Customers want a hassle-free experience when they choose your product, including an easy setup and reliable customer service. If they don't get what they need, they'll move on to another solution.
Self-service tools can help customers onboard quickly and at their own pace, while digital resources like support forums and how-to guides offer immediate troubleshooting. Self-service is becoming the norm in the SaaS industry, and it's easy to see why. It can scale customer onboarding, reduce support costs, and alleviate pressure from service reps.
In this guide, we'll cover the benefits and key components of a self-service portal and show you how to implement an effective self-service experience for your SaaS business.
How does self-service benefit customers?
Today’s customers are shouting it loud and clear: they want self-service support. Here are a few reasons why they love it.
Increased control and ownership
In 2023, SaaS users want to be in the driver’s seat. More tech-savvy than ever, customers expect do-it-yourself options for solving routine issues. For example, 81% of customers say they try to solve problems on their own before reaching out to live help.
Having self-service resources readily available gives customers ownership over the service experience. Rather than being dependent on live support or customer success managers, customers are free to learn about products and start troubleshooting their issues whenever they want and at a pace that suits them.
Quick access to information
When a customer gets sidetracked by a simple issue that needs a quick fix — like a password error or an admin task — waiting to hear back from an agent can be extremely frustrating.
By contrast, self-service resources are available 24/7, allowing customers to easily access the help they need the moment they need it. At any hour of the day or day of the week, customers can find answers to their questions and start troubleshooting right away, greatly speeding up the resolution process and improving product adoption.
Improved user experience
The traditional customer service experience can be a daunting one. Service reps are often overburdened, resulting in long wait times, dropped phone calls, and issues going unresolved.
These interactions can be so unpleasant that customers would rather avoid asking for help altogether — one survey found that 24% of Americans would rather shave their heads than reach out to a service representative.
A self-guided approach gives customers the option to avoid these friction points when they feel capable of fixing an issue themselves, resulting in a much more positive experience.
Self-service portals are built to be simple, easy to navigate, and packed with answers to the most commonly asked questions. They also tend to be highly flexible and responsive to the user’s needs. Resources are often interactive and come in a variety of formats, resulting in a more engaging learning experience.
How does self-service benefit SaaS companies?
A self-service approach to customer support and success isn’t just great for your customers, it’s great for your business too. Here’s what your SaaS company has to gain.
Cost savings through reduced support requests
One of the most obvious benefits of self-service for SaaS products is drastically lower support costs. Self-service resources take care of a large share of customer requests, resulting in fewer tickets for support agents. And fewer tickets means you’ll need fewer agents on hand, greatly reducing your costs.
It’s also much cheaper to serve customers through self-support channels than live support. According to this HBR report, helping one customer through live support costs between $7–13 on average, while it costs pennies to handle a query through self-service. Over time, these savings add up — another HBR report shares how one brand’s community was saving them an estimated $2.9 million/year in support costs by handling customer queries.
Improved customer satisfaction and loyalty
A self-service approach helps you meet your customers’ expectations for fast and efficient service, increasing their satisfaction and loyalty. Customers run into less frustration and can solve routine issues quickly and easily, resulting in a better brand and product experience and a higher likelihood of retention.
Self-service also helps customers discover the value of your product sooner. User onboarding is product-led, meaning that customers are pulled into the product as they learn how to use new features step by step. This contextual learning increases engagement and brings customers closer to the activation point, as they quickly uncover your product’s benefits.
Put simply — self-service helps you keep customers happy, and in doing so, lowers the chances of customer churn.
Traditional customer service involves deploying one live agent per customer. But with automated self-service resources, thousands of customers can make use of the same learning tools. Accordingly, you can scale your support and success as your customer base grows.
With self-service onboarding, automated tools like drip emails and tooltips can guide growing numbers of new customers through the setup and first use of your product. Educational resources like your knowledge base can be continually updated as customers independently learn about new products and features.
Similarly, self-service support tools like chatbots and support forums can handle increasing numbers of requests from customers. This way, you can continue to offer fast and efficient support without scrambling to hire additional agents.
