min read

Customer Self-Service: The Complete Guide for 2023

All you need to know about customer self-service - definition, challenges, best practices, and more.
Written by
Kerry Leech
Last updated
October 27, 2023

In today's digital age, customers expect support on demand. They want answers and solutions immediately, without having to wait. That's where self-service comes in. Customer self-service enables users to find information and resolve issues without contacting a live agent. 

It's a proactive approach to customer service that empowers customers and provides efficient, 24/7 support. But delivering quality self-service isn't easy. It requires understanding your customers' needs, crafting helpful resources, and making information easy to access. 

In this guide, we'll cover the benefits of self-service, best practices for content creation, and how to ensure users can easily find answers to their questions. Here’s a glimpse of the best practices covered in this article: 

Tips and tricks for successful customer self-service

With the right approach, self-service can transform your customer experience and strengthen loyalty.

So let’s get into it. 👇

What is customer self-service?

Customer self-service is a proactive form of customer support that allows customers to solve problems independently, without contacting a support agent. It can include anything from blog posts and FAQ pages to customer communities and knowledge bases. Good self-service is easy to access and contains clear answers to a large variety of customer queries.

Customers love this level of control because it's quick, and they don't have to jump through hoops. And your customer support team can breathe easier, too. Fewer queries hitting their desks mean they can focus on more complex issues that require a human touch.

Being able to self-serve isn't just a nice-to-have; it's expected. According to research done by Microsoft, 90% of the respondents say they expect brands and organizations to offer an online portal for self-service.

customer self-service stats
Report on "State of Global Customer Service" by Microsoft

Customer self-service benefits

Providing self-service alongside synchronous (real-time) as well as asynchronous support channels lets customers decide how they solve their problems. Those who want to speak to an agent can do so, while those looking to solve problems independently have that option too. This can have substantial business benefits. Here's how it helps your customers, your team, and your business:

Benefits of self-service for your customers

  • Meet customer needs: The truth is customers often prefer to use self-service tools than speak to agents.‍ The Alvaria Consumer Experience Index found that 73% of customers think they should be able to solve a product or service issue on their own.
  • Enable 24/7 availability: According to Zendesk, customers say the most important aspects of a good experience are: 1. Being able to resolve issues quickly 2. 24/7 availability 3. Friendly support agents. 
  • Improve customer satisfaction: Self-service gives customers autonomy and control, and this time of quick access to information increases customer satisfaction.

Benefits of customer self-service for your agents

  • Enable agents to focus on complex issues: Self-service filters out the simpler queries, allowing your agents to put their expertise to use on more challenging issues. 
  • Improve team morale: With fewer repetitive questions to answer, agents can invest time in upskilling and proactive customer engagement, making their workday more fulfilling. Fewer tickets also means less stress and quicker resolution times for issues that do require human intervention.
  • Increase efficiency: Self-service is not a replacement for your hardworking support agents. Picture this: More than 60% of consumers default to self-service for basic questions. That's a lot of people who are resolving issues without even clicking "Contact Us." And you won’t have to spend big on increasing the size of your customer support team.

Benefits of customer self-service for your business

  • Scales with growth: As your business grows, self-service scales effortlessly, accommodating more users without the need for staff increases. And when self-service is executed correctly, your NPS and CSAT scores can soar. It's not just about the money you save; it's also about delivering what your customers want.
  • Improve NPS scores: According to the Alvaria Consumer Experience Index, 73% of consumers believe they should be able to fix issues with a product or service themselves. Most people see talking to a service rep as a last resort. So, self-service is not just a "nice to have" feature; it's practically a demand from modern consumers.
  • Provides valuable analytics: Self-service platforms can generate valuable analytics. You can track what your customers are looking for most often and refine your resources to match those needs.
  • Significant cost savings: The real magic happens when you look at the cost per customer interaction. According to a Gartner report, a single ticket resolved by a service rep can set you back about $8.01. Compare that to $0.10 when the customer sorts it out using web or app-based tools.

📗 To dig deeper into the future of customer support, check out our downloadable guide on Customer Support Trends.

Next up, let's take a look at the different types of customer self-service strategies.👇

Types of customer self-service portals

Your company has many options when it comes to offering self-service. The best ones for you will depend on your brand and customers. Companies looking for a truly omnichannel experience should provide multiple types of self-service. Here is a rundown of some of the most popular ones:

1. Support community

A self-service support community is more than just a forum; it empowers customers to find answers to their questions without interacting with your support team. It does this in two main ways.

