Top 10 Best Practices for a Better Self-Service

It may be helpful to think about self-service in terms of a long-term sustainable commitment to your users achieved through continuous refinement and improvement.

What are the concepts of continuous refinement and improvement?
• Continuous refinement and improvement is defined as meeting and exceeding the expectations of your users.
• Success is achieved through meeting the needs of your users.
• Achieve continual improvement through small, incremental changes.
• Continuous improvement is most effective when it becomes a natural part of everyday work.

Steps to take to achieve continuous refinement and improvement?
• Form a team that has knowledge of the system needing improvement.
• Define a clear aim (Know what it is that your trying to improve).
• Understand the needs of the users who are served by the system.
• Identify and define measures of success.
• Brainstorm potential change strategies for producing improvement.
• Plan, collect, and use data for facilitating effective decision-making.

Successful user experiences are multifaceted, and it often takes organizations years to fully mature to the point where they can reliably deliver amazing results.
With that said, significant short-term and immediate benefits can be reaped from following the best practices outlined below and empowering your users with self-service.

My Top 10 Best Practices for a Successful Self-Service are:

1. Make Self-Service Easy to Find for Users

It may seem obvious, but if users of the system cannot locate the self-service area, then functionally does not exist! This lack of find-ability will not only frustrate users but will also increase the use of assisted channels to contact support such as the phone, email or approaching the support teams directly.

To help improve the possibilities that users will find self-service, follow these recommendations:

• Integrate self-service into the information architecture of your corporate website. This can be achieved by placing a link that appears on the homepage so users can see it instantly without having to search.
• Design the self-service portal so that it matches your larger corporate presence and feels like a continuation of the larger web experience.
• Invest in search engine optimization (SEO) power techniques. Major web search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo offer webmaster tools that allow internal linking for an overall improvement of search results, which by-pass large elements of your corporate site’s navigation and search. This technique will get to the data quicker with better results.
• Make sure knowledge and support pages are indexed and ranked in your overall site search, so that the information shows up in these search results.

2. Empower Users, Make Self-Service Easy to Use

Companies with the best self-service success rates are ones that are able to make users feel self-confident, self-reliant and empowered through self-service. The usability of self-service is critical to its success.

When you empower your users to make decisions, the results will be increased user adoption, enhanced user loyalty, decreased attrition, and word-of-mouth advertising for the success of the self-service portal application.

Displaying a large amount of information to users in the self-service application will just overwhelm them and make them feel helpless. When in this psychological state, a user is more likely to try to get help by seeking other support channels such as the phone and email.

To help improve the usability of self-service, follow these recommendations:

• Focus on design simplicity. What is design simplicity? Well, in short, it is about ‘subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful’. It’s about making something easier to understand. Simplicity doesn’t equal usability, but simple designs are typically easier to use. Consider the principle of choices. Providing less options leads to a greater chance that any one option will be chosen. Each additional option adds complexity to the decision making process. How do we achieve simplicity?

o Remove features: Remove anything that doesn’t get used or add anything meaningful to the essence of what you’re designing. Keep in mind that you can’t remove everything; too few features can make things more complex to use.
o Hide features: Hide things that are less important at the moment. Move them to ‘an out of the way place’, but allow them to be easily findable when needed.
o Group features: By placing things into logical groups you make them easier to find.
o Displace features: Move features and options to another location. We don’t have to have everything on one page, there may be a case where we have dedicated pages.
• In general, your users’ use of self-service is infrequent. Users don’t want to learn how to use your site, they just need to use it to resolve the issue at hand and get on with other important things.
• The 80/20 rule often applies to self-service. 80 percent of the visitors are seeking only about 20 percent of the content. Therefore place this 20 percent of content suitably, and you’ll make better use of your screen real estate.
• Design for “probabilities, not possibilities.” Instead of trying to offer every possible choice to a user, focus on the probable actions that are most likely to help your user.
• Help users select their preferred link or category by offering a series of product images or icons (where appropriate). This is important when you offer tangible and recognizable products or services a user will quickly recognize.
• Users are likely to remember an e-mail address more easily than a username when returning to the self-service site after a period of absence.
• Direct users to the best content. One approach is to dynamically generate a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs). A second way is to automatically link to an answer to a ‘useful section’ at the bottom of individual answer pages.
• Function is the objective of the design. Usability goes well beyond the design of your site, if that design does not offer functionality that helps the user, it will go unused. To avoid the mistake of designing without function, you will first need to accurately understand the tasks you offer with self-service.
• Crafting the self-service to provide an optimal viewing and interaction experience across a wide range of devices (from desktop computers to mobile phones). This should be done with easy reading and navigation with a minimum of resizing, panning and scrolling. Make sure that the user experience on each device is consistent.

