How to Make Your Self-Service Experience More Customer-Friendly

This post concludes my recap of a three-part podcast series on self-service design with Judi Halperin, principal consultant in speech engineering at Avaya. In two previous posts, I related Judi’s observations on designing a user-centric and user-friendly self-service experience and on capturing the benefits of self-service while providing a superior experience. In this installment, she talks about the role of language in designing more natural, or rather, more human self-service experiences.

Click here to listen to the full conversation.

What does “more customer-friendly” really mean? First and foremost among guiding design principles is to minimize your customers’ effort. For instance, if we’re talking about the caller experience, customer effort could refer to how much information your callers have to retain and use in order to have a self-service interaction, or how much information they have to provide just to get started.

Today though, let’s focus on a commonly broken rule. When you call a company for customer support and the IVR offers you 10 menu items, by the time you get to the last item, can you remember what the first one was? Remember that callers have to keep all of the options in their heads, a much more difficult task over the phone than on a website, a mobile app or via webchat.

So how can you make it a better experience for your customers? First, do some analysis and prioritize options based on popularity. A similar principle applies in website, mobile app and webchat design–you want to keep your most popular choices above the fold. At the same time, limit the options that your customers have to remember: generally five to seven items per menu as a guide. Also, allow your callers to start talking as soon as they hear the option that interests them.

Stay mindful of the recency rule. Again, most people tend to remember best what they heard last. It may be useful for the self-service system to offer a prompt right before the customer is asked to respond. This can help guide your customers to make the right response needed to serve their needs.

It’s also important to factor in the role of language in self-service design. For instance, consider implementing yes or no questions where it makes sense, as they are much easier interactions for callers. Also, if universal commands such as “agent” are used, be consistent; don’t substitute “operator” or some other alternative in a later menu.

Prompt structure matters too. For example, leading with “Which could I help you with?” implies that a list of options will follow. This type of prompt tends to be more straightforward to customers than the more open-ended “What can I help you with.”

Regarding speech recognition, the software-based recognizer can only listen for items that are in its set of established grammars and is predisposed to assume that the caller is going to say something it expects to hear. Also, a recognizer can get only so much information from a person’s voice, so it is important to provide acoustically different options that the recognizer can clearly distinguish between. Avoid such combinations as the classic (well, classic in the world of self-service design) “repeat” and “delete,” which differ only by a consonant sound.

Self-service systems can be powerful tools for businesses. Designing a system with customer-centric, natural language principles can go a long way toward the success of your self-service experience. Do you have some thoughts to share on self-service design? If so, we’d love to hear them.

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The Role of Proactive Customer Engagement is Changing… Are You?

If you’ve worked in the contact center world over the past few decades, you’ve undoubtedly seen firsthand the evolution of how customers engage with organizations–from voice calls to IVR to email, text, webchat, video and more. You may also have witnessed that contact centers typically saw division of labor into inbound versus outbound. Even contact center technologies were broken down into inbound and outbound solutions.

As customers increasingly expect an omnichannel experience, how can organizations continue to evolve their outbound operations along with their inbound capabilities? What role does outbound or, as we like to call it, proactive customer engagement, play in delivering on business needs and outcomes?

To address these questions, I sat down for 7 rounds with David C. Martin, Managing Principal in Avaya Professional Services and Portfolio Leader for Automated Contact Center solutions, to get his expert thoughts on the role proactive engagement plays in the changing world of customer engagement.

LB: What are the key economic benefits that outbound dialing and proactive communications can provide to an organization?

DCM: As with most automated solutions, economic benefits can be found in cost containment and revenue generation. But, with today’s outbound solutions seamlessly integrating across the contact center to care for the holistic customer relationship, proactive communications drive customer satisfaction and ongoing revenue streams. Organizations need to be leveraging these solutions across long-term strategies made up of multiple integrated touch points versus one-time discrete contacts.

LB: That’s a great point, David. Regarding your comment on how being proactive drives ongoing CSAT and revenue streams, we did a study that showed 92 percent of customers expect advanced notification, and that 88 percent would rather spend money with companies that made it easy to do business with them.

You marry that together, and it’s clear that companies that are proactive in using customer data to offer up relevant new offers and service updates are more likely to capitalize on cross-sell opportunities and retain customers going forward. My next question is, how is the emergence of multimedia channels (SMS, live chat, automated chat, email) helping to drive cost, efficiency, CSAT or revenue up or down?

DCM: The power of multimedia channels is customer empowerment. We all carry devices that allow us as customers to choose how we want to interact and when. Where a customer is at [in] time and what they’re doing can affect whether they want to interact with the organization. Customer engagement drives the tone and success of the proactive communication.

Less-intrusive communication channels, like email and SMS, can be more effective in engaging the customer when their attention is somewhere else and when they want to control their responsiveness to the outbound communication. But, on the same note, a customer’s level of urgency may dictate their need to have instant response from a live agent, possibly using chat, video, or even voice. Customer empowerment is closely aligned with customer satisfaction.