  • Peer-to-peer wisdom: Customers chime in to help each other out. Your team gets to sit back and focus on other things when they do.
  • Expanding resource pool: Every answered question adds another piece to the puzzle, creating a dynamic library of solutions. Make this treasure trove searchable or, even better, integrate it directly into your knowledge base to create a robust self-service resource.

How your community serves your customers will largely depend on your chosen tool. So, think of your self-service community as a flexible, evolving asset that complements your customer service efforts and as a valuable onboarding resource.

2. Knowledge base

Knowledge bases offer businesses the perfect platform to host tutorials and guides on using their products. Most come loaded with killer categorization and search features, making it easy for your customers to find exactly what they need. And for those of you worried about the tech aspect, don’t be. Premium knowledge base software comes with easy-to-use editing tools that let even the least tech-savvy create crystal-clear documentation. 

Here's what to look for:

  • Visual aids: The option to add images, making solutions easy to grasp.
  • Step-by-step guides: The ability to break down instructions into digestible steps for easy following.
  • Video support: Features that allow the addition of video walkthroughs to explain those tricky technical tasks.

Quick templates: Use this template to create professional-looking articles in a breeze.

A template to create knowledge base articles
Example knowledge base for customer self-service

Knowledge bases also play well with other support processes. Ever thought of integrating your knowledge base with your chatbot? Or can your support agents send links to knowledge base articles when tackling support tickets?

3. Product training

Self-serve product training is a powerful driver of customer education and the key to guiding customers to reach Aha! moment. With product training, companies improve customer onboarding, enable customers to learn best practices, drive product adoption, and help customer success teams with scalable educational resources.

This becomes especially valuable when the customers are not able to access one-on-one help from customer support and success teams. Also, consider the fact that there are segments of customers that prefer self-paced educational content to learn the product and don't favor interaction with customer-facing teams.

Apart from that, product training also enables customers to access content resources whenever they need them.

When the training resources are integrated into the product, it enables just-in-time education.

Example product training from Webflow University
Example product training from Webflow University

4. In-product help

When customers hit a snag within your product, the last thing you want is for them to leave the platform in search of answers. Enter in-product help—a genius way to bring support to where your customers are, keeping them happily engaged with your offering. It's an integral component of your customer self-service strategy. Here are your three golden rules for nailing in-product help:

  • Context is king: Say your customer is trying to integrate a new tool. Your in-product help should be smart enough to display relevant content to that specific integration.
  • Flow, don't interrupt: The help options you provide should be so seamlessly integrated they're virtually invisible, ensuring the customer's workflow isn't interrupted.
  • Advanced search capabilities: Your in-product help's search function should be robust enough to find and present answers in an easy-to-digest format. 

In short, in-product help doesn't just make life easier for your customers; it turns them into loyalists. It aligns perfectly with your overarching customer self-service portal strategy, ensuring help is always just a click away.

Here is an example of in-product help offered via widgets.

Example of In-Product help widget

Another popular way to offer in-product self-service is by building guided tours. This is particularly useful when a new feature is launched or a new customer signs up for the product, like in this example, below.

Intercom's Help content in Product Tours
Intercom's help content in product tours

5. Chatbots

Chatbots offer automated customer support through your messaging systems. Customers ask questions and get automated answers. This is a useful way to deflect support tickets. Customers who find answers via your chatbot don’t need to contact your team. Chatbots appear in the same widgets support teams use to offer real-time support messaging.

This means you can push customers towards using them before they use the same widget to contact your team. Chatbots aren’t the only way to offer self-service support through a chat widget. Many business messaging services use integrations to increase self-service support options. For example, integrating chatbots with knowledge bases and help centers so customers can instantly access troubleshooting guides, how-to’s, and FAQs while chatting. 

Chatbot for self-service
Chatbot for self-service

For example, you can link to relevant support content or let users search through your knowledge base or customer community.

6. FAQ page

FAQ pages are a fundamental part of any customer self-service strategy. They serve as a go-to hub where customers can find answers to their most pressing questions. The appeal lies in their simplicity; FAQ pages are straightforward to set up and easy for users to navigate. However, this simplicity can also be a limitation.

Most FAQ pages aren't searchable, which can make it hard for users to locate the exact answers they need. Also, diving deep into complex issues can turn an FAQ page into an unwieldy maze of text.

The solution is to directly integrate the most important customer questions into your FAQ. Regularly analyze community forums, support tickets, chat transcripts, and other sources to spot trending issues. Then, write clear, concise responses to these priority topics and feature them prominently on the page. 

These community-driven FAQs are then strategically embedded across various sections of our website, offering a richer, more context-specific customer experience.

