How to Help Your Customers Help Themselves

Answering customer inquiries or resolving complaints can be one of the most time and resource intensive activities for your organization.

While you should always ensure your team is accessible to customers who want to get in touch with you, the truth is that many customer inquiries involve relatively straightforward answers.

Taking the time to streamline your processes so that customers can help themselves can deliver significant benefits – both for your customers and for your organization.

In this article, we present several ideas to assist you to embed customer self-service principles within your business.

Identify the most common customer inquiries

The first step in introducing self-service customer processes into your business is to define the most common questions or issues faced by your customer service team.

How you choose to do this is up to you. If you are keeping any log or data on the most common reasons for customer calls (and if you aren’t, you probably should be), this would be the first port of call.

An essential second step is to get your customer service team together to review the data and ‘ground-truth’ whether it seems right to them based on their day to day experience of providing customer care.

Of course, if you have no hard data to rely on in the first place, this second step will likely be your only option regarding zeroing in on critical customer issues.

Regardless of which method you adopt, you’ll probably see evidence of a familiar pattern which plays itself out over and over again in many business processes.

Called the Pareto Principle, it predicts that the vast majority of your customer service issues (the proportion obviously varies from business to business, but it could be as high as 80%) will stem from only a small number of individual issues. The remaining 20% will likely be fairly labor-intensive, infrequent issues that aren’t common enough to be worth spending significant time on at this stage.

Identify to the best of your ability the key issues requiring the bulk of the effort from your customer service team. You will likely need to do some thinking and discussing work with your team to really refine your list. (Sometimes what seem to be two individual issues are two sides of the same coin).

Regardless of how you arrive there, you should now have a list of 5 to 6 distinct key issues (or less) for your team to work on. If you have more than this, prioritize the five most likely to give you quick wins and leave the rest for another day.

Develop a consistent response to the top issues

Have your customer service team pull together a consistent, coherent response to the top customer issues you identified in Step One.

This does not have to be the most highly polished piece in the world at this stage (that’s what you have Communications staff for … or in their absence, it should be relatively easy to outsource a small writing or editing job). The main thing is that your team agree on the key steps to resolve the issue and document them in a step by step manner that makes logical sense.

For most self-service issues this should be a relatively straight-forward exercise, but what happens when an audit such as this uncovers underlying problems that have not yet been resolved by your company? (As an example, for a software company this might be an unresolved bug).

In this case, the problem should be ear-marked as one that the company works to resolve as a priority. If it is creating enough of a problem to rank as one of the top five issues raised by your customers, it should be fixed post-haste. In the meantime, your customer service team and management should work to identify an appropriate response when the issue is raised by your customers.

Once each of the issues has a matching response formulated by your team, now is the time to draft some appropriate customer-friendly language to go with it.

Make sure the answer is intelligible, and easily able to be followed by a regular customer. Sometimes it even helps to have a volunteer with absolutely no experience of your product or service – say your twelve year old nephew, or your grandma – give it a run-through for good measure (the obvious exception is if your product or service is highly technical and used by a specialist audience – in this case, use your judgement).

If you have significant numbers of non-English speaking customers, you will also want to make sure you have your documentation translated into the key languages your customers speak.

The key thing to remember is to be consistent with the information and advice you are providing to customers. Make sure your team knows what is negotiable and nonnegotiable beforehand, and then give them some room to personalize their responses as they best see fit.

Make responses available on multiple channels

Customers will have different preferences for how they seek out (and find) information from you.

In the case of your self-service responses, you will need to make sure that the agreed-upon steps to resolve issues and customer-friendly language are adapted to a variety of channels … wherever you think the customers will try and communicate with you.

Some obvious places include in ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ pages on your website, in customer service scripts for telephone calls and provided documentation distributed with your product or service.

However, there is a range of other great channels now for catering to customer inquiries of all descriptions. Here are just some ideas:

  • You could make the customer inquiry the subject of a blog post that is profiled on your website.
  • You could monitor social media channels for a mention of your company and respond to customer inquiries there.
  • You could produce videos responding to common client questions and post them on your company’s YouTube channel.
  • You could print ‘Did you know…’ facts and figures on the back of your company business cards or leaflets to be distributed internally.
  • You could enable ‘Live Chat’ on your website so that someone is on hand during peak periods to respond to customer inquiries.
  • You could sponsor an interview to be published in your local newspaper or trade publication featuring common client concerns. Or if audio is more your thing, you could approach radio stations or podcasters to see if someone would be interested in your topic.
  • You could broadcast a range of social media messages aiming to educate your audience regarding common questions raised by customers.
  • You could feature common customer inquiries as part of a special email series to customers or as a section within a regular client newsletter.

Truth is, there are as many ways to support customers as there are types of customers. The main thing is to discover which channels your customers prefer, and be present.

Taking the time to engage your customers via the channels they frequent shows an enormous amount of goodwill by your company, and a readiness to have a conversation that is more than just one -directional. Your customers will respect you for it.