Chatbots and Self-Service: 7 Best Practices for a Great Customer Experience
Your customer support team are the chefs at a restaurant.
They’re responsible for serving a steady stream of customers and solving their issues efficiently and effortlessly.
Self-service solutions are your sous chef. In the same way a sous chef preps the ingredients in advance to make the chef’s job easier, self-service solutions enable your support team to work better.
Chatbots are one example. They’ve been a growing trend for many years. Between 2018 and 2020, chatbot usage increased by 67%. Companies really want to use them—but are struggling to get them right.
Why chatbots have a bad reputation
With the rise of ChatGPT, AI has become the hottest of hot topics over the last few months. It’s everywhere—ask your great uncle Jimmy at your next family party and chances are he’ll have an opinion on it.
Out of nowhere, it seems that everyone can suddenly see tangible opportunities to integrate AI into their work. AI has become accessible in a new way.
AI and chatbots aren’t new to the customer support space. Companies have been using them for years, but they have a really bad reputation. There are at least three reasons why:
Chatbots often have a limited set of responses. Companies design decision trees for a set of typical support queries, but customers with other questions can’t find the answers they’re looking for.
Chatbots can’t handle complex issues. It’s easy to try to use a chatbot as a replacement for human support, but they’re often restricted in the types of support tickets they can handle.
Customers feel forced to interact with a bot when they’re looking for a person, causing customers to feel frustrated and unvalued.
Despite all that, only 21% of customers believe that chatbots and automation waste time and don’t add value (although that number may have changed in the last few years).
Getting chatbots (or any self-service solution) right is all about the implementation. These tools can be a huge help for customers and support — but only if you use them the right way.
The benefits of improving your self-service
Great self-service brings huge benefits for your customer support team and your business.
Some of the top ones are:
More loyal customers. Great customer service increases customer loyalty and reduces churn, resulting in long-term customer relationships and increased revenue. About 60% of companies experience a 20% reduction in churn when using voice or chat assistants.
More personalized experiences. Developing a personalized self-service experience is hard, but doable. And it’s way more scalable and effective than relying on one-on-one contact with a support agent.
More satisfied customers. Self-service is available 24/7 and can always provide an immediate answer. If a great customer experience starts with an immediate and accurate solution to a problem, a well-designed chatbot can transform your support. 80% of companies that implement a chatbot successfully reduce wait times.
Increased customer engagement. Proactive help solves potential issues before a customer even experiences being blocked by the issues. It’s the ultimate form of self-service.
Better visibility into customer needs. Most self-service solutions are equipped with better analytics than basic ticketing software. Since categorization is built into the system, you can track how they interact with customers more easily.
Lower operational costs. Chatbots are more scalable than human support. They automate routine tasks and provide quick solutions to common queries, enabling you to maintain a smaller team size. Almost 70% of companies experience more than a 20% cost reduction when using assisted chat technology.
More productive agents. When chatbots work well, they free up time for human agents to focus on more complex tickets, resulting in more productive agents providing more value to customers.
The general experience with chatbots over the past few years makes it clear that these benefits aren’t guaranteed — but they are possible. And as technology continues to improve, it will be easier than ever to understand and solve customer questions in a personalized and satisfying way, all without the need for human intervention.
7 expert tips to get self-service (and chatbots) right
Chatbots often build on self-service solutions that you already have available, such as your help center.
There are some essential prerequisites for a great self-service strategy, irrespective of the solution you’re considering. In general, you need to make sure:
The content is effective, meaning your customers can use it to solve problems successfully.
It’s well-integrated into your product, so your customers can find it easily.
Your customers can interact with self-service at your primary contact points. If a large proportion of your tickets are coming in via direct email, it’s hard for self-service solutions to have a big impact.
With those prerequisites in place, these tips will help you develop a self-service solution that generates impressive results:
Know your audience
Focus on the user interface (UI)
Start small and build over time
Ensure a seamless handover
Test it thoroughly
Build in personalized experiences
Provide training to support agents
1. Know your audience
Let’s be honest: some pieces of technology are tempting to implement just for the cool factor,. It’s especially true if you’re a software company that’s well-versed in the tech space. Adding the latest AI-powered technology can be alluring, but sometimes those technologies just don’t work for your customer base.
There are many ways to provide a chatbot-driven self-service experience:
Interactive guides and tutorials that your customers can interact with (but never type questions into).
A menu-based bot that enables customers to select from pre-defined buttons and routes them based on a decision tree hierarchy.
