10 Ways to Boost Customer Self-Service

This is an exciting time of development in contact centers, as the columns and stories on SmartCustomerService.com attest, and as you're likely seeing firsthand. Artificial intelligence-driven capabilities, analytics, and speech applications, among other developments, are bringing new opportunities to better serve customers and drive unnecessary costs out of service operations.

But to be effective, self-service systems must be an integrated part of your overall customer access strategy. They shouldn't—actually can't—be developed in isolation.

And there's a cultural consideration. If your contact center agents view self-service as a low-cost replacement for humans, they might not be overly enthusiastic about helping to improve those systems or encouraging their use. Turn this misconception on its head and you'll be correctly positioning self-service systems as an essential part of providing choices and delivering high-value services.

Effective self-service enables complementary access that provides choices to customers and frees agents to do more complex work. Contact centers play an increasingly central role in supporting and encouraging the use of self-serve channels.

For example, the contact center can provide a wealth of information on which contacts can be automated (or handled in customer communities), and what can be done to improve customer use. Further—and perhaps paradoxically—providing agent assistance when and as needed encourages customer confidence in these alternatives.

Here are 10 ways you can harness your contact center to build and bolster self-service channels:

1. Just as you have included phone, chat, social media interactions, and other channels into your overall strategic approach, you'll want to include self-service systems into strategy and plans. They should be an integrated part of your customer access strategy.

2. Collect and analyze data about contacts currently handled in the center. Analyze conversations, tickets, tags, and other clues to discover frequently asked questions and common pain points. Look for opportunities to provide self-service features or build communities that customers will want to use.

3. Observe agents handling contacts, step by step. Your best agents really know how to serve customers; watching them work can present many opportunities for developing and improving self-service systems and those that support agents. In many ways, systems can be modeled after effective agent practices.

4. Involve agents in system design. Your agents should actively serve on project teams responsible for building self-service systems. They can also help monitor and test systems and interpret customer behavior and feedback.

5. Equip your agents to educate customers on self-service options. They should be trained on the advantages and use of these alternatives so they can encourage customers to use them when appropriate.

6. Integrate self-service and contact center systems and developments. Integrated systems can enable agents to use the information captured in self-service applications when assisting customers.

7. Capture and assess customer feedback about self-service systems. The nature of input is that you'll get a lot more of it when things go wrong than when they go right. Even so, customers who share their dissatisfaction represent the tip of the iceberg; in most cases, there will be many more who were dissatisfied but who did not bother to tell you. This information is essential to improving system design.

8. Enable customers to easily reach agents. If they can't reach an agent when necessary, they will often resent the need to use self-service systems. Support could take many forms, such as the following:

  • A clearly identified way to exit an interactive voice response system or mobile app;
  • Prominently displayed contact numbers and links on your website and within apps;
  • Chat, click-to-talk, or co-browsing capabilities; and
  • Posting access numbers and alternatives in relevant social communities.

9. Track data from all support modes and analyze it for improvement opportunities; specifically, why do customer contacts happen? Which do you want to encourage and which do you want to prevent (as possible)?

10. Finally and most importantly, continue to reinforce the value of thoughtful and effective self-service—not as a replacement for agents, but as an important enabler to free them for the thinking, empathy, intuition, and connections only a human can create.


  • Customers

  • Contact Types

  • Access Alternatives

  • Hours of Operation

  • Service Level and Response Time Objectives

  • Routing Methodology

  • People/Technology Resources Required

  • Information Required

  • Analysis/Improvement

  • Guidelines for Deploying New Services


Brad Cleveland is a customer service consultant specializing in contact centers, support desks, and other customer-facing environments. One of the two original partners in the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI), Brad acquired ICMI outright in 1996 and served as its president and CEO from 1996-2008. Today, Brad consults and speaks to a broad range of organizations and associations and serves as a senior advisor to ICMI. He is author/editor of eight books, including Call Center Management on Fast Forward. His current research is focused on the future of customer access management and the impact of social media; his blog can be followed at www.bradcleveland.com/blog.