6. IVR system

Finally, there's Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems. These systems give customers the freedom to access services like checking reservations or account statuses, all without the need to interact with a live agent.

They are good for simple queries such as checking reservations or account statuses. IVR systems traditionally used Dual Tone Multi-Frequency (DTMF) style input that required customers to listen to a list of options before pushing a key to select the most relevant one.

This often resulted in a frustrating experience as customers were required to listen to irrelevant options. More recently, IVRs have started taking advantage of conversational AI to provide an improved customer experience.

While self-service can dramatically improve customer satisfaction and operational efficiency,  getting there isn't straightforward. In this next section, we dig deep into the hurdles businesses face when setting up and maintaining an effective self-service strategy.👇

The challenges of offering customer self-service

Here are a few of the key challenges of creating customer self-service that you need to be aware of:

#1: Security concerns

Your portal may contain sensitive personal and account-related information, so it's crucial to implement robust security measures to safeguard your customers and your business. Start with robust authentication protocols. Two-factor authentication (2FA) or multi-factor authentication (MFA) can add an extra layer of security.

Customer education should also be part of your security strategy. Use resources like blogs and downloadable guides to inform your users about best practices for securing their accounts. This helps them and reduces the risk of security lapses due to user error. 

#2: Feedback loop

Establishing a solid feedback loop helps you to understand how effective your resources, like knowledge bases, IVR systems, or chatbots, are. One straightforward method is to embed quick surveys or feedback forms within your self-service tools. For example, after a customer interacts with your FAQ page, prompt them to rate their experience and offer any suggestions.

To dig deeper, you can leverage analytics to track user behavior. How much time are users spending on your support community? What links are they clicking? Where are they dropping off? These metrics provide valuable insights that can guide your improvement cycle. 

#3: Escalation procedures

While self-service platforms like knowledge bases and chatbots work wonders for quick fixes, they have limitations. Having a streamlined escalation procedure is non-negotiable for complex issues that need a personal touch. 

Start with clear call-to-action buttons within your self-service tools that say, "Need more help? Contact us." Make this as visible as possible. When a customer clicks, lead them to a form or contact page where they can outline their issue in detail. The smoother you make this transition, the less friction your customers will experience.

Once the issue is escalated, ensure immediate acknowledgement via automated email responses or text messages detailing what steps will be taken and in what time frame. Timeliness is crucial, so flag urgent cases and ensure they are handled ASAP to prevent further dissatisfaction.

#4: Ensure accessibility

Creating an inclusive self-service experience isn't just the right thing to do; it's also a legal requirement. For example, web portals must adhere to accessibility standards, with readable text, sufficient color contrast, and more. 

Video tutorials need closed captioning as a minimum, but also benefit from audio descriptions of visuals to optimize for visual impairments. And chatbots and in-product help must ensure screen reader capability so all interactive elements are accessible. 

This can be a bit of a technical challenge. But it’s important to build self-service touchpoints with forethought for the diversity of users and their needs. Doing so takes time and resources. However, the outcome is providing every customer with an equal opportunity for self-service. 

#5: Over-reliance on automation

Automation is a powerful tool for managing customer queries, but it can create an impersonal customer experience, leaving some feeling like they're just another ticket number. When using chatbots to handle customer queries, it's vital to have a seamless handoff protocol for human agents for complex or emotionally charged issues. The bot should recognize its limitations and guide the customer to a live representative without requiring them to repeat all their information.

Similarly, your IVR system offers an easy way for callers to bypass the automated options and speak to a human agent. Ensure there's a built-in feedback mechanism so customers can express their level of satisfaction. This provides valuable insights into where automation falls short and needs a human touch. 

#6: Training and education of your team and customers

Your self-service resources' success relies on something other than robust technology; it also depends on effective training and education. Roll out detailed training programs focused on using and maintaining your knowledge base, chatbots, or in-product help. Understanding the backend will empower your team to perform periodic updates and ensure the information stays current and relevant.

It's not enough to offer self-service options; customers need to know that these tools exist and how to use them effectively. To introduce these tools consider creating educational video content that walks users through how to use these tools. These can be easily shared across multiple platforms, including your YouTube channel or within the help sections of your app or website.

#7: Resource investment

Building a robust self-service platform is a long-term investment that demands considerable time, finances, and human resources. Firstly, there's the question of technology and software. Investing in the right tools—from knowledge bases to chatbots—is essential for delivering a user-friendly experience. 

Each tool comes with its pricing model, and while some offer pay-as-you-go flexibility, others might require an annual subscription. On top of the software costs, hosting and infrastructure are also expensive. Whether you choose on-premises or cloud-based solutions, you must account for server costs, data storage, and perhaps even third-party integrations.

