How to create a self-service IT platform that works for customers Featured

8:01pm EDT February 29, 2012
How to create a self-service IT platform that works for customers

Last month’s ii2P Insights article described how small and medium-sized businesses (SMB) are facing a “perfect storm” in terms of balancing costs and customer intimacy. This month, according to Steve Carter, president and CEO of ii2P, SMBs that have decided to take action should follow some tried-and-true guidelines.

“By clearly understanding the objectives for your enterprise, you can make certain that your implementation of an end user or customer self-service platform actually becomes the end users’ preferred method of receiving support,” he says.

Smart Business spoke with Carter about implementing a self-service platform and the benefits of providing value to end users.

What should be the first step in implementing an effective self-service platform?

If there is a single step that misleads a company worse than any other, it is not getting the setup right at the start. Most of the time, executives deliver the mandate for someone to implement a self-service solution, thinking that they understand the issues. Nothing could be more detrimental than starting out with the wrong calibration.

Companies need to understand the real objectives of self-service. It is not just about trimming costs. It is about creating a true change in human behavior that drives and motivates more intimate end user experience between the customer and the company.

The objective should be to attract and retain solid, powerful end user participation with the value that you are trying to extend. The objective should be about developing a lasting platform for customer intimacy.

What would be the next step?

Once the fundamental objective is established for implementing an effective self-service platform, then it’s time to determine the true opportunity for your customers to help themselves. Another frequent error is thinking that self-service is limited to helping users ‘fix’ their own problems, such as ‘how to’ questions, or ‘fill in something.’ While these are certainly common and often easy to incorporate, that’s not the limit of effective self-service.

Quantifying the true level zero (self-service) opportunity is going to be more expansive than you typically first believe. Credit your smarter customer for that.

What do business owners need to include in their self-service platform?

Customers, especially in this day and time, are looking for self-service interactions that yield more value and independence. It’s becoming more of an environment of, ‘I want to track this,’ or ‘I want to compare these two products,’ or ‘I want to manage the entire buying or fulfillment process on my own.’

Along with the fixes and the finds, it makes great sense to consolidate many of the functional interfaces that your users are using today. A great example is expanding the IT self-service site to also serve as the gateway to other business functions, such as human resources, or information review (relevant news feeds).

Tying your customer-facing self-service site to your fulfillment tracking (such as Fedex or UPS shipping), albeit seemingly insignificant, is huge when it comes to adding value to the self-shopper.

Finally, it’s important to find a way to collect measurements of customer experience with your self-service site transactions. This correlation is going to be the most valuable information you can harvest. It will help drive ongoing improvement to the site.

What are some of the best-suited and easy-to-implement aspects of end user self-service solutions?

Avoid making the site too cluttered, but at the same time, there are some relatively common-sense elements to include. Certainly, have a strong search engine tied into a well-maintained knowledge base of solutions specifically created for self-service. One horrific mistake many companies make is placing a massive technical knowledge base in front of general purpose users and telling them, ‘Have at it!’ I call that, ‘where angels fear to trod,’ and nothing disenchants a user more than that. It is intimidating, and many times users won’t return once they experience that.

Bring any enabling technology to the site, such as self-service password reset technologies, or the ability to create a service ticket, or check the status of an existing one. Users don’t want to have to call someone to do those simple things. Make that available.

Allow  users to submit requests for common services, or even new information. One caution here — someone needs to monitor and respond to those requests. If users ever sense that no one is minding the store, they will quickly lose confidence in the site, and revert back to labor-intensive methods. It’s hard to regain their confidence at this point.

What is the most important thing about implementing self-service?

This is big: Don’t succumb to building a ‘portal to nowhere ’. Standing up the self-service site that is an afterthought or an also-thought will fail. There is a proverbial bone-yard of customer self-service sites that have ended up there.

If you are not going to implement these three elements of a successful self-service platform — effective technology, solid business practices and committed managerial disciplines — save yourself the time and money and wait until you can.

Self-service is an investment to growing customer intimacy and loyalty. Done properly, it will change human behavior and deliver lasting benefits.

Steve Carter is president and CEO of ii2P. Reach him at (817) 442-9292 or scarter@ii2p.com.