Customer Self-Service: Advantages, Types, and Best Practices

Ryan Baum
Ryan Baum
Last updated on 
May 18, 2022
Customer Self-Service: Advantages, Types, and Best Practices
Customer self-service in the form of FAQ pages or knowledge bases is a great way to handle specific customer service issues. Learn how to provide self-service tools here.

Great customer support is essential for creating an optimized customer experience and building a profitable brand. With that said, customer support doesn't always have to mean a customer communicating directly with support agents. Customer self-service options are also a key part of customer service, and using them can offer many benefits.

In fact, 88% of customers in the United States say that they expect company websites to offer a customer self-service portal according to a 2022 survey from Statista. To help you meet customer expectations and enjoy the various benefits that self-service options offer, we'll explore what customer self-service means, the advantages that it offers, and the best practices that you can employ to optimize your customers’ ability to solve issues on their own.

Table of contents

What is customer self-service?

Customer self-service is defined as a customer’s ability to resolve issues on their own. They should be able to do this only using resources your company provides, and without messaging your support team. 

For example, if a customer finds an answer to their question on your website's FAQ page, this would be one instance of customer self-service. Communicating with a chatbot is another form of self-service. Even though the customer is technically receiving AI assistance in this instance, it still counts as self-service since they are not tying up a human support agent’s time.

Why is it important to offer self-service?

There are several key reasons why it's important to give your customers options for solving issues on their own. First is the fact that, when given the right resources, customers can often resolve issues on their own in much less time than it would take to resolve the issue by working with a support agent. This is why 63% of customers attempt to resolve issues themselves before reaching out for help, according to data from Zendesk.

The second advantage of customer self-service is the fact that it reduces customer support tickets. Anytime a customer is able to solve a problem on their own, you don't have to pay a support agent to assist them. This means that companies with effective self-service options are often able to save money by reducing the size of their customer support teams.

Customer self-service options can also be used to generate revenue. Using self-service activities to trigger an automated sales workflow or presenting customers with upsell opportunities within your self-service content are two examples of how self-service options can serve as a valuable part of your company's sales funnel.

The final advantage of customer self-service is that it allows your company to offer immediate, around-the-clock support. According to data from HubSpot, 90% of customers expect an "immediate" response when they have a customer service question. However, immediate responses and 24/7 availability are not feasible goals for many companies. Customer self-service tools such as FAQ pages and knowledge base articles are available at all times, enabling you to offer swift 24/7 support without keeping support agents on call at all hours of the day and night.

Does self-service work?

It's fair to wonder whether providing customers with static resources will actually improve your brand's customer support — and ultimately improve customer satisfaction. However, from the graph below we can see that 90% of customers rate self-service options as "very important" or "somewhat important."

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The fact that so many customers prioritize self-service solutions says a lot about the effectiveness of customer self-service. Keep in mind that most customer issues are not overly unique or complex, and chances are your support team fields questions such as "how do I track my order?" and "how do I return a product?" on a regular basis. By answering simple questions like this before your customers even ask, you can make things a lot easier for your customers and support agents alike.

How does self-service enhance support for customers?

The data above shows us that customers value self-service options when communicating with brands. While this is important, it’s even more valuable to understand why they hold self-service in such high regard. Below, we’ll explore a few ways that self-service options directly enhance the customer experience, which can help guide you as you build your self-service strategies. 

Customer issues are resolved quickly

Unless a support agent picks up the phone immediately, it is almost always going to be faster for customers to solve their own issues — provided that they are given the right resources. Given the value that today's customers place on swift answers to customer support questions, you cannot overlook the importance of resolving customer issues quickly.

Even if it does take your customers a little time to find the right solutions on their own, the fact that they are actively working to solve the problem goes a long way toward improving customer satisfaction. This active time spent dealing with an issue can feel like it’s passing much quicker than sitting passively and waiting for help.

Some customers prefer solving problems on their own

For the independent among us, reaching out for help can feel like an admission of defeat. Some customers simply prefer to solve issues by themselves, and giving them the option to do so is an important part of improving their customer experience. In fact, if given the option, most customers would prefer to solve problems on their own before they go through the hassle of contacting customer support — which is reflected in the Zendesk study referenced above.

There's a decreased cost for customer service

Providing customers with self-service solutions means that a lot of the issues that would have otherwise turned into support tickets can be resolved without any assistance from a human agent. Fewer support tickets to deal with means that your company can reduce the size of its customer support team, allowing you to dramatically reduce the expense associated with providing great customer support.

Support team members will be happier and more productive

Most customer support teams spend a great deal of their time responding to mundane, repetitive questions and issues. While these questions and issues typically aren't challenging to resolve, they are tedious and not very stimulating. By eliminating these simple, repetitive issues from your support team's daily routine, you can make their job a lot more enjoyable. 

