Self-Service and Good User Experience: Not a “Field of Dreams”


72% of companies say improving customer experience is their top priority, and modernizing self-service is a top strategy. To understand why self-service is so important and how to improve it, you need to envision it from the user’s perspective.

Take Yourself Back a Few Years…

You’ve just graduated college. You have a mountain of student debt, and you need a job. You find something after searching for months. It’s an entry-level data entry position, but you’re excited. This is a chance at a career. You’re itching to prove yourself.

A week into your new job, and you’re overwhelmed. Your head hurts from all the new information. Just when it seems like work couldn’t get any more difficult, something goes wrong. You can’t access the shared drive where your workload is posted. You try to sign back in, you try resetting your computer, but nothing works.

You’re new, so you want to follow proper procedures. You spend an hour troubleshooting in the company knowledge base. You search FAQs for the shared drive software. Nothing. You search through documents about the company single sign-on. Nothing.

You surrender and call support. The issue can’t be resolved, so they create a ticket. You have no choice but to sit and wait, doing nothing.  

Four hours later an agent calls. The solution is comically simple. You have access to what you need, but it’s 5 o’clock now. You missed half a day of work, and it was out of your control.

User Experience = Resolution Time

This is what technical support looks like, and it’s a struggle. It takes forever for employees to get questions answered, which is unacceptable when they’re kept from doing their jobs. Even worse, the solution is always embarrassingly easy. They think, “I had to wait half a day for this?”

Many factors contribute to service desk customer experience, but the most important is the amount of time it takes to get a resolution. You can have the friendliest service desk agents in the world, and deliver only 100% accurate information, but if employees are having to wait, nothing else matters. They have jobs to do.

Service desk managers are aggressive about using technology to decrease ticket resolution times. This is great, but the effort is misplaced. The goal should be to prevent employees from opening tickets in the first place. If they can get answers without having to wait on someone else, that’s the ultimate experience.

Even if you’re interested in cost savings and not user experience, preventing tickets should be your priority. Resolving tickets is expensive. The cost per ticket of support tiers 1-3 are $15, $22, and $30 respectively, so savings are huge if you eliminate even a fraction of your ticket volume.

Existing Approaches Don’t Work

Improving self-service is the only way to reduce the number of tickets opened. Almost every company has self-service tools available, but they aren’t performing. Why?

The current model for self-service looks like this: create documents, throw documents in a bucket. Employee has a question? Point to the bucket.

The model is the problem. Maybe it worked yesterday, but it doesn’t work today. You can have a beautiful self-service portal, but it still won’t be enough. Modern expectations for user experience are too high.

Accessing information in the modern digital era is easy. If you want to know who the actor is in that movie about ghosts from a corn field playing baseball, you don’t have go to IMDB and spend an hour searching to find out it’s Kevin Costner. You grab your phone, ask Google, and get an answer in seconds. This is what people want, and they won’t settle for anything less.

Google has set the bar high, and meeting their standards is the only way to deliver great self-service. They’ve been successful because they have amazing algorithms and access to limitless content. You have neither. If you want to deliver the user experience needed to deflect tickets, you’ll have to do it with decent algorithms and less content.

Luckily there’s an answer, you just have to change the way people interact with content.

The Solution Has 2 Parts

1) Provide “questions answered” metadata: Tag documents with the questions they answer so they can be surfaced intuitively, like Google.

2) Give simple answers: Attach each of your tagging questions to a bite-sized answer. When you ask a question in Google, you get a short answer in an answer box, which then links to the source website for detail. Your content should be organized in the same way: question, answer, document.

Who Does This Now?

Viacom rolled out SAP to over 4k people and used this approach for application support. It was such a huge success that they adopted it for the rest of IT, then HR, then sales. It’s now being used across the whole organization, and competitors are following suit. Millennials will account for almost 50% of their workforce by 2020, and this is allowing them to keep up with the increasing demands for user experience.

If you’re interested in this, check out our post What’s Answer Management, and Why Should I Care? Answer Management goes a step farther than just replicating Google’s abilities. First you automate the breakdown and tagging of documents, then you take user experience to the next level by providing answers where people work, not in yet another application.