3. Understand your Users’ Issues

Goals and measures are critical when developing a self-service strategy because organizations tend to have an inaccurate view of user perception and the user experience. Most users’ goals for self-service are ultimately to resolve a problem or find information.

Resolution rates for self-service are largely determined by an organization’s understanding of the problems that frequently need to be resolved.
Organizations that have an understanding of these issues are able to structure their self-service experiences to help users resolve these issues by reaching their goals.

Here are some possible interactions with self-service:

• Create a new Incident. The user wants to report an issue or raise an issue on someone’s behalf.
• Raise a new Request. The user requires some hardware or software.
• Employee Request (new/leaving). HR request for new or leaving employee.
• Get help. The customer feels that the problem can’t be resolved with self-service and is seeking a knowledgeable human being for assistance.

It can be tempting to build a self-service experience based on how the internal workings of departments or existing workflows are structured. If this does not match the “mental model” of how users think, this will only confuse them. Users simply don’t care about the company’s internal structure; they just want to resolve their issues as painlessly as possible.

4. Provide content that is easy to read

Ensure that your content is easy to read and written in plain language, without jargon and to the point. Users are well known for quickly scanning between pages, trying to locate the information they are after. Enriching your content with graphics, video, bolded text sometimes has the effect of forcing the user to glance at these elements when scanning the page, and this will increase user engagement.

Content is often overlooked in terms of its importance, this is a big mistake, and good content is absolutely critical for a good user experience. Unless you have a particularly technical or educated target audience of users, make all your content readable at no more than an eighth-grade reading level (so the average 13 or 14-year-old can make sense of the information).

Following these content guidelines will not only increase the effectiveness of your content but will also make it easier to translate content if you are serving a multilingual customer base. The more complex the language is in your content, the more likely it is to be poorly translated or misinterpreted, particularly by automated translation tools.

5. Multi-Channel Help Desk Choices

Offering a unified experience across multiple channels is not only important to the user experience but can also have an impact on the success of your self-service. Web self-service should always be used and pushed as the primary and most viable business solution, however, the uptake on this channel initially may be slow and will increase over time. The various multi-channels are:

• Web self-service. Directing interactions of all complexity but to Web self-service will result in high self-service success rates. Users will be able to resolve their problems quickly and effectively, and the organization will be able to build the user relationship while significantly lowering costs on other channels.
• Work Community. The collective intelligence of users enables the organization to provide a whole new dimension to supplement Web self-service. It may be surprising how willing users are to help their peers and collaborate on problem solving, especially because this is frequently done with minimal involvement from the supervising organization.
• Instant Chat. This channel provides a powerful way to connect with users through a passively helpful channel to engage with support issues. Real-time interaction with users provides an effective way to engage with those who are on the verge of abandoning the self-service experience.
• Phone. It provides a 1-2-1 basis where a user can gain help or information immediately. It is always useful to sell the Web self-service channel or direct users to updates only by Web self-service. This will push users to adopt the Web self-service option and rely less on the phone.
• E-mail. This communication channel allows for asynchronous communication between user and organization. This style of interaction is useful for low-priority, low-complexity issues and provides the user with the ability to respond when it is most convenient. This channel only works well when it is synchronized automatically and not reliant on users reading each and every email.

6. Analyze and Optimize User Feedback

When you’ve poured hours of blood, sweat and tears into the development and design of your self-service application, it’s easy to be biased and assume it is the best thing since sliced bread. You often don’t see the flaws that others may find.
This is precisely the reason why user feedback is a necessary component. Think of feedback as the judges or mentors who are here to help you improve your ultimate goal of a great self-service application. Use a variation of tools, surveys and insider insights to help make your application as successful as possible.

To provide a superior user experience, it is important to have an intimate understanding of the audience served, detect when there is a change in their behavior and take action. There are many different methods for gathering user feedback. The list below provides a high-level overview of tools and approaches:

• User satisfaction surveys.
• Surveys that measure the loyalty between a company and the employee.
• Web analytics and search logs.
• Gathering customer feedback on individual answers.
• Conducting firsthand customer interviews and focus groups.
• Doing usability testing and collaborative design.