When support agents don't have to answer "where is my order?" a hundred times each day, they are free to focus on resolving more unique and challenging issues. In addition to making your agents more productive, this is something that is sure to make their job more interesting and enjoyable as well.

Customer support is more readily available

Customer self-service tools such as knowledge bases and chatbots are passive forms of customer support, meaning that they are available 24/7 without human intervention. Offering customers these tools is a great way to make support options more readily available without the need for any direct staffing efforts on behalf of your company. 

Types of customer self-service

Customer self-service channels can come in several different forms. While some of these self-service options are more popular than others, it’s typically best to create a self-service portal that offers multiple support options. With that said, here are the four most beneficial types of self-service tools for ecommerce stores.

FAQ page

A frequently asked questions (FAQ) page is exactly what it sounds like — and is a resource that you’re probably already familiar with if you've spent any time browsing the internet. These pages entail a list of common customer questions that your brand receives, along with answers to each one. FAQ pages are typically designed to answer simple and straightforward questions that don't require a lot of in-depth explanation. 

However, given that these simple questions can eat up a lot of your support team's time if customers aren't able to answer them themselves, a single FAQ page can do wonders for reducing support ticket volume.

FAQ page example

The WhatsApp FAQ page is a great example of an FAQ page that is eye-catching, well-organized, and easy to navigate. They even go as far as separating their FAQs into multiple categories, making it much easier for customers to find what they’re looking for.

Knowledge base

It may be helpful to think of a knowledge base as a digital library of customer support content. Knowledge base articles or technical documents are the most common forms that these resources take, but a knowledge base can include video and audio files as well.

Many times, a knowledge base can end up looking a lot like a company blog. However, there are some important differences. For one, the resources in a knowledge base are specifically geared toward resolving customer issues rather than existing for general informational purposes. An effective knowledge base should also be searchable (or, at the very least, well organized and broken down into specific categories) so that customers can find the answers they need without wading through page after page of irrelevant content.

Example knowledge base

Lyft's knowledge base is a great example of a helpful and well-designed knowledge base. It's both searchable and broken down into a variety of categories for easy navigation.

Forums

Most people don't consider browsing online forums as a customer service experience, but this is exactly how they are utilized by many companies. Online forums allow customers to collaborate with one another to resolve issues. Once these communications between customers are published, they are then available for anyone to view — so that any customer who is experiencing the same issue can see the solution that their fellow customers have come up with. In this way, forums can serve as a knowledge base that is populated with support content that your company doesn't even have to create.

In addition to serving as a beneficial customer self-service strategy, including forums on your website can also be a great way to encourage a sense of community among your customers. Just keep in mind that there's a reason most forums have moderators, and it might take a little effort to keep your forums a friendly and welcoming space.

Example forum

Fitbit has an excellent forum called Fitbit Community. The forum is broken down in many ways: a section for each Fitbit device, features, challenges, and many others. Fitbit users respond to questions and can vote on the best answers. The answer marked as “best answer” gets pinned to the top of the page, so anyone who lands on the page will see this answer directly under the original poster’s question — without having to scroll through pages of mediocre responses. 

How-to content or online webinars

How-to videos and online webinars can be an excellent way to provide your customers with step-by-step tutorials on how to properly use your brand's products. By saving recordings of your webinars so that they are accessible to anyone who visits your knowledge base, you can double your webinars’ value — first as a lead magnet and a customer experience for those who choose to view the webinar live, then as a permanent piece of support content that future customers can access at any time.

Example webinar

ActiveCampaign is a great example of a company that uses webinars to teach customers how to use its products.

An informative blog

Along with serving as a valuable marketing tool (and something that is sure to boost your website's SEO), creating a blog and populating it with well-written, informative content is also a great way to provide customers with the ability to resolve issues on their own. Asking customers to search your blog for the answers that they need might not be the most straightforward approach to customer support, but an informative blog can certainly be a valuable self-service tool when combined with other tools — such as a knowledge base that organizes your blog articles in a way that makes it easier for customers to search.

At the very least, publishing an informative blog will educate your customers even if it's not the first resource they turn to when they are having issues. Remember that an educated customer base is one that is likely to experience issues less frequently.

Informative blog example

Samsung's blog is an excellent example of a blog that is leveraged for both marketing and customer support/educational purposes.

5 best practices for excellent customer self-service

Enabling customers to easily serve themselves is something that can offer substantial benefits. However, it's also something that requires a well-thought-out approach. If you would like to start empowering your customers to solve issues on their own, here are the five most helpful customer self-service best practices to follow.

