying sizes of public/internal knowledge to resolve customers questions. The size of the company - start-up, SMB, and large businesses - will determine the scale and magnitude of the knowledge needed (geo-location, languages, portals, etc) as well the resources need to accommodate customer help demand. Throw B2B or B2C into the mix (many companies have both), and customers finding solutions on their own gets pretty hairy very quickly. I apologize for the hirsute visuals. Ugh.

So, let's leave it there for now and chew on it. The point of this blog isn't to solve everything in one post but to start the solution cycle for the next app tycoon writing code with his pal in a pile of Diet Dr. Pepper cans to the established company faced with infinite choices of how to serve their customers. I hope I have done a decent job of laying down that first layer for many great discussions and posts to come.

Let's talk soon and feel free to share your ideas/comments in the comments.