4 ways self-service impacts customer experience

I usually like to start an article with a catchy opening line or a joke, but let’s start this one by revealing stats about self-service portals - too good to wait. Well, technically the stats are the second thing after this first paragraph, so I guess I did start with a great opening line? (Or a joke, if you laughed!).

Microsoft’s state of global customer service report found out that 66% of customers try to solve their queries through self-service before engaging with a customer support representative. That number jumps to 74% for customers between the ages 18- 34.

Also, 88% of people expect a company to have a self-service support portal. Once again, the percentage increases (to 92%) for users between 18-34 years old.

According to a Zendesk survey based on 3,000 respondents, customers rate “resolving their problem quickly” as the most important quality of good customer service

At a high level, self-service allows for convenience, independence and time-saving for customers. But self-service can also have a surprising impact across your business, from employee morale to customer relationships and business strategy. Let’s dive deeper into four ways self-service impacts customer experience and support teams.

1) Self-Service makes your customers happy

How? Make them feel good by helping them help themselves.  Give them independence. “Autonomy refers to self-government and responsible control for one’s life” (Keller, 2015, p. 1). Having autonomy determines the extent to which someone has control over their choices and meets their desires accordingly. This feeling of independence evokes positive emotions, it imparts a sense of freedom. Therefore, giving customers tools to serve themselves, look for the solution to their problems, and fix issues themselves, is powerful.

“Remember, it’s all about giving your customers options. Let them be the ones to choose what is more convenient for them. They will appreciate it, and you will also appreciate it, trust me.”

“We often think that high-touch, involved answers are what customers want when in reality, they want answers.” says Emma Reifenberger, AI and Customer Support Champion at Forethought. By meeting the needs of customers who prefer self-service, you increase customer satisfaction.

Customer Effort Score (CES) is another point to consider. It is usually measured on a scale from 1 - 7, where one represents “strongly disagree” and seven represents “strongly agree”, and it measures how easy it was for your customers to have an issue resolved, including how long it took to get their issue fixed. How much effort did they have to put into it?  Was it easy to find an answer? Or did they have to read dense help articles until they finally found how to submit a ticket or start a chat?  

Oh! And that’s another thing. If you offer email support, live chat, and/or phone support, DON’T HIDE IT! Just because you have an amazing knowledge base where customers can find answers, that doesn’t mean you should avoid getting contacted. Sometimes people just want to talk to someone or their issue needs a support agents to help resolve it. Ticket deflection should happen because you have really great self-service tools not because you are really good at hiding your customer service time.

A good place to start is to answer your customers’ questions with an article from your help center. Then you start building a culture of self-service. You show them that they can find answers there, and they will remember this for future reference. Once they know you have useful content available they may try to find answers themselves before contacting your support team.

Remember, it’s all about giving your customers options. Let them be the ones to choose what is more convenient for them. They will appreciate it, and you will also appreciate it, trust me.

2) It makes your employees smile (and be more efficient)

I know you get those “I can’t access my account” emails, and it probably consumes a lot of your customer support team’s time. It has become automatic for them, and they’re probably fast at solving these tickets, however, it isn’t the most productive approach. Imagine having your team work on more complex tickets that truly need a human touch. That would be awesome, right? And achievable! A step towards this path is to eliminate repetitive tasks (like the “forgot password” macro they keep sending). Also consider that subconsciously, these monotonous emails increase stress. You reduce those, and it can lead to higher employee satisfaction.

We all appreciate a challenge over a simple task. Contingencies are the motor of life, monotony is the opposite.

The point is: allow associates to focus on higher impact tasks and tickets by having an effective self-service flow that results in natural ticket deflection. It will increase employee satisfaction, increase efficiency and productivity, and drink less coffee. Wait, more coffee. Wait, wait. More, or less coffee? What’s better? Anyway… let’s move on.

3) Reduces Costs and Increases Sales

Reduce costs? You’re crazy, I will need to invest resources to map out and build a self-service support portal. That will require some money.  I know, I know.  But you just said it, it’s an investment. And a good one. We just talked about how having a way for customers to find solutions by themselves results in ticket deflection and how that contributes to customer and employee satisfaction. Both can help your pocket!

A satisfied customer will keep buying, or even buy more from you. A satisfied employee will stay with you! Yes, higher employee retention! Do the math with your recruiting team, it actually isn’t cheap to hire people. The whole job ad posting, screening, assessments, interviews, onboarding, training, feedback… it’s a process that requires a lot of resources.

“The average cost of an interaction with your customer support team via phone, email, or live chat, is more than seven dollars for a B2C company and more than thirteen dollars for a B2B company.”

According to Harvard Business Review, the cost of self-service transactions are only a few pennies, while the average cost of an interaction with your customer support team via phone, email, or live chat, is more than seven dollars for a B2C company and more than thirteen dollars for a B2B company. That seems like a great deal, no?

Measure the percentage of customers who came to the help center and didn’t end up filing a ticket. That’s a good way to see the ticket deflection. You can also put into dollar value to see the bottom-line impact.

