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Intelligent Self-Service: Help your customers do more with less (effort)

Posted February 7, 2019 - Updated July 16, 2021
Tablet and phone displaying speech bubbles that read "What can I help you with?"

Some customers will always prefer one support channel over another, but a growing majority are channel-agnostic in their quest for the clearest answer in the shortest amount of time.

Customers are looking to expend the least amount of effort possible in their service interactions, whether that means reading an FAQ, getting advice in an online forum or chatting with a chatbot. And, they expect their preferred brands to make this kind of low-effort service a reality — but as we know, sometimes the simplest solutions are the most complicated to engineer.

That’s why bundling simple customer-brand interactions (e.g., online FAQs) with advanced technologies (e.g., artificial intelligence, machine learning) into an intelligent self-service (ISS) model is the wave of the future.

What is intelligent self-service?

Intelligent self-service is all about empowering customers to find the answers they need on their own — escalating to human interaction only if needed — and using artificial intelligence (AI) to automatically tailor the customer experience to the individual’s needs.

Take Amtrak’s chatbot, Julie, says CX expert and futurist Blake Morgan. The bot is an AI version of a traditional phone-based human agent that can help with tasks such as making a reservation, finding route information and signing up for the rewards program.

“What makes Julie so successful is that she actually understands what customers are asking through her natural language capabilities, and has a huge range of knowledge to give the right answers,” says Morgan. Rather than making an extra call, or sifting through old emails and records, Julie helps surface relevant customer information quickly and easily.

Julie delivers on the major objective of any ISS infrastructure: Reduce customer effort and deliver consistency across service channels.

Creating the right intelligent self-service model

A survey conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of TELUS International found that 85% of Millennials want visible self-service options on a website, while 21% of Gen Z indicate they prefer virtual assistants. Companies need to make it painless for customers to find what they’re looking for via the channels that they are most comfortable using.

Conduent says that in the next five years, 81 percent of consumers expect their interactions with brands to be entirely on digital channels. According to McKinsey, telco customers already make approximately 70 percent of their purchases partly or completely online, with 90 percent of their service requests done entirely online.

Reducing customer effort through ISS means automating many simple requests for information, and increasing efficiency and customer satisfaction in the process. In the report on CRM Trends, Forrester wrote, “Companies that master the interplay between AI, automation and human relationships will dominate their industries.”

With an intelligent integration of machine learning, ISS can actually get better and more efficient over time, says Morgan. “The ideal system should be able to predict customer issues and recommend solutions proactively.”

Achieving that perfect scenario requires people, processes and technology all working together, Morgan continues. “A strong ISS system isn’t a rush job. You’ve got to take time to strategically think through the entire process and ensure it is responsive and predictive.”

And there’s no finish line either. Experts say it’s imperative to constantly test new methods and leverage usage analytics to create a virtuous cycle of improvement that reflects the most current, relevant trends.

The power of customer communities

Amidst all this upheaval, an older form of service has re-emerged as a popular channel for intelligent self-service: customer communities.

Interactive voice response (IVR), intelligent virtual assistants and the omnipotence of social media have helped create the conditions for customer communities to thrive. These communities permit customers to search for resources and ways to engage with their peers on their own schedule.

Verint Systems, a customer engagement intelligence provider and TELUS International partner, is taking online customer communities to the next level, transforming them into discussion forums for customers, partners and employees. According to Verint’s global vice-president of customer experience, Nancy Porte, “Customers can enter their question and the built-in intelligence will help them decide whether to initiate a support request, network with other customers who use the same product to see how they’re solving certain issues or find out about upcoming webinars and other events.”

The outcome is that the community will be able to automatically direct customers to the most likely place for their issue to be resolved. Sometimes it will initiate a support ticket, while other times it will direct them to an existing thread that answers their questions.

Gamification is another element of engagement that can encourage users and customers to help each other by asking and answering questions in order to earn rewards, points and badges. Customers feel empowered, build a stronger connection to the brand and take the pressure off agents, who can instead focus their attention on the highest-priority issues.

In many ways, ISS mirrors other digital transformation efforts that challenge brands, in that there’s no express route to the finish line. It requires constant improvement and iteration. But, for those committed to the cause of reducing customer effort by creating a responsive, proactive and predictive self-service ecosystem, the top- and bottom-line benefits will be substantial.

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