The cliché that “the Internet changed the way we do business” has been all but swept under the massive servers and supercomputers powering the rails and switching the tracks of the Worldwide Web today. Business is business, as it always has been and always will be, with some hiccuping, coughing, choking, etc., and their remedies along the way.
The Internet has, however, posed a unique problem to the flow of commerce. For the flesh-and-blood definition of “customer” is someone whom somebody else serves. Hence, the term customer self-service is not only technically redundant, but in the extreme it is a contradiction in concept. Taking a stab at a definition may result in something like: “a customer who serves her-/himself.” That is a high obstacle to overleap.
But luckily for online business, well prior to laying the pavement of the Information Super-highway self-help courses, methodologies, teachers, programs, workshops—you name it, it started, in the 1960s, when the disciples of John von Neumann were evolving the next generation of computers from the ENIAC.
Yet, the proliferation of Help Desk portals like Zendesk, and Cayzu is not the result of heady tech groups turning their noses up at their customers and saying “God helps those who help themselves.” Their attitude is probably closer to the friendly gesture “help yourself,” when you have run out of something necessary and somebody else still has some. And what about the “self-service” gasoline pump? The human species had been well on its way to navigating to software operating systems’ and applications’ good old Help page—and now, yes, online customer self-help, or self-service, is the pink face on the block.
At this point in the cyber-game it may seem like there are not any problems to solve when it comes to customers’ simply going about their business at an online store’s web page or site. Just start clicking through and find everything they want, purchase everything they want, get every question they have answered. If that were only the case.
Because that is not the case, and because online users want that to be the case, this report now puts forward an approach to building a successful customer self-service strategy, in the following perhaps most important considerations:
1. Be well prepared to field customer service questions online—as well as customer complaints.
2. Make sure, by sufficient testing, that everything a customer needs to do to make a purchase, ask a question, etc., on a web site is easy to do.
3. Consistent with number “2,” as much as is practicably possible, preempt the customer’s need for Help by putting it all there on the page—in other words, everything on the page should be there to help the customer help her-/himself.
4. Provide a very cool, nice, and friendly way for the customer to give Feedback, because the best way a business improves is by its customers saying what is working, what is not working, what would make things work better, and what they want.
5. Instead of a link to FAQ—which is a played-out and passé feature on any site by now—provide a field where the customer can type in a question which can be answered by a a dynamic, intelligent knowledge base—providing answers, not links.
6. Following from number “1,” provide the customer with easy contact access and person-to-person communication: live chat or live telephone—with a human being; and:
7. Make sure that both forms of communication are going-out-of-your-way humble, friendly, and self-sacrificingly serving—if not, forget customer loyalty, return customers, customer referrals, etc., because there are too many choices out there, and customers are going to find somebody who is doing it right.
8. Turn off live chat and live telephone features if there is no human there to communicate with a customer.
10. If the business, company, etc., is diverse in its product and/or service offerings, and compromises individual speciality branches, then on each speciality customer self-service site be sure to include a link to the business’s other speciality branches.