Key components of a self-service portal
With the help of self-service software, you can create a customer portal with a wide variety of tools to assist customers. Here are some noteworthy tools to have in your portal.
A knowledge base, sometimes called a help center, is a centralized hub of helpful information about your products and services. Compiled resources can include FAQ pages, how-to guides, and product documentation.
Knowledge bases can cover routinely asked questions and quickly point customers to resolutions to their problems. They can also include in-depth manuals that educate customers about all your product features and how to use them.
Your knowledge base should be intuitively organized and searchable so that customers can easily find the information they need. And if it’s SEO-enabled, customers can also find your content via Google searches.
A community forum is an online space focused on sharing, discussion, and engagement. What makes a forum stand out as a self-service tool is its ability to handle peer-to-peer support. Customers can join the forum to ask questions and to answer questions from other users.
In this way, customers can actually help each other solve issues. This is hugely advantageous since customers are a unique source of knowledge about your products. Customers are the ones using your services, so they’re often aware of product issues and creative solutions that support agents might not know about.
Since conversations are stored within the community, the forum is a searchable database of information that grows as users engage with it. The support team also jump in the forum to respond to questions, and popular Q&As can be repurposed into knowledge base content.
Troubleshooting tools help customers identify and resolve simple technical issues. So when a customer experiences an issue with the way a product is functioning, they can use a diagnostics tool to figure out the root of the problem and uncover the steps they need to fix it.
These tools walk customers step-by-step through the diagnosis process. Some include a list of common problems or error codes along with accompanying resolutions. Or, they might ask customers a set of questions to better understand the problem. Alternatively, an automated troubleshooting tool can scan for errors and then let customers know the recommended actions to take.
A chatbot is a messaging tool that communicates with customers by simulating human conversation. Chatbots are pre-programmed to handle routine customer questions and suggest relevant solutions and helpful information. Sophisticated chatbots use natural language programming and artificial intelligence to interpret a customer’s message and offer more unique responses.
With near-instant responses, chatbots can help customers solve simple issues very quickly. A chatbot can also be synced to your help center, allowing it to guide customers to educational articles or video content directly within the chat window.
Video tutorials are another staple in the self-service for SaaS world, as they allow businesses to pack tons of educational content into an easy-to-digest format. A how-to video can walk new users through an in-depth product tour or take them through a multi-step process like an account or product setup.
Training videos can be used to enhance your customer onboarding process or to teach sophisticated customers more advanced features as they get deeper into your product. Video content is a must-have for visual and auditory learners who learn better by watching and listening than by reading documentation.
4 best practices for designing an effective self-service experience
As you design your self-service portal, here are some basic rules you can follow to ensure a smooth experience for your customers.
1. Follow a user-centered design approach
Remember that your self-service experience should be designed from the point of view of your users. Your self-serve portal should be accessible, easy to operate, and present as little friction as possible. This ensures that customers can easily use and benefit from your resources.
To nail this design, you’ll need to do some research into your customers’ needs, goals, and behavior.
Some questions to ask are:
How do your customers expect your self-service portal to be organized?
Do customers understand how to use your self-service portal?
Can customers easily locate all the buttons, menus, and search options?
Is the text legible and the language accessible?
Are the design elements simple and uncluttered?
Running usability testing and gathering customer feedback can help you answer these questions.
2. Create a clear and concise information architecture
Your self-service portal will host a sizable collection of educational resources for your customers. So it’s essential that this content follows a clear information architecture — in other words, that it’s structured and labeled in a way that’s meaningful and helpful to users.
Customer portals are typically organized into different categories that link together to form a larger system. This helps users know where to go to find a particular piece of information.
3. Ensure intuitive navigation and search functionality
The goal of your self-serve portal is for customers to be able to quickly and easily access help content without needing assistance. So it’s vital that customers understand how to navigate it.
Help centers typically include menu bars to help users navigate the content. The main navigation menu can guide users to designated spaces, like a Q&A section, a Getting Started section, or a product documentation section. These menu labels should be clear and nonoverlapping to avoid confusion.
