Using Self-Service to Improve Holiday Customer Service

Gina Clarkin

Senior Product Marketing Manager, Gladly

Read Time

9 minute read

During the high-stakes holiday shopping season, brands literally cannot afford a customer service misstep. Routine challenges will be magnified in this period of higher-than-normal volume and consumer expectations. Plus, surging customer acquisition costs put even more pressure on brands to deliver customer service that builds loyalty and drives retention and revenue.

We’ve all heard the pitch: self-service, done well, can be a game-changer in handling higher volumes more efficiently, offloading routine inquiries so customer service agents can focus on more complex issues. Advanced technologies power many of the available solutions. Yet somehow, the reality of automated self-service has fallen short of the promise. When customers become frustrated and try to get help in different channels or escalate to live agents, that just creates confusion, not efficiency. It may even result in churn.

But there’s good news: even though this year’s holiday season is on the horizon, there’s still time to level up your self-service game to provide even better customer service.

Customers want to help themselves

76% of consumers prefer to resolve a question or issue themselves when shopping online – Gladly CER survey 2022

Customers are happy to help themselves. As long as you make it easy for them, and as long as you don’t create an experience that makes customers feel like they’re being deflected. “It’s a word we don’t even like to use at Gladly, because I don’t think anyone ever wants to deflect a customer,” CEO Joseph Ansinelli said in his opening Keynote at the recent Gladly Connect. “I think you want to give them a choice. And a choice can mean that they want to help themselves.”

At Gladly we get to work with customers –– B2C commerce brands, such as Crate and Barrel, Warby Parker, Nordstrom, and Framebridge –– on innovations that solve persistent customer service challenges. One major focus area we’ve been working on is self-service. Specifically, how to create self-service for a world where digital is the new flagship, consumer expectations are higher than ever, and customer loyalty is the critical currency.

“No metrics anywhere correlate as highly as loyalty, with consumer behavior, sales and profitability.”

Brand Keys Global Research Group

We envision self-service experiences that

  • Drive efficiency AND customer loyalty (yes, both)
  • Are channel-independent, not separate and siloed
  • Make things easy for everyone –– the end consumers, the support heroes that step in to assist, and the CX teams who manage it all

As we’ve been engaged in this initiative, common themes and best practices emerge that can help you prepare for the 2022 holiday season and beyond.

Customer Self-Service During the Holidays: Phase 1

Start customer self-service with content

At Gladly, we believe that self-service begins with great content. Self-service has historically been driven by content and knowledge. Initially, customers just needed a quick answer to a common question with platforms built in help center and knowledge base capabilities. Ideally, these content tools allow CX teams to author content once and publish it anywhere. And you can see some great examples of these in the wild. If you go to Gladly customer sites like Allbirds, Framebridge, or Warby Parker, for example, you can start a webchat and see their knowledge base available there. They also have help centers. Some Gladly customers also have one help center knowledge base published in multiple languages to serve customers around the world. Content is foundational to self-service.

Pro tip:

  • Take the time now to review / refresh your knowledge base content. This is especially important if you’re considering adding new tech; you’ll want to avoid overlaying that new tech on an aging self-service knowledge base.
Review the basics of self-service for quick holiday rush wins

While some of these may seem obvious, and this list only highlights a few areas, it’s good to review current self-service processes in their entirety. Even simple tweaks can have an impact:

Pro tips:

  • Check the order in which you have your contact channels listed on your website. It makes a difference! List your most efficient and less expensive channels first.
  • Remove additional contact numbers from processes that truly are self-service.
  • For chat, use topics or quick actions to proactively get ahead of common questions you can anticipate related to things like order status, store locator, returns and exchanges, repairs, etc. Each selection should take the customer to a knowledge base article or a new web page with relevant information or trigger an automated process to help them get what they need quickly.
  • Pull reports on search results / answer usage. Use these insights to update topics / quick actions, keyword groups, and / or create new knowledge base answers. Consider if there are any holiday-specific phrases, like “Black Friday” or “Cyber Monday” that you want to link to your promotion or discount answers.

If you’ve checked off the basics and are ready for more advanced ways to take self-service to the next level, read on.

Customer Self-Service During the Holidays: Phase 2

Start with people

We think all customer service should start with people, not tickets or cases. Consider one of the most common questions that customers ask, especially in business-to-consumer commerce: “Where is my order?” Brands should be able to deliver that information proactively. Most of the time today, when a customer wants to find that information on their own, they need to know their order number, and provide that along with some other piece of information, like billing zip code.

“We don’t want to give people homework. We want to give them solutions, not tasks.”

Jason Faria

VP Customer Experience, V Shred

What if you could start by identifying the customer? Then you would know, based on who they are, about all of their orders. The challenge for brands is to unlock all this information they already have about the customer to deliver a self-service experience that is much more personalized.

Pro tips:

  • Give help, not homework. Help your customer immediately get on the right path to what they need instead of making them figure out what to do. When a customer is on your site, offer a chat. Publish the knowledge base at the moment of contact; allow the customer to search for answers; see quick links to common answers; or just start a conversation. Offer up some quick replies with different topics, like Order Status.
  • Identify the customer. Instead of asking for an order number to identify who they are –– that puts the burden on the customer –– make the first question about something that unlocks their entire identity, like their email address. If the customer is logged into the site, you already know their identity and can skip to confirming it.
  • Confirm their identity. Send a text message (because you already have their phone number) with a code they can provide back to confirm their identity.
Unlock the rich data you already have

Confirming the customer’s identity unlocks a wealth of information, like the actual order status, right there in the chat experience. Continue the conversation, using customer identity to drive the entire experience.

