Customer expectations are changing in every industry. Today’s digitally savvy customer wants personalized self-service when and where they need it and a knowledgeable, human touch when they can’t resolve issues for themselves. As the nature of customer service continues to evolve, so must the approaches that organizations use to capture and share knowledge.

According to the Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA), customers prefer a self-service approach, with web self-service being the most cost-effective channel for business. The TSIA also reports that the top spending priorities among its members over the next two years are self-service portals and knowledge management – both of which are closely related and necessary to make self-service work. This move to enable customers to address their own needs more independently has created new requirements for capturing and delivering relevant knowledge in real time, everywhere, for every customer.

Make self-service easy

Customer self-service often begins with an online search in the public domain. To make this first step in the service experience as easy as possible for customers, grant search engines access to knowledge about the company and products. If an organization’s knowledge base is locked behind the firewall, self-service will not be easy for customers.

Another important step is to make it easy for customers to engage with the organization’s website or customer community. A clean and consistent portal will help deflect repeatable cases, providing the knowledge to do so is made available. In many organizations, case-deflecting information is sitting in Confluence, JIRA, communities, blogs, company website, and more. Customers need intuitive and effortless access to all case-resolving knowledge from across an organization, and they need to know it’s there.

Reduce customer effort

The goal of an efficient self-service strategy is two-fold: reduce repeatable calls to the contact center by reducing customers’ efforts. This means making it easier for a customer to get answers than opening a support case; ensuring customers do not have to repeat their personal or contact information; and eliminating “dead ends” by providing an easy switch to assisted service.

By giving customers the tools and knowledge they need to solve their issues themselves – and enabling them to tap into social service channels like online communities – you can build an effortless self-service experience.

Self-service affects traditional customer support

Efficient self-service is critical to any company, but efficiency gains alone will not keep a business thriving. Enabling customers to self-serve has important ramifications on traditional agent-assisted support. By providing customer access to your company’s information and knowledge – including insights shared by service agents and other customers – “easy questions” will be quickly answered, with service agents focusing on first-time and often more complex challenges.

With service agents handling more challenging cases, a knowledge base may not provide that one right answer; instead, the agent must become a highly proficient “super-sleuth” capable of quickly and efficiently researching from across multiple sources to access and deliver knowledgeable support.

For example, in the case of tech providers, service agents need to know what the customer has already done to try to solve their issue; what other customers with similar if not exactly the same issues have done to fix them; what other agents around the world are working on – in case it is the same or related issue, such as a new issue with a new product release; which community forums or conversation threads, if any, are discussing this issue (perhaps someone from outside the company is working on it); and, finally, what is happening in R&D that might be relevant to the issue at hand.

Having access to all of the above increases the proficiency of agents as they work. Such proficiency is now becoming an essential competitive attribute; but common customer service models are based on decades-old operational models and legacy thinking.

Leading tech companies however are adopting the next generation in technology for customer support to give customers personalized, engaging self-service everywhere they want, while also helping agents to increase their proficiency by having the insights they need at their fingertips, every time. This is called Intelligent Customer Service and it takes advantage of what Forrester Research has termed “Cognitive Search” and what Gartner refers to as “Insight Engines”.

Making customer service intelligent

Intelligent Customer Service is the modern approach to customer service that meets customers’ rising expectations and agent needs. Based on a combination of search, analytics, and machine-learning technologies, Intelligent Customer Self-Service and Support helps companies deliver the personal and effortless experience customers demand, and the contextual knowledge agents need – automatically.

Intelligent search technologies securely connect to an entire IT ecosystem, including all the systems and sources that contain case-resolving information, whether they are on premise or in the cloud. The technology understands what creates success based on dynamically generated customer and agent profiles, as well as past issue resolution, and proactively delivers a unified view of the most personalized, relevant insights to contact center agents and customers so they can successfully complete their task at hand.

A leading provider of customer experience solutions used this approach to reduce costs and improve customer satisfaction while increasing case deflection three fold. This organization reduced the number of cases being routed to its call center by empowering customers to use search five times more often than creating/updating cases on its website.

A strong case for intelligent customer service

Like any transformative initiative, moving to an intelligent customer service strategy is a journey. Aside from the technologies that are required to enable effortless and knowledgeable support, you must also consider how to identify what success will look like (often by rethinking current metrics and models); and, how to justify the budget that will be required for success to happen.

Case deflection alone will more-than pay for the transformation of customer support. A fully burdened, self-service case resolution costs $4.00 on average, while the median for agent-assisted support costs are $510 according to the TSIA. In addition, the real-time increases in agent proficiency and customer satisfaction for the toughest cases contribute to this new model as well. Measurements such as time to proficiency (for agents) and customer satisfaction support these savings.

If you are wondering where to start, here are five best practices for mastering intelligent customer service and support:

  1. 1. Have a clear vision and an actionable plan to improve self-service.
  2. 2. Deliver an effortless self-service experience that addresses customers’ preference to be autonomous.
  3. 3. Have a process and methodology to manage and leverage the company’s collective knowledge.
  4. 4. Align resources for maximum impact by enabling customer service team roles to evolve.
  5. 5. Create a virtuous cycle of continuous improvement with metrics and measurements that an organization can rely on, and self-learning technology that helps improve in real time.

(About the Author: Jennifer MacIntosh is vice president of customer success at Coveo. She is a certified KCS practitioner, trainer and active industry contributor with over 20 years-experience helping leading companies establish, lead, and grow their customer experience and knowledge management practices.)

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