Today’s article is a guest post from Greg Ciotti of Help Scout.

Great customer support should always be available, even when you are not.

In other words, sometimes the best thing you can do for your customers is to simply get out of the way.

This is a trend we’ve seen take over in 2013, and I’m confident that next year will see continuing adoption and recognition of the sincere usefulness of self-service.

Why? So many aspects of business and commerce are moving online, and with this 24-hour customer base (that spans the world over), it’s impossible for small companies to have live options for support all the time.

Fortunately, as you’ll see from the data and research below, providing self-service doesn’t mean losing out on having great service.

The Rise of Self-Support

Is the customer service space really seeing a dramatic shift towards self-service? Take a look a this data from a 2013 Forrester report:

71% of consumers reported that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide them with good service.

It’s become very apparent in our “always on” world of the web, 24-hour access is becoming more and more important.

If you’re a small team, this makes self-service a must. Not only does self-service allow you to keep excellent customer service at a large scale, but the cost of providing such service is much lower than every other channel of support.

This research shows that online self-service is drastically less expensive than even email support (graphic via Salesforce):

Surprisingly, this cost-effective approach doesn’t seem to bother customers too much, as long as the online help content is accurate and useful. In fact, according to this 2010 study:

72% of customers prefer self-service to resolve their support issues over picking up the phone or sending an email.

This is likely because so many support queries come from new customers who don’t have necessarily have a “problem,” but are simply confused about something. Self-service provides them with a great tool, and also naturally attracts the DIYers.

An FAQ is no longer enough for most customers, so being able to maintain an easy to use help center and knowing how to write a killer knowledge base article is now a must for support champions everywhere.

This is true even for mobile users. According to a 2012 survey conducted by analyst firm Coleman Parkes that examined responses from 2900 mobile users:

75% of surveyed consumers said they would prefer to use online support if it were reliable and provided accurate and complete information; 91% say they would use an online knowledge base if it were available and tailored to their needs.

Sounds great, but are there any real case studies of a company benefiting from self service?

Tons, actually, but one of my favorites comes from our friends at Wistia. They’ve taken a very interesting approach at scaling support while still maintaining quality:

  1. They eliminated their company phone number from their homepage, in order to encourage more folks to contact them via email and browse their knowledge base.
  2. Instead of relying on text alone, the team has made a very concerted effort to great a ton of video resources in order to help their customers with recorded instructions.

This might seem like the team is trying to “hide” from their customers, but Wistia regularly gets lauded as one of the top software companies with amazing support.

Last but not least, this strategy has kept their support emails steady as their number of users has increased:

Think about that: by using self-service to help scale support, the Wistia team has given their support reps more time to spend with customers who actually reach out over email. Self-service customers can still leave feedback if they’re not happy, but as the team has seen, most walk away from their knowledge base very satisfied.

That’s the true definition of a customer focused strategy that is win-win for both customers and the business. Without stepping back, Wistia would have found itself drowning in support emails for common questions that customers could have easily solved themselves.

Last but not least, this data published on FastCompany seems to drive the point home that if you don’t have a way to help customers help themselves, you’re doing to be left behind:

70% of consumers expect a company website to include a self-service application.

That is to say, good customer service can no longer just be about the face-to-face interaction. You have to be able loosen the reins a bit and help facilitate a strategy that lets customers solve their own problems.

In this way, you’ll be better suited to handle the support requests from customers who do contact you, a surefire way to increase your Net Promoter Score and your company’s overall satisfaction rating with customers.

Want a few resources to help you get started with self-service? Check these out:

About the Author: Gregory Ciotti is the marketing strategist at Help Scout, the invisible email support software for small businesses. Need of a knowledge base? Check Help Scout Docs!

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