Pro tips:

  • Use everything you already know. Use information from the customer profile and past conversations, new information captured in the self-service interaction, and information from other apps (commerce, reviews, returns, shipping, etc.). Maybe the customer has a high lifetime value, is an Instagram influencer, with certain purchase preferences, and is in your VIP loyalty program.
  • Tailor the experience. With all this information, you can author additional threads in the conversation, present information back to the customer (e.g. order status information) and ask additional questions. For example, you may want to upsell additional products, offer other services or promotions, or route to a live support hero or specialist.
  • Integrate once, leverage everywhere. Look to eliminate the old and burdensome practice of multiple integrations. If you have an existing integration to a commerce app, like Shopify, then the Shopify Order Status data already available for use in your customer service platform should be available to use in self-service threads.

81% of millennials, when shopping online, prefer brands that know about them and recommend things they would like – Gladly Customer Expectations Report 2022

Enhance every part of the experience

Self-service is an entire experience, not a single transaction. Brands should consider it through that lens and provide the customer consistency of experience from the initial automated self-service conversation, across channels, and even when moving to a live customer service agent.

Pro tips:

  • Play by the rules. Apply business rules to determine, based on order status, whether to offer the option to speak to a support hero.
  • Easy access. When offering customers the option to speak with a support hero, make it easy to connect with a single click.
  • Priority boost. When customers choose to speak with a support agent, based on who that customer is, their needs, and status, you may want to prioritize or “boost” them to the head of the line to match them with the best available support hero. For example, you might want to prioritize self-service product questions to ensure a completed purchase instead of an abandoned shopping cart.
  • See the value. Be sure your operations team can track the value of self-service in your overall CX strategy to understand self-service within and across channels, as a portion of all conversations, and other insights.
  • Stay channel-independent

    Vendors often talk about the need for “omnichannel.” The truth is that to meet customers where they are, let them move easily between channels, and deliver a consistent experience across channels –– chat, email, social, SMS, voice – brands actually need to be channel-independent, with a single, life-long conversation with a customer that includes all the channels you offer.

    Pro tips:

    • Make channels a non-issue. A self-service conversation may start in a social messaging app, move to a chat on your website, transition to a live support hero, then conclude with a text confirmation. And that should be one conversation, not a handful of separate or siloed transactions.
    • Equip your support agents. When an automated, personalized self-service conversation brings in a customer support agent, equip them with visibility into the entire conversation history, regardless of channel. Give relevant context so they can pick up right where the self-service conversation left off without missing a step or asking the customer to start over.
    • Independent of the channel, self-service should be just another part of the conversation –– a customer’s lifelong conversation with your brand.
    Make it easy

    Creating personalized self-service experiences shouldn’t require a degree from MIT. “This isn’t about machine learning or programming models. This is literally about creating a conversation flow, or a thread that you can author, to greet the customer, ask them some questions, and deliver the information they need proactively,” Ansinelli asserts. “Authoring these flows, or threads, should be easy.”

    Pro tips

    • No code required. Without writing a single line of code, a CX manager should be able to create conversation flows quickly and easily in a visual conversation editor. With quick-start templates, or from scratch. From creating personalized greetings, to asking questions with Quick Replies where you decide what the replies will be, like the order status, to pulling any data already in your support system or other apps to present back to the customer (e.g. order status information),.designing these flows shouldn’t require a resource from your IT or engineering team. CX leaders and managers should be able to author these conversation threads with very little technical ability.
    • Author once, publish anywhere. CX Managers should be able to author and manage a single conversation thread, across channels.

    It’s a radically simple user experience so you can drive more personalized self-service.

    Leverage Self-Service FTW this Holiday Season

    Whether you pursue an incremental or transformative approach, the benefits of a solid self-service strategy are significant.

    • Improved customer experience: Research shows that people often prefer to answer their own questions without having to contact support.
    • Faster resolution: Self-service typically provides a much lower time-to-resolution for common customer issues, since there is no queue or wait time, and identity verification is often automatic.
    • Increased sales: Many customers will abandon a transaction rather than face the uncertain timing and outcome of opening a customer service request.
    • Lower support costs: Self-service makes it possible to help large numbers of customers at a significantly lower cost.
    • Greater support availability: While you may only be able to provide human-powered support on certain days of the week or certain hours of the day, self-service tools can make support available to your customers all day, every day.
    • More engaged, productive support staff: Self-service reduces the number of repetitive questions in your queue, which makes support work more engaging and frees agents up to handle more complex requests.
    • Successfully navigating this year’s holiday season is critical for D2C commerce brands. But brands that are able to use self-service as a loyalty lever for retention and revenue in the upcoming holiday season and beyond will be the true winners in the long-term.

      Looking to jumpstart your holiday planning? Sign up for Gladly’s Holiday Customer Service Challenge and prepare for the holiday season like never before.

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