10 best practices for providing customer self-service

Whichever self-service options you choose, you need customers to enjoy the experience. Here are 10 best practices you can use for effective self-service and offer exceptional customer support:

1. Maintain current and relevant content

To provide customers with excellent self-service, your content must reflect the most up-to-date information on your products, services, policies and procedures. 

Stay on top of content relevance with these best practices:

  • Set up a regular review schedule for all self-service information and assign responsibility to the appropriate teams. For example, have customer support update FAQs monthly and product teams review help articles quarterly.
  • When new products or features launch, immediately update all relevant self-service materials. Create a workflow for content owners to swiftly make changes.
  • Actively monitor user forums and social channels for feedback indicating content gaps or inaccuracies. Quickly address issues through content updates.
  • Evaluate if popular existing materials need refreshed examples, screenshots or videos. Older content may not reflect current customer experiences.
  • Work cross-functionally to identify upcoming changes that will require content updates. For instance, alert customer support of policy changes that will impact FAQs.
  • Consider user testing when making major content revisions to ensure the changes address customer needs accurately and clearly.

By maintaining up-to-date and relevant self-service content, you demonstrate a commitment to customer experience. Customers appreciate accurate information at their fingertips. Regular reviews and synced cross-functional workflows make this achievable.

2. Strengthen portal security

To build customer trust and ensure portal security, consider how you can add an extra layer of protection beyond just a password. This significantly reduces the risk of unauthorized access.

Here are some best practices:

  • Implement multi-factor authentication (MFA). MFA significantly reduces unauthorized access risks.
  • Regularly evaluate and update portal security as cyber threats evolve. Balance accessibility with stringent protections.
  • Leverage the latest authentication technologies to demonstrate your cybersecurity commitment.
  • Customers' trust and loyalty grow when they know you actively safeguard their data. Robust security shows excellent service commitment.

Leveraging the latest authentication techniques shows customers you are serious about cybersecurity. Their trust and loyalty grow when they know you are actively working to keep their information secure. 

3. Establish a robust feedback mechanism

Intercom collects user feedback with a simple, visual feedback mechanism at the end of each help article. Image source

Your customer self-service portal is for your customers so knowing what they think can help you tailor your offerings. To achieve this you need to seamlessly incorporate feedback mechanisms like forms and surveys to identify any pain points. Here’s some tips:

  • Incorporate forms, rating systems, surveys, and other feedback options into the self-service portal. This identifies customer pain points.
  • Feedback provides insight on areas needing improvement so you can allocate resources effectively.
  • Analyze feedback regularly and make data-driven decisions on enhancements. Don't let it go to waste.
  • Closing the loop by making improvements based on feedback shows customers you are listening. This strengthens satisfaction.

For more on this, our Bettermode guide on self-service for SaaS covers everything you need to know about making data-backed decisions and making improvements.

4. Create clear paths for issue escalation

Salesforce provides an easy way to contact the support team within their knowledge base. Image source

Self-service saves time and empowers your customers. But sometimes, a situation calls for a human touch, and making that transition seamless is where the magic happens. 

  • Self-service is convenient, but sometimes a human touch is needed. So make escalation seamless.
  • Prominently display chat widgets, "Contact Us" buttons, etc. to connect customers with agents.
  • Give customers options - integrate community forums with helpdesk to convert discussions into tickets.
  • Unresolved community questions signal issues needing agent follow-up and resolution.
  • Clear escalation paths demonstrate you have your customers' backs when self-service falls short. This builds loyalty.

At Bettermode, we're all about giving our customers options. That's why live chat is embedded in our self-service support pages.

Bottom line: If you've got a customer community offering peer-to-peer support, ensure it's integrated with your helpdesk software. This lets you turn unresolved community discussions into support tickets.

5. Promote inclusive accessibility

Self-service tools are brilliant, but only when everyone can use them. So, how do we ensure our platforms are accessible to all? 

  • Ensure self-service tools can be used by all - this is an ongoing commitment.
  • Regularly test platforms for accessibility compliance, not just a one-time check.
  • Evaluate navigation, color contrast, alt text, and other elements for adjustment.
  • Check that tools can be easily used with screen readers and videos have closed captions.
  • Meeting standards is important, but focus on genuine inclusivity.
  • Continuously make enhancements based on testing, then test again. Accessibility is iterative.
  • When self-service is seamlessly accessible to all, you demonstrate a people-first mentality.

Accessibility requires constant evaluation and improvement - but it's essential for providing a truly inclusive customer experience.

