Behind every successful Customer Self-Service program is searchable knowledge that is easy to access, collaborative technology, and a customer-first mindset
Customer self-service knowledge is a common weakness in most customer service environments. But let’s be clear; the knowledge does exist. In fact, it is likely very well-developed. The problem is that this knowledge is typically only accessible by Customer Service Representatives (CSRs). But what if this knowledge, which has been built and refined through countless interactions between customers and CSRs was reformatted – so that customers could access it themselves at any time?
This brings me to the central point of this article – an important value point in effective customer self-service – which is this: Offer customers enough relevant knowledge, easily searchable and simple to use.
Below, I share a visual of a product on Amazon: a coffee machine. Not just any coffee machine – a Swiss-engineered one with dual-pressure technology to brew the best quality coffee and espresso. On the page you see a section dedicated to Customer Questions and Answers (Q&A), or frequently asked questions, which is a primary and powerful form of knowledge. Nearby, Customer Reviews reveal what previous customers feel about the product. This is also useful in customer self-service as it reflects actual user experiences, which might be relevant to me as a customer. By scrolling down a little, you can easily see additional detailed information on the product with the option to download a product manual–again, this is might be very useful to me as a customer.
Figure 1: Screenshot of Amazon product page displaying useful and sufficient knowledge
Despite all this, I was not able to find what I was looking for – how do I use it? So, I asked the community, which was easy to do. The next morning, I had received 3 replies via email, including one from a Mr. and Mrs. Coffee (not sure that is their real name). I even had an easy button to click to thank them for sharing their knowledge, which I did. A very impressive customer experience for me!
Do we have to author ALL the knowledge?
Why do I talk about the coffee maker I found on Amazon? It’s not about the coffee maker, though I love coffee. It’s about knowledge.
Here’s something most companies looking to deliver delightful customer experiences don’t realize: they don’t have to author all the knowledge to keep customers happy. Today, the power of social media technology empowers all of us to share knowledge that is relevant, recent and useful for customers, and makes the curation of customer self-service knowledge essentially automatic through the community.
Collaborative, socially cured knowledge is a leading way we get support today. How many can say that they haven’t learned how to fix an appliance, like a dishwasher, from someone who made a how-to YouTube video? You might rightfully claim that there is no guarantee the information on the video is completely accurate. I agree. But can we truly say that the knowledge we develop internally is current, relevant and useful to our customers? Likely not – the knowledge we develop internally is often very out of date. We might even go so far as to say that collaborative knowledge is more accurate than internally developed, as it’s being constantly curated.
And when it comes to knowledge sharing among your team members internally, consider leveraging collaborative workspaces. Through the effective use of collaborative tools, you can create very active communities of interest inside your company and avoid having your email inbox flooded with information you may never get to read or read too late.
Collaborative tools such as Slack provide the ability to share and search processes, documents, best practices and lessons learned. At Evergreen, we can speak of Slack from first-hand experience using the tool. The impact is almost not believable: it has dramatically improved knowledge sharing and the ability for our sales, project managers, consultants and executives to easily support each other. And a key side benefit? Our e-mail traffic has gone down significantly – by over 50%!
You may not have Slack, but you likely have access to Microsoft collaborative workspaces. Give collaborative technology a try. They can improve knowledge sharing among your teams, and ultimately, help you create and deliver better self-service experiences for your customers. How would you get started? Whom would you invite? For any given product or service, how about support, sales, engineering and product line management?
Back to the future; the revival of CRM
I think many of our customer service challenges come from being tied to technologies not designed to support what we do. In the early days of the 1990s, Customer Relationship Management, or CRM, was about customer service and sales. It took a balanced view of the customer’s relationship with the company over time and saw sales as a supporting part of that dynamic. Leaders in the market included Vantive, Clarify and Scopus.
Then came sales automation with the advent of Seibel. It was designed and built for running sales better, which the VPs of Sales bought. It had some basic customer service functionality, so these VPs replaced their CRM solutions with Siebel. But customer visibility and customer service suffered. A decade later, Salesforce came along and replaced Siebel in sales automation because it was better, faster and cheaper. But, customer service remained in the background, which brings us to today.
It’s like Back to the Future. Customer Relationship Management is strategically critical (again) and Customer Service is waking up from its long slumber. ServiceNow, a platform designed to deliver SERVICE is making big and fast inroads, as executives all over realize that Sales is taking a back seat to Customer Service in keeping and growing customers.
With ServiceNow, we can move from primitive, inefficient interaction to beautiful modern customer self-service. We can transition from sales-centric to customer-centric operations. We can also migrate from stilted manual work processes to end to end workflow going smoothly from customer request to customer outcome. We can "Delivery Customer Service Like Amazon."
About the Author: Don Casson is CEO of Evergreen Systems, an IT consulting firm helping medium to enterprise public and private sector organizations to dramatically transform their IT operations. Don is a frequent writer, blogger and presenter, and has delivered over 60 webinars on topics in Service Management, including IT and shared services.