Home > Retired: KCS Practices Guide v5.3 > Section 2 KCS Practices and Techniques > The Evolve Loop > Practice 5 Content Health > Technique 7: Self-service Success

Technique 7: Self-service Success

One of the criteria to enter Phase 4, Leverage, is we have to have something to leverage.  Enabling self-service requires that we have enough knowledge in the knowledge base to enable customer success with self-service; meaning if they use self-service they have a positive experience.

First, let's define what we mean by self-service; we use a broad definition.  Self-service is any mechanism by which customers can solve an issue (an exception) without an interaction with others. The most common form of self-service today is a web support portal offering support information such as frequently asked questions and a searchable knowledge base. However, many of the Consortium members are investing in integrating self-service into the user interface for the product or application.  This moves the self-service experience from a distinct and separate event to an integrated experience within the product.  Additionally, technology vendors are investing in automation that will detect and repair issues or programmatically assist with the resolution of issues. Regardless of the approach, self-service success is dependant on knowledge.

In considering the web based self-service model there are four key criteria we have observed about successful self-service models:

  • Volume and speed - A sufficient number of articles are available to customers in a timely manner.  There has to be enough content in the knowledge base to support a positive customer experience.

  • Findability - Articles have to be findable by customers and content is written in the customer context.

  • Navigation - The navigation on the self-service portal is a positive experience. The web offers choices on how to find information and there are no "dead ends."

  • Marketing - Self-service requires a marketing plan. The "build it and they will come" model doesn't work for web-based self-service. We have to take overt, intentional actions to get customers to try it.  If they have a positive experience (see items 1-3 above) they will use it...a lot. 


A positive experience with self-service means that customer will use it again.  Not only will they come back, but they will use it a lot more often than they ever requested assistance from the support center in the past.  As a general rule of thumb, if customers find helpful information 40-50% of the time, they are likely to use self-service again.  This is the industry average for self-service success (see Service XRG for the research). In a mature KCS environment where 90% of what we know is available to customers within 90 minutes, the success rate reported by customers is in the 80% range!

Volume and Speed

How many articles are being published and how fast? The first enabler of customer success with self-service is volume and speed.  How many articles are making it to the Published state (visible to customers) and how fast (time to publish)?  The goal is to get as much as we know into the self-service channel as fast as we can.  For customers to be successful with self-service, articles have to be making it to the Published state. In the early phases of the KCS adoption this is driven by reuse.  Articles that are reused internally are moved to the Published state quickly. In adoption Phase 4, Leverage, we want to be publishing as much as we can in the moment.  The model of reuse driving publishing should be a temporary state because we know from member experience that reuse rates on the web are different from reuse rates in the support center.  It turns out that customers will use a good self-service model 10 times more often than they will call us.  So, an issue that one customer raised and has never been reused internally might be used externally a lot. Customers would appreciate having access to the information through self-service but most would not bother to open an incident about it.  Our goal is to get most of what we know into the self-service model as quickly as we can. 


When do we turn on and promote web self-service? If our KCS articles are complimentary to content we already have in the self-service channel, then an incremental approach might work.  If we are building a new self-service knowledge base, when do we have enough content in the knowledge base to ensure a 40-50% success rate? One key indicator of sufficient volume in the knowledge base is when the reuse rate of articles intersects with the create rate for a given domain. Plotting the team's create rate against the reuse rate over time gives us a sense of how often the Support Analysts find something useful in the knowledge base (reuse) versus how often they are creating new articles. When the lines cross it means that they are re-using as often as they are creating, or 50% of the time they are linking to an existing article.  It is now time to enable and promote the self-service model.


The point at which the create activity equals the reuse activity indicates there is sufficient content in the knowledge base to enable customers to find something useful 50% of the time. 


Three caveats: first, the participation rate for the domain has to be in the 60-80% range. This means the Support Analysts are using the knowledge base (creating, re-using and improving articles) in the problem-solving process a high percentage of the time.  Second, articles must be making it to the Published state. And third, the content has to be in the customers' context. Which brings us to the findability factor. 


It doesn't mater how much content we have available to customers on the web - if it is not in the customer context, they are not likely to be able to find it. This re-enforces the need for capture in the workflow.  As we discussed in the Capture practice, it is very difficult to re-create the customer experience if we are not customers, and if we know the answer.  Creating articles in the customer's context requires that we capture their context or experience when they first express it.


Research has shown that customer success is the number one driver of customers' willingness to use self-service. However, two other key factors are "no dead ends" and options on how to find things. 


"No dead ends" means once the customer has started the problem-solving process in the self-service channel, they don't have to stop and start over if they don't find something helpful.  An example of "no dead ends" in the self-service interface is the click-to-submit (create an incident) or click-to-chat functionality. If the self-service model isn't helpful, there is a graceful transition to the assisted model. Because the self-service activities of the customer are captured and made available to the Support Analyst, the customer doesn't feel like they are starting over.  An in-depth research project at Microsoft found that even when customer were unsuccessful with self-service, they were far more willing to go back to try it again if there were no dead ends.


Another key factor in customer willingness to use self-service is the availability of multiple ways to find things.  People use different methods of finding information based on a number of factors.  Options for finding articles include:

  • A list of product specific, frequently asked questions or "top ten" articles

  • An index or table of contents

  • Basic search

  • Advanced search

Good user interface design is critical to self-service success.


The "build it and they will come" model doesn't work for self-service.  Once we have taken care of the first three success criteria: volume and speed, findability, and navigation, we have to think about how to get customers to use self-service. Trying to change our customers' behavior is not trivial.  Engaging a marketing specialist is recommended.  Get advice from those who understand messaging and communications and build a marketing plan.


In addition to a marketing plan, below are some tactics that have been successfully used by companies to encourage their customers to use self-service. We offer these as observations, not recommendations; these tactics must be evaluated based on the business and customer engagement model.

  • Recorded message promoting self-service (when customers call for support)

  • Extended hold times - make self-service the path of least resistance and best results

  • Turn off the phones - make self-service the only path. Customers can only open an incident via the self-service portal (we must have high confidence that the customers' self-service experience will be positive)

  • Co-browsing - as a Support Analyst solves customer issues, the customer can see the Support Analyst's desktop and watch them search (teaching customers to use the self-service tools) 

  • When sending a customer a resolution, send them the link to the article in the online knowledge base (promotes exposure)


Customer use of and success with self-service becomes two critical measures to assess the success and health of KCS in Phase 4, Leverage. If the articles are not making it to the self-service model or if customers are not using self-service, the KCS practice will stall. 


For some examples of good support web sites see the Association of Support Professionals (ASP) list of top 10 support sites at www.asponline.com. The ASP conducts an annual assessment of support sites and the criteria they use is available on their web site.  It is a great set of criteria to use in designing a support portal.

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Last modified
10:04, 28 Oct 2013


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