6. Balance automation with personal touch

When it comes to self-service it’s so important to embrace automation, while still providing a human touch. Here’s how:

  • Embrace automation like bots for handling repetitive and simple tasks efficiently 24/7.
  • Ensure customers can easily escalate to a live agent when needed.
  • Provide clear options to connect with a real representative.
  • Proactively review automated content to keep it useful.
  • Combining digital convenience with human care delivers optimal CX.

The right mix of automation and human support provides the best of both worlds - fast, efficient service with a personal touch when needed.

7. Continuous training and awareness programs

Keeping your team in the loop with the latest tools and resources is your secret weapon. Training ensures your team remains versatile and up-to-date and well-trained personnel are more adept at resolving issues and guiding customers through your self-service portal. 

Follow these top tips:

  • Make training ongoing - schedule sessions frequently, not just once.
  • Incorporate real customer examples into practical, hands-on sessions.
  • Review effectiveness after training to identify areas for improvement.
  • Create a continuous loop of training, applying learnings, and optimizing.

Ongoing training that reflects real-world challenges helps staff provide exceptional assistance across the self-service portal.

8. Strategically allocate resources

Most businesses struggle with limited resources, so it’s helpful to carefully allocate resources. Here’s how:

  • Leverage analytics to identify the platform sections with the most traffic and engagement. FAQs/Help Centers tend to be high-traffic, for example. Optimize these.
  • Gather direct customer feedback through surveys, forms, and interviews to learn what self-service features they find most valuable
  • Concentrate resources on expanding and refining appreciated tools.
  • Strategic allocation maximizes satisfaction and ROI.

Combining usage analytics and customer preferences guides smart resource allocation, elevating the areas customers value most. These are priority areas for investment, as improving them will directly benefit the most customers.

9. Be proactive

Zendesk anticipates the users’ next steps and provides a list of related articles in each support article. Image source

Proactive customer support is a game-changer for reducing ticket volume and elevating customer satisfaction. 

  • Proactively suggest next steps after customers complete key tasks online.
  • Identify journey touchpoints where customers need help. Use analytics to help you pinpoint these.
  • Anticipate concerns and create tailored content to address them - articles, videos, FAQs.
  • Address likely questions before customers even ask them.
  • Proactive support dramatically cuts tickets and boosts satisfaction.

Get ahead of customer needs by proactively providing help for known pain points in their journey. This reduces contacts while delighting customers.

10. Make self-service resources visible

Octorate search integrated with community questions and articles
Octorate search integrated with community questions and articles

Making self-service resources visible is the fast track to helping your customers help themselves. Here’s a few key tips:

  • Link to resources prominently on popular pages like "About Us" or "Contact Us".
  • Encourage usage during onboarding. Integrate into existing touchpoints.
  • Index knowledge base articles on search engines to aid discovery.
  • Use chatbots to provide handy resources within conversations.
  • Visibility makes it easy for customers to self-serve and find answers fast.

Prominent placement, integration into workflows, and search engine optimization enable seamless self-service access.

💡As an interesting side note, at Bettermode, we proactively encourage our users to join our self-support community during onboarding. We have also integrated our community answers and knowledge base into our chat widgets to ensure customers can access the help they need. 

One of Bettermode's customers, Octorate, has integrated community discussions with the search box available inside their software. That way customers can access community content when looking for solutions via the search box.

Learn more about Octorate's use case here. Also, consider indexing knowledge base and community content on search engines. This will help people discover the resource when they turn to Google for answers.

Bettermode makes customer self-service simple

As we've covered, self-service enables 24/7 support, reduces costs, and provides customers with the on-demand assistance they expect. But realizing these benefits requires an intentional strategy and excellent execution.

We hope this guide has provided a roadmap to help you transform your self-service experience. 

If you're keen to learn more, we'd love to hear from you.

Bettermode builds branded communities that get results because customers don't just connect; they solve issues together. Your team can step in, but the community's often got it covered.

  • Customers connect to discuss and solve issues. Your team can jump in to help, but problems are often solved without your input.
  • Every solved question adds to a searchable library of resources that customers use to find solutions to problems.
  • Integrate community answers with your knowledge base to create a comprehensive self-service resource.
  • Create spaces based on products or customer segments and highlight relevant help content.
  • Integrate your community with the search function of a live chat widget to provide support at the exact moment your customers need it.
  • Create rich content with videos, images, file uploads, and Q&As.
  • Use community discussions and commonly asked questions to see what customers struggle with. Use this data to guide the creation of your self-service resources.

Click here to find out more about how Bettermode can help you offer a self-service experience that customers love.

Kerry Leech
Content Contributor

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