Building a help center from scratch can take up to  3 months (depending on how many people are working on it and how complicated the product is). The part that takes the longest is not writing, but finding the problems you should write about. Build a workflow for your customer support team that allows them to easily identify and report repetitive issues that could be addressed by the customer if given the right resources.

More companies are aware of the importance of self-service portals, and it is not uncommon for you to see “Documentation Specialists” job openings around the internet, focused on developing knowledge base or help centers for their products.

4) Fosters a community that care

Solving your own problems any time you want? I feel empowered! I feel part of the company even. A help center can foster relationships. You can grow your business community and build deeper connections between your company and your customers. Once you establish self-service as something your customers expect, they may start suggesting topics that need to be addressed and turned into a help article. They will provide you with relevant feedback on how helpful the articles are, either by direct contact or by their behavior (opting out of self-service and contacting customer service). Hear them out and identify if you are giving them what they need.

Help centers promotes interactions between customers. Friends share help center articles to help each other solve issues. You will see how your natural brand ambassadors redirect other people to your helpful, beautifully created article. Your brand will move around the internet not only through marketing campaigns, but actual customer-centric resources meant to help your community.

GOLDEN POINTS (secrets unrevealed?)

Here are some things to consider when thinking about your self-service offerings.

  • It’s an enhanced customer experience: As the writers mention in the same HBR study: “As customers handle more of the simple issues themselves, frontline service reps get increasingly tough ones—the issues customers can’t solve on their own.” With that said, it’s imperative that you have an amazing customer support team who can handle all of these situations. And you don’t want your customers to be frustrated trying to contact a customer service representative and not finding how.  Self-service is one more option they have to solve their issues, so always have your customer support pros ready to handle the difficult queries. This will be a more thorough, enhanced customer experience. You might even add a ticket form at the end of the articles in case the customer needs more help.
  • Explore: With developing technologies like AI, you have smarter, efficient solutions that could work for your strategy. Many SaaS and startups are shaping the future of self-service. Two examples:

a) Companies like Forethought are implementing AI to help tackle simple customer requests, like “password reset” based on your macros, knowledge articles, and past conversations. Their AI tool only answers when it’s confident of the answer, resulting in 95% accuracy on responses.

b) Companies like Stonly are making self-service interactive, with step-by-step guides that adapt to user choices and provide more effective self-serve help and instant troubleshooting. You can add these interactive guides to your knowledge base, or offer them via widget wherever customers need help.

  • Keep it mobile-friendly: 2021 is here. More and more people are using smartphones, and believe me, a lot of your customers will seek assistance through them. Whatever you are building to serve your customers, make sure it’s mobile friendly.
  • Keep it updated: It is not uncommon that some of your features change, or you add new ones. If your processes change, your self-service platform has to change too. Keep it updated to guarantee your customers are getting the best, relevant self-service experience. Keep this in mind when considering using videos and gifs in your articles. They can drive engagement, but it's harder to keep them updated.
  • Organize your content: Keep an inventory of your articles. An important field to add is “updated date”. This will give you a better visibility to make changes and leverage your existing content to adapt and live a longer relevant life.  
  • Set your key metrics: You will have to tailor your metrics depending on your objectives. You need to decide what works for you, but some common ones are:

a) Deflection Rate: Percent of people who came to the help center site and didn’t end up filing a ticket.

b) Average visits: How many pages people look at. Did they find their answer right away, or did they wander around a bit? What pages are they actually looking at? If you figure out what people are looking for in your help center, it gives you an idea of what type of content to create, the top issues and what you don’t have articles about.

c) Bounce rate: People coming to the help center and leaving without clicking on your content.Maybe they ended up there by accident. It measures how well you are redirecting people to the self-service, how helpful it was, and how accurate you are.


See it for yourself! The beauty of self-service in action:

Dashlane uses an interactive guide for the most common scenario: "I forgot my master password.” Thanks to this guide, they tackle all the different potential scenarios a customer might be facing, considering different factors, like “device type”. This is an on-point example of how when set up right, self-service can answer these types of questions with many possible avenues tailored to the customer’s specific needs. A fast solution for customers, and a huge help for the customer support team!

Cabinet Door Store delivers self-serve help all over their website (including in the checkout process). You can access the guides by clicking on the green "?" circle in the bottom right corner on their homepage. This makes it quickly accessible for customers who need help. Instead of navigating through the site, they can search for an interactive guide from the knowledge base right from HOME. Extremely beneficial for customers, the company, and their customer support team.


The customer experience space is quickly evolving and developing more methods for customers to receive help. As companies like Salesforce, Apple, and Microsoft move towards a self-service experience, customers start to expect this, and you will need to keep up with your competitors, or even better, stay ahead.

Remember, you know your customers better than anyone. Do what works for you, your employees, your customers, and your company. Tailor a strategy that will bring satisfaction to all parties involved, and success to your business. ¡Buena suerte!

PS: Special shoutout to Emma Reifenberger and Meredith Metsker.

Additional References:

Keller, H. (2015). Psychological autonomy and hierarchical relatedness as organizers of developmental pathways. Philos. Trans. B 371, 1–9. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2015.0070