Is it possible to drive the adoption of self-service? Yes! Here are some best practices courtesy of my customers. The main idea is that if you build it they will come (and you can successfully tell them to come.) The punitive approach (as in: you can never call us on the phone, go to the web site instead) is never as successful, and very difficult to implement successfully in enterprise support environments in any case.
1. Deliver what your customers want. Most customers who come to your web site need answers to technical questions (so want to search the knowledge base) or want to download fixes and updates. Does the site make perfectly clear how to accomplish those goals? Revamping the landing page with a big search box and “obvious” navigation typically yields large and almost immediate increases in site usage.
2. Beef up the knowledge base. The most common difficulty I encounter here is the quest for perfection: “we can’t possibly post articles without copy-editing them,” “we can’t let support engineers post an article that has not been reviewed by someone else.” As a result, perfectly serviceable articles languish in review queues. This is so silly! Make a big push for knowledge publishing, not just knowledge creation.
3. Invest in a good search engine. What’s more frustrating than not being able to find a document you know is there? Invest in a tool that can do a unified search: knowledge base and forums (if you have them) and documentation, and anything else you wish to search.
4. Consider customer forums. They probably won’t work very well if your customer base is small but otherwise they provide a great, low-cost way to deliver support (and create new knowledge at the same time.) Sure, you will need to invest some time and effort in launching and monitoring them, but they are much less costly than 1:1 support.
5. Promote the web site throughout the 1:1 support experience – without being annoying about it. For instance, customers waiting for an engineer should hear a reminder about the web site, but only if they have to wait, not first thing when they called. And support engineers should reinforce self-service, but only after they have helped the customer, as in “I found an answer for you. It’s document 1234. Here’s the link.” or “I am documenting the answer to your issue in a new document.” Note that this will only work if the support engineers believe that the web site is good and don’t feel they will be laid off if too many customers visit it.
6. Put someone in charge of self-service. If all your managers focus on 1:1 support self-service will languish. You may not need an army of self-service staff but you do need an owner.