1) Display most frequently asked questions

Creating an FAQ page is one of the easiest ways to start executing a customer self-service strategy. Compared to managing a community forum or routinely publishing blog posts, creating an FAQ page takes little time at all. It's also a resource that your customers are sure to find helpful since an FAQ page is intended to address the questions your customers ask most commonly.

Before you create an FAQ page for your website, it’s important to really understand your customers and the issues that they experience most frequently. Start by speaking with some of the more experienced members of your customer service team to see which questions they encounter most often. After you weed out the questions that are situation-dependent and don't have a generalized answer, the remaining questions are the ones you want to include on your FAQ page.

2) Provide useful content such as images, video, and audio

When creating support content — whether it’s knowledge base articles, FAQ questions, or anything else — don't underestimate the power of using images, video, and audio to get your point across. Sometimes it's easier to show than tell, and a single image can often do more to resolve a customer's issue than an entire article of text. For example, if you are instructing customers how to navigate to a specific page on your website in an article on how to track orders, showing screenshots that point out which buttons they need to click makes the process much easier.

There's also the fact that some customers simply don't like to read, and presenting support content in the form of images, video, and audio will make them more likely to enjoy their customer service experience.

3) Improve and update content continuously

Unless your products and services never change, you aren't going to be able to just publish support content once and forget about it. Even if your overall business is relatively static, the rest of the world is not, and the needs and issues of your customers are sure to evolve over time. While it's a good idea to try and make the content included in your support portal as evergreen as possible, it's also important to ensure that you continually improve and update your support content anytime there are changes to your product, or any other changes within your business that call for it.

You'll also want to regularly improve your content so that it is better aligned with the needs of your customers. For example, if you notice that a lot of customers are struggling with a specific issue, then it's probably a good time to publish a new article on the topic to your knowledge base.

4) Enhance the mobile functionality of your self-service options

It's important for every page on your website to be mobile friendly, including your self-service options. In fact, it's arguably even more important for self-service options to be mobile friendly because many customers search for solutions while they are actively using a product and may only have access to their mobile phones. It's also especially important since finding the answers to issues often involves a lot of searching and bouncing back and forth between pages.

Given that mobile searches currently account for about 63% of all online searches, there are going to be a lot of customers who have a poor experience if your self-service pages don't look right, load correctly, or function correctly on mobile devices.

5) Utilize automation within your customer support tools

Leveraging automation in the form of customer support chatbots is one of the most powerful customer self-service strategies, since it often leaves customers feeling as if they've received immediate help from a live agent. When integrated with customer service tools such as Gorgias, chatbots powered by artificial intelligence can detect a customer's sentiment and intent, then either answer the customer’s question or direct them to self-service resources where the customer can find what they need.

For example, Gorgias allows store owners to create chatbots that can be programmed to retrieve the tracking number for a customer's order upon request. This is an instance of information that couldn't be provided by a knowledge base article or FAQ page, since it’s specific to each customer. With customer support tools that are powered by AI and automation, companies are able to provide this information on demand and around the clock at no hassle or expense.

How Gorgias approaches self-service

As the market's leading customer support solution for ecommerce stores, Gorgias includes a number of features designed to help companies execute an effective customer self-service strategy. Our approach to self service starts with a customizable help center that can be populated with FAQs, how-to articles, instructional videos, past webinars, and more. This help center is the first page that customers see when they search for support and is designed to deflect support tickets by encouraging customers to first browse self-service options.

The second pillar of our approach to customer self-service includes self-service menus and AI chatbots that are able to answer common ecommerce inquiries — both inquiries that have general answers and inquiries with answers that are specific to the individual customer. Our self-service workflows include the following commands:

  • Track my order
  • Return my order
  • Cancel my order
  • Report an issue with my order

In addition to these customer support commands, Gorgias also offers automated flows designed to answer common pre-sale questions such as "How do I pick the right size?" or "Are there any discounts available?" and help ecommerce stores improve their conversion rate.

Any other advanced queries that aren’t covered by the above self-service options can be answered automatically with customizable automation Rules that can be tailored to the questions you receive the most.

With intent and sentiment detection powered by AI, Gorgias can detect a customer’s question no matter how it is worded, and allows you to create customizable rules and flows for each command. By enabling our users to create powerful AI customer support chatbots, Gorgias makes customer self-service a dynamic process that is much more similar to traditional customer support in the way that it feels to the customer and its ability to resolve customer-specific issues.

Enjoy the advantages of optimized customer self-service with help from Gorgias

With Gorgias, you can start using a comprehensive help center and powerful AI chatbots to provide your customers with self-service options and eliminate a significant portion of your support tickets. If you would like to improve customer satisfaction while also reducing your customer support costs, then the cutting-edge self-service tools made possible by Gorgias are the perfect solution for your business. Find out more about what Gorgias can do to streamline and improve your self-service support strategies.

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