LB: What are some key infrastructure considerations that organizations should be aware of when building their proactive communication strategy?

DCM: The technology’s ability to seamlessly integrate with internal and external endpoints such as point-of-sale, Web and mobile applications, loyalty programs, etc., whether internal or 3rd party, is key. Disparate data sources that become obsolete or blind to other real-time customer interactions shatters any level of customer confidence in that outbound communication. Remember that the customer doesn’t typically delineate between inbound and outbound, as it is all part of their engagement with the organization.

LB: What are some key process considerations that organizations should really be aware of when building their proactive communication strategy?

DCM: Organizations should consider the consistency of data across the contact center and throughout the enterprise. Customers see one organization that they are interacting with, but [oftentimes], the organization itself is disjointed in terms of sharing information across the enterprise. This segmentation undermines consistent management of customer data. While inbound customer interaction is driven by the customer, proactive communication is driven by the data it’s supplied. Poor data sets the foundation for poor outreach.

LB: What are some key organizational considerations to be aware of when building a proactive communication strategy?

DCM: Similar to ensuring processes for consistent data, the organization needs to build a consistent customer management strategy. The theme of enabling a seamless and complete customer journey should always be the primary focus. Even with what seems like a discrete activity such as collections, integrating all communication channels with consistent data will draw customers into recurring engagements.

Before reaching out to customers, organizations should leverage the data to understand such things as what is driving this proactive communication, what touch points has the customer had with the organization in the past, and on which channels that the customer prefers to be served.

LB: What can organizations do to make it easier for their outbound-focused agents to deliver the same quality of service as their inbound agents?

DCM: Training and access to reliable data. When an organization takes the lead in proactively engaging a customer, the organization has the responsibility to serve that customer intelligently. Agents must be trained to anticipate how the customer accepts the proactive engagement and to build a level of confidence with the customer, supported by authentic information, of course. With an integrated solution, the agents have access to this reliable data instead of legacy disparate databases.

LB: David, in your experience, what is a key takeaway organizations should consider when it comes to outbound dialing and proactive communications?

DCM: In today’s world of engagement, it is imperative for organizations to use accurate and timely data in driving proactive communications so as to ensure a level of customer confidence and satisfaction. Customers do not delineate between inbound and outbound communication. It’s all about seamless engagement with the organization when it comes to serving their needs and nurturing the relationship. When one of those interactions is supported by inaccurate or obsolete data, customer confidence and satisfaction is damaged.

Be sure to tune into our Feb 10 Get Smart customer webinar at 9AM PST | 12 noon EST on “The Economics of Proactive Engaging Customers”.

Self-Service Customer Engagement: To Automate or Not?

This post continues my recap of a three-part podcast series on self-service design featuring Judith Halperin, principal consultant in speech engineering at Avaya.

My first post conveyed Judith’s observations on some key aspects of designing a user-centric and user-friendly self-service experience.

This installment, which covers the next podcast in the series, explores design practices for navigating that fine line between fully leveraging self-service while still providing personalized service. You can tune in to the podcasts below to hear the full conversation.

Click here to listen to the podcast.

Organizations that employ self-service systems have to perform a kind of high-wire balancing act: encourage the majority of customers to stay in self-service, while extracting top-tier, or demonstrably antsy customers to an agent before their experience deteriorates.

When should the agent option appear? Analysis of 50 Fortune 500 company IVRs by telecom research firm Software Advice found that most customers typically navigate three menus or more before reaching a live agent.

Customers will usually roll along with self-service as long as they don’t have to provide too much information or go through too many steps to accomplish their goal. At the same time, they‘re much more patient with people than with systems, and just because something can be automated doesn’t mean it should be. Complex and one-off service needs might best stay with human agents, while simpler interactions can be done in self-service.

Here are some other self-service design considerations:

Design for the majority of callers. Find out which service requests are most popular among callers and identify those who are most repeatable and automatable. These can be considered your low-hanging fruit requests that can be addressed in self-service.

Keep the agent option active. Callers will ask for an agent whether you want them to or not. They don’t necessarily need to be transferred to one immediately, but the self-service system should at least acknowledge your customer’s request. If a caller has exhausted the options in primary and secondary menus, it may, in fact, be time to transfer or at least provide the option to request an agent.

Before sending customers to an agent, it can be helpful to ask them for information that can enhance the service they receive and/or enable them to be routed to an agent with the right level of expertise. Some organizations find it beneficial to provide a short explanation as to why it is valuable for the customer to provide the information.

Use caller segmentation. Based on demographics, CRM data and other factors, you can leverage your self-service solution to actually create dynamic content and experiences for your customers. It may determine that some callers prefer to help themselves and can handle seven or eight options in self-service, while others may have a better experience with fewer automated options. You can even do data dips to help identify certain top-tier customers that may need to be transferred immediately or automatically at dial-in.

How are you capitalizing on the benefits of self-service while maintaining a superior customer experience? Please share your thoughts. And be on the lookout for our final podcast, in which we explore some natural language design tips.