CX Insight Magazine

July 2020

Self-Help ≠ Deflection

By: Execs In The Know

To improve efficiency and reduce customer effort in resolving their issues, organizations continue to ramp-up efforts to offer more self-help options in their quest for digital transformation. Many have been forced to accelerate these efforts in recent months to varying degrees of success. As we enter the second half of 2020 and prepare for what may be a very different holiday season, it’s a good time to take a step back and assess the implication of these strategies to your organizations and customers.

Self-help can be an attractive customer care alternative for many obvious reasons, but it can also be detrimental if not implemented and managed carefully from the customer’s perspective. Unfortunately, some self-help strategies do not live up to the name and are driving increased, versus fewer contacts and more customer friction and frustration.

In fact, according to results from the 2019 EITK Customer Experience Management Benchmark (CXMB) Series, Consumer Edition, we found that 43% of consumers utilized an assisted (self-help) channel to resolve an issue, but only 31% were satisfied with the solution. Clearly, there is still significant opportunity for improvement from the customer’s perspective.

Additionally, a study by Gartner Group research reinforces the reality that although many companies are adding channels to support a self-help strategy, it is not paying off. In many cases, it makes the resolution process even more complicated and lengthy, driving contacts to the service center. Based on studies of over 8,000 customer journeys, Gartner reports that 70% of customers are using self-service channels during their resolution journey, but only 9% are able to fully resolve their issues via those channels. “The good news is that channel switching does not appear to be hurting customer loyalty as much as it did in the past,” says Devin Poole, Senior Director at Gartner. “The bad news is that it is definitely hurting organizations and their costs because while customers are using newly added self-service channels, they haven’t stopped using more expensive live channels.

So, many organizations find themselves at a crossroads with their self-help strategies and need to take an outside-in view of the experience to determine where to go from here.

To frame up this discussion and put you in the customer’s self-help shoes, let’s look at an example of a real experience from one of our staff members. Perhaps you, as a customer, have personally experienced something similar.

Meet Carla Customer

Three of the four TVs in Carla’s house were freezing up every few minutes and, at times, losing service completely. Now, this may not seem like an urgent issue, but given the current situation with her family all at home and Carla trying to work from home, she really needed the TVs operational. So, Carla tried rebooting the receivers and going through various troubleshooting steps she knew to try from previous experience. When this proved unsuccessful, Carla decided to reach out to the provider via their mobile app. Below is Carla’s journey to resolve this issue.


Summary of the Experience

  • Self-help content was not relevant or easy to wade through to find resolution
  • When the self-help content proved to be inadequate, SMS/text channel did not actually work – could not reach a human via text and it kept sending a link to the same irrelevant content
  • Callback times quoted were significantly inaccurate
  • It was difficult to find contact information to get to live support
  • Carla was misrouted to customer service vs technical support, even though she correctly chose technical support
  • No agent had any of Carla’s information, so she had to repeat multiple times
  • Agents were empathetic and wanted to help, but were not empowered to do so. They also had a very frustrated customer by the time Carla reached them which impacts employee morale.


  • CUSTOMER MISTRUST – As a customer, Carla will be very reluctant to use self-help next time based on this experience and will likely proceed to contacting via a live channel in the future.
  • COSTLY TO THE COMPANY  – Due to mis-routing and lengthy handle times caused by the need to repeat information that should have been available to the agents, unnecessary costs to the company were incurred by a multiple factor (think of something that should cost 1X costing 5X instead – would you want to pay for that?).
  • POTENTIAL AGENG BURNOUT AND DISSATISFACTION – The agents were empathetic but had to endure a very frustrated customer. They did not have the information they needed to help Carla right away, and were not empowered to “do the right thing” without escalating.
  • POSSIBLE LOSS OF CUSTOMER – Based on this experience, plus the service issues, Carla is now looking at competitors and alternative solutions.
  • INCREASED MARKETING COSTS TO REPLACE LOST CUSTOMERS, VERSUS FOCUSING ON GROWTH – As you lose your base of customers you must spend even more money to find new customers to replace them.