There is no one right way to understand and empathize with your users, so information may come from a variety of sources. Companies that take the time to continually measure and improve their self-service experiences, based on user input, are the ones that are most likely to achieve their business goals.

7. Measure the Self-Service Performance

The tendency of users is to take the path of least resistance; a slow, awkward self-service experience is likely to cause abandonment. This aspect of the user experience is often overlooked.

To ensure high performance of the self-service application, make sure that all graphics you use are optimized for the Web. In addition to technical performance, it is also important to measure the business performance of your self-service experience.

A self-service session is considered a success if any answers are viewed by the users and the session neither involves use of the support or results in an incident submission for a problem that could have been resolved by the user reading the FAQs or knowledge articles.

This measure does not define task success. The user may have viewed an answer and then simply given up! This measures false positives rather than true positives.

Healthy self-service rates may vary considerably, depending on the nature of your business. It is important to keep careful watch over key performance indicators (KPIs), because these provide the greatest overall snapshot of self-service.

8. Personalized Experience

Make sure to take into consideration information that you already know or that can be automatically retrieved to inform you about a given customer’s current situation and state of mind. Personalized experiences build loyalty and can help companies achieve simplicity by avoiding the need to ask for users’ information. Here are a few recommended ways to personalize the online experience:

• Don’t force users to re-enter login information when they are already logged into another portion of the site or system, and consider using a single-sign-on capability.
• Automatically populate data fields and other site information if the user is already logged in or has entered similar information on a related page. Enable users to edit or modify these fields as desired.
• Clearly label mandatory fields and try to keep the forms to a minimum. The larger or more complex the form, the less likely the user will fill it out. Alternatively, the user will choose another multi-channel method of contacting the help desk.
• Provide special contact channels or custom knowledgebase articles, depending on the user’s service-level agreement (SLA).
• When a customer is authenticated, welcome that person with a personalized greeting.

There are often many opportunities to provide other nice-to-have personalization options. Use your imagination and put yourself in the user’s shoes as you evaluate your web experience: what little extras would help you have a better, more pleasurable, less painful experience?

9. Enforce Accessibility Support

Often overlooked is the importance of information accessibility. True accessibility means support for a variety of browsers as well as for assistive technology for people with disabilities. Good accessibility ensures that your self-service content has maximum reach into the marketplace and helps the greatest-possible number of users succeed in self-service tasks.

A self-service site that is not technically accessible will provide a low self-service rate for disabled individuals. These individuals will be forced to use other means to contact the Help desk support teams. Proper visual design, clear use of icons, and appropriate font size help all users, but especially the elderly and those with impaired vision.

Several laws and standards provide guidance for accessibility both in the U.S. and internationally. The U.S. Section 508 amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the international Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 was developed following the guidance of PAS 78, a guide to good practices in commissioning accessible Websites published by the British Standards Institution (BSI) and the Disability Rights Commission (DRC).

10. Change user behavior

People naturally gravitate to the path of least resistance. If certain customers who require low-complexity, high-volume interactions use a channel such as the phone, which is relatively expensive for the organization, it is likely a result of their mental model. A mental model is how an individual internalizes the inner workings of a complex system. Sometimes these models are accurate, and sometimes they are not. For instance, if a customer’s mental model says that making a phone call will be the path of least resistance, it may be because this customer has had a history of bad experiences with self-service.

Taking the time to “train” problem users to utilize self-service by orienting them to the self-service experience enables you to restructure this mental model to more accurately reflect the true path of least resistance.

Behavior modification techniques can also be used to remove the reward that may occur if a customer tends to overuse the phone channel. One way to do this is to erect a small barrier to phone usage (a short but reasonable wait time, regardless of agent availability). This implicitly establishes the phone channel as a path that is not of least resistance. Customers will learn over time that they can use self-service instead and resolve their issues more quickly and with a greater feeling of empowerment. This desired behavior can be fostered with a recorded message that tells customers what they can accomplish via self-service during the imposed wait time.

Conclusion

The self-service content and services of today’s typical organization are in need of improvement. Areas for improvement range from content and contact information that is difficult to find, to cluttered and crowded content that doesn’t address typical customer needs and the inability to collect customer feedback in a meaningful and productive way.

Depending on your circumstances, it may feel overwhelming to adopt 10 best practices at once. It often takes organizations years to increase their maturity from simply being aware of self-service concepts to practicing them and then eventually to growing into industry-leading providers of amazing user experiences.

Landesk can serve as your expert guides on your journey to achieve better user experiences and take full control of your self-service experience.