A linguistic or rule-based bot that consists of a set of predefined rules or scripts that dictate how it responds to customer queries.
Keyword recognition, where answers (usually snippets from a help article) are served based on what the customer appears to ask.
Conversational AI, where the bot is designed to understand, interpret, and mimic human language while using a machine learning algorithm to improve its responses over time.
Conversational AI is often the most tempting because it’s the most intelligent solution, but if your customers misinterpret the bot or don’t want to have back-and-forth conversations with one, then it isn’t ideal for you.
Which one of these solutions will work for you depends on your customers’ preferences and the complexity of the problems they face
2. Focus on the user interface (UI)
Designing a great UI can be the difference between your customers deciding to use your chatbot or skipping straight to finding a way to contact your support team.
Let me put it another way: If your customers have to spend a long time struggling to find what they’re looking for or need to rephrase their question five times before they get an answer that makes sense, you can bank on the fact that they will never use your chatbot again.
A well-designed UI makes self-service more engaging, easy to navigate, and effective in addressing customer needs.
3. Start small and build over time
Some companies try to develop comprehensive self-service that covers every possible question before they ever publish anything. Whether it’s procrastination or perfectionism, it can be even more tempting when working on a chatbot, because you don’t want your customers asking a question your flashy new tool can’t solve.
But the result of this approach is a never-ending project with a huge risk of failure at the end.
It’s much more effective to:
Target the most common customer queries first, ensuring that your content is on point and high quality.
See how your customers interact with it to identify knowledge gaps and potential areas of improvement.
Get live feedback from customers and your support agents as they see it in action.
This approach requires taking a product management approach to your self-service strategy. Launch a minimum viable solution, get quick feedback, then iterate and improve.
You’ll see great results faster, but you’ll also decrease the risks of failure and give yourself the opportunity to pivot without a ton of sunk costs if you learn unexpected lessons.
4. Ensure a seamless handover
There aren’t many universal truths in this world, but here are two: Every customer hates repeating themselves. And every customer also hates wasting time trying to find a way to contact you.
A good chatbot allows your customers to escalate issues to a human support agent quickly and easily. All information from their interaction with your chatbot should be captured and sent to your agents simultaneously. If necessary, your chatbot might even ask for additional required information—based on their issue—before passing them to a human agent.
It might feel counterintuitive, but if customers seem to “overuse” the contact option for issues that the bot could’ve solved, you need to make your solutions more obvious and easier to access.
A seamless handover means your customers never feel like they wasted time because their interaction with self-service saves time later down the line.
5. Test it thoroughly
Testing is the one, surefire way you have to ensure your self-service solution actually works.
Get your support agents to test it internally first and verify solutions to the most common issues.
Conduct user testing with beta testers to get first impressions and see if the design and content is easy to work with.
Run an A/B test with a random sample of your customers to check that it’s a promising solution.
It’s always a good idea to start by defining success criteria and the main KPIs you want to change before testing a new self-service solution.
6. Build in personalized experiences
Getting personalization right takes time. You need to collect enough data to understand the customer, their needs, and their actions, so you can make recommendations based on their specific circumstances.
While it takes time, building personalization into your self-service — especially into proactive self-service — dramatically improves your customer experience.
78% of consumers are more likely to make repeat purchases from companies than personalize, and 76% are more likely to consider purchasing if you personalize. That’s true for sales campaigns and discount offers, but you can also leverage it in customer support.
7. Involve your support agents
Including your support agents in the process of launching and improving a chatbot makes a huge difference to your success.
Support agents are the people on the frontline. Because they interact with customers constantly, they’ll have a deeper understanding of customer needs and their perspectives. They should be empowered to give feedback and suggest improvements. They should also have clear visibility into the results and the impact of your self-service efforts.
In the same way implementing a methodology like Knowledge-Centered Service can change your help center, ensuring your whole team is invested in the success of your chatbot will make a huge difference.
Starting with a great help center
Help centers are the most widespread self-service solution out there.
You’ll have a much easier time developing a successful chatbot or other solutions if your help center is in great shape first. Your help center will give you a blueprint to follow.
It can also help you understand the role of self-service in your overall customer support strategy so you know how to maximize it.
Written by Nouran Smogluk
Nouran is a passionate people manager who believes that work should be a place where people grow, develop, and thrive. She writes for Supported Content and also blogs about a variety of topics, including remote work, leadership, and creating great customer experiences.