Along with intuitive navigation, search functionality is equally important. If a customer doesn’t know where to look for a piece of information (or doesn’t want to spend time looking), they’ll typically head to the search bar.
With advanced search tools, keywords and tags are used to interpret what a customer is looking for and point them to relevant results. Another key function is federated search, which allows users to search several portals with a single query. For example, when a user searches the support forum, they’re presented with relevant results from the knowledge base, too.
These features are crucial because knowledge discoverability eliminates user frustration. The sooner you direct customers to what they need, the better.
4. Prioritize mobile responsiveness
In 2023, mobile responsiveness is an absolute must. By 2025, nearly three-quarters of internet users will be on mobile. With so many customers on their smartphones, this is often how customers first discover your self-serve experience.
So when designing your self-service portal, you need to make sure it looks good and works well on all devices. This means that the text is readable, the navigation tools are functioning, and the design features are clean and non-overwhelming. Anything less will hurt your brand’s image and cause customers to abandon your tool.
Mistakes to avoid when implementing self-service
There’s no right or wrong way to implement self-service, but there are some common pitfalls that can set back your success. To ensure customers get the most out of your self-service experience, here are a few mistakes to avoid.
Not integrating your self-service portal with existing systems and tools
For an efficient and seamless experience, it’s important that your self-service tools integrate with the apps you’re already using. This includes your CRM system, helpdesk software, and analytics tools.
By ensuring these key integrations are in place, you’ll streamline your support agents’ workflows and provide customers with a more unified experience. For example, integrations allow you to transfer requests across channels without losing context. If a customer issue gets escalated from the support forum to a live agent, the agent gains much needed background information and the customer doesn’t have to repeat themselves.
Integrations also make it easier for customers to get the help they need. For instance, you can point customers to knowledge base articles or create tickets directly within the chatbot window. You can also share insights across tools, giving customer success managers a holistic view of each customer’s history, behavior, and preferences.
Without these integrations, your self-service process remains disconnected from the overall customer experience, causing friction for customers and support agents.
For example, Bettermode's integration with Zendesk allows customers to search both the community content and Zendesk knowledge base directly from the community.
Failing to include personalization and customization options
Customers are at the center of the self-service experience. To make your portal as useful as possible for them, it should be customized to reflect their needs.
One way to do this is to offer tailored content based on a customer’s demographics like their role, location, and language. You can also set up a recommendation engine that directs customers to relevant articles, tutorials, and solutions based on their history and behavior within the portal.
Another great feature is a personalized dashboard where customers can view their support history, such as any open requests they may have. This ensures customers can easily follow up on their ticket progress and feel in control of their service experience.
Customizing your portal ensures that users can take full advantage of your self-service options – while failing to do so can result in a lackluster experience and dissatisfied customers.
Ignoring user testing and continuous improvement
Finally, it’s important to remember that building your customer self-service experience is an ongoing process. No matter how fantastic your portal is, it’s going to need continuous monitoring to keep up the high-quality service.
Customers’ needs and expectations are changing all the time, so you’ll need to implement regular monitoring, testing, and iteration to ensure your self-serve process stays relevant and efficient for customers.
For example, you can test out different layouts and analyze how customers are using the portal. Does the current information architecture make sense to customers? What information are they not finding? Where are they getting confused?
Through regular tweaking and improving, you’ll develop a better understanding of your customers and gradually create a self-service experience that is adaptive to their needs.
SaaS businesses are turning to self-service to elevate their customer support and success efforts. With self-serve tools, customers are empowered to learn about your product, troubleshoot, and resolve product issues on their own — starting from the onboarding experience and throughout the entire customer journey. Whenever they have a question, customers can quickly access helpful resources online, without waiting on a support rep or a customer success manager.
For SaaS companies, going self-service is an investment that pays off in more ways than one. It means higher quality customer service, lower support costs, and increased scalability. To level up your customer support — and stay in tune with your competition — start building your self-service experience today.
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