How To Avoid These Self-Help Pitfalls

Again, many organizations have made valiant attempts at ramping up self-help options and routing more ‘transactional’ contacts to digital or self-help channels. For most, the goal is to help customers solve the more common or simple transactions via self-help tools and digital channels, allowing skilled agents to assist with the more complex situations. Ultimately, we want to wow our customers and solve their issues fast. Some organizations make the mistake of moving to self-help tools as a means of deflecting transactions away from human assistance to minimize costs, but often do so without a solid strategy. This is seldom successful because those organizations usually do not have the underlying policies and processes to ensure resolution with live agents and the foundation of their self-help strategy is flawed. To avoid the above scenario and the possible consequences that are all too common, we will share three main areas that are critical to ensuring your self-help strategies are intentional and actually do what they are supposed to do – help customers solve issues.

Capabilities and Performance Assessment

We all wish self-help was as easy as having Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on our website or pushing articles to customers, but we know it is not that simple. Some of you may have had to implement some short-term solutions in recent months to bridge a gap, but the overall design is critical to delivering an exceptional customer experience and maximizing efficiencies. Your processes and tools need to be intentional, and that starts with doing your due diligence to understand customer needs and behaviors, opportunities for self-help, and pain points with existing self-help processes. So, where do you start to ensure your self-help strategy is set up for success in the next phase of your journey? It starts with assessing your current strategy through a combination of the below:

  • CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE AND OPERATIONAL INSIGHTSUnderstand your customers’ current experience with your self-help channels AND what they want through customer surveys and input. At the same time, analyze internal data sources to determine when/where customers are falling out of self-help channels and why. Some of the metrics you may review based on transaction type, contact types, or service journeys include re-contact rates, number of touches to resolve, handle time, abandonment rates, customer satisfaction, self-help utilization rates, customer effort, and resolution rates.
  • JOURNEY MAPPING Put yourself in the customer’s shoes, conducting end-to-end mapping of all service journeys that currently offer self-help options. From the customers’ viewpoint, assess and document each step of the process, including where the gaps are, if you were able to solve the problem easily using self-help tools, if relevant content was available where you needed it, and if you were able to reach an agent if desired. Once reaching an agent, was the agent able to easily access your information and were they trained and empowered to help you quickly? Additionally, assess all service journeys and determine areas of opportunity for self-help that you are not offering today. In other words, identify where the gaps are with your current self-help options and determine additional opportunities for self-help as you navigate through each journey.
  • TECHNOLOGY ASSESSMENT Re-examine your current technology capabilities and what enhancements you can make with your current technology in the short term to improve your self-help utilization and performance. Based on your findings from customer insights analysis and journey mapping, determine what technology improvements or additions you need and assess the Return on Investment (ROI) in terms of key metrics such as handle time, resolution rates, customer satisfaction, and re-contacts.

Process and Tools Design

Once you have completed your due diligence to assess your current performance and self-help utilization, you then need to create and implement the appropriate processes and tools to support your self-help vision. The end goal should always be focused on how to drive to resolution quickly and accurately to minimize repeat contacts and increase customer satisfaction. To accomplish this, consider the following:

  • AGENT AVAILABILITY AND ROUTING – Even with a robust self-help strategy, customers need the ability to reach the right agent easily if they are not able to quickly self-serve. If a customer opts out of self-serve, the last thing you want is for that customer to be misrouted to the wrong department.
  • CONTENT – Serve up relevant content based on the customer’s issue. Do not expect customers to wade through irrelevant content to get an answer. As you saw in the provided example, that is not self-help and can only cause greater frustration to the customer, and ultimately greater cost to the company.
  • TRANSACTION ROUTING – From your analysis and journey mapping, direct the right transactions to the right channels that have the greatest possibility of resolving the issue. This may seem obvious, but in the example, that clearly was not happening, and is not all that uncommon.
  • AGENT TOOLS – Do not make it harder on your agents than it already is. They too need content served to them to help them navigate an issue to resolution. Additionally, when a customer reaches an agent, the agent needs to know immediately what the customer has already tried and their specific issue. As customers, we have all experienced the frustration of being asked to enter information prior to reaching an agent, only to be asked to repeat that information. This is frustrating to customers and wildly inefficient.
  • COMMUNICATIONCommunication to agents and customers alike is important. The process to resolution needs to be crystal clear to customers – so your app, website, and all customer-facing content needs to be easy to follow and allow the fastest path to resolution. Similarly, communication to agents is critical as policies and processes change.
  • AGENT EMPOWERMENTThe right agents need to have the right level of empowerment to solve customer issues. Although you may be driving more volume to self-help channels, the issues being handled by agents may be more complex and require more independence from agents and the ability to go “off script” as needed. Once a customer reaches an agent after trying self-help, it is detrimental to the customer experience to transfer them again because the agent is not empowered to resolve the issue. This needs to be considered as part of the process and as mentioned above, trained to accordingly.

In the 2019 EITK CXMB Corporate Edition, it was encouraging to hear some consistent themes surfacing regarding the focus of upcoming corporate initiatives. Some of the recurring comments received were:

  • “Improving the ability of agents to see customer history, including a better view of previous engagements.”
  • “Creation of cross-channel business rules and process alignment between web, IVR, and live agents.”
  • “We are actively looking for inconsistencies and addressing them through systematic changes or training.”
  • “Ensuring that our knowledge base is updated and agents are regularly trained.”

People Approach

As you move into the second half of the year and approach the holidays, you may be planning to add more staff again. This most likely means your hiring and training strategies need to be adjusted depending on your self-help strategy. Your people strategy must align with the design and processes you have developed. You may have seen first-hand in recent months how the skills needed to support the types of transactions your agents are handling have changed. By the time your customers reach an agent, they are potentially more frustrated because they have not yet been able to solve their issue or feel like they have been in a never-ending loop. Look carefully at your minimum hiring requirements and training programs to ensure you are hiring and training to the right skills. For example:

  • EMPATHY – Empathy is more than saying “I’m sorry”, or “I understand your frustration” to a customer. With more complex transactions being handled by agents, and customers who are more emotionally charged, it is more important than ever for agents to demonstrate a true desire to help the customer and relate to their issue. This can mean looking for different skills during the hiring process and making training adjustments.
  • PROBLEM SOLVING – Again, with more complex transactions, agents need to possess advanced problem-solving skills. Hopefully they have tools available to them for troubleshooting, but problem solving goes beyond tools usage. Agents require inherent skills to uncover the customer’s underlying issue and work with the customer to resolve complex issues.
  • EMPOWERMENT – While it is the company’s responsibility to empower agents to solve issues, agents need to be trained to know when they are empowered and how to act on that. They also need the confidence and skills to know when to leverage their ability to act “outside the box” when the situation warrants it.
  • ADAPTABILITY – As we have all seen, the world is changing almost daily and it is requiring all of us, including agents, to be adaptable to change. This is a characteristic that should be considered during the hiring process.
  • TOOLS USAGE As agent tools become more involved and agents are asked to multi-task even more, agents need to be hired with ability to use multiple tools and trained to efficiently use those tools to solve customer issues.

Key Takeaway

It is often more damaging to have a poorly executed self-help strategy than none at all. You may only have one chance to prove to a customer that your self-help capabilities actually work, and they will lose confidence quickly if it does not go smoothly.

Additionally, not only does a negative self-help experience contribute to a poor customer experience that is hard to recover from quickly, it has a negative impact on your costs and bottom line as well. So, as you move into the second half of this year and prepare for holiday season, assess the performance and implications of your self-help strategy and ensure you have a well-thought out plan based on data, the right processes, tools, hiring, and training approaches to support your overall strategy.

In short, do not let your self-help strategy sabotage your efforts to drive a better and more efficient customer experience. If you do what you say you are going to do, and do it well, you will be rewarded with customer loyalty, decreased costs, greater efficiencies, and a healthy bottom line.


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