What's Self-Service and How Can It Help Your Business?

Authored by Kayla Brehm
Published on February 18, 2015

DIY is the new concierge.

Once, buying a nice furniture item was cool. Now, it’s far easier to buy some power tools, head to Home Depot, and do it yourself. Self-service has developed a commanding presence not only in furniture and cooking, but also in customer service. Now, more than ever, people are frustrated and disillusioned with customer service at large companies. Whether it’s sending your ticket request into what seems to be a black hole, sitting permanently on hold, or tweeting at what feels like a brick wall, people want to control their own problem solving. In fact, 60% of consumers use self-service to find answers to their questions.

What does self-service mean, though? Is it Google? Is it a FAQ (frequently asked questions)? What about an in-depth knowledge base? The truth is, there are different ways to implement self-service at your company. Intelligent search, a FAQ, and a knowledge base are three common ones being used by companies of all sizes to empower their customers to help themselves.

Furthermore, there are different techniques that allow companies to figure out which interactions can be done via self-service and which require a higher-touch option. Electing which self-service option, or options, to implement on your website is difficult because it requires an in-depth understanding of your customer and of what is required to answer every type of question. We’re going to make it as easy as possible by breaking down what different types of self-service look like, and what the best ways to use the options are.


An informative FAQ will save a lot of frustrated clicking for the customer, and save even more time for your agents. FAQs are meant to address common questions, so make your FAQ link highly visible. Most customers will consult a FAQ before going to any other resource, including directly contacting the company.

A good FAQ clearly differentiates questions from answers (paragraphs of text in the same font and size can look busy), and, if long, has clearly marked sections that a user can click through to address their issue.

A good FAQ also provides easy navigation options for customers within the body of the article. Make sure that sections answering questions about specific pages (pricing, product, and so on) have links that allow the customer to easily navigate back to where they came from. Providing links for further reading is another good step because it allows the customer to further educate themselves, making it more likely that they’ll have a frictionless experience the next time they go to your site.

Knowledge Base

A knowledge base allows customers to find answers to more complex questions without having to contact your team. Knowledge bases can, if left untended, quickly become unwieldy, so it’s crucial to have a well organized and well curated knowledge base.

The major difference between a knowledge base and a FAQ is the frequency and complexity of the questions. FAQs should be the ten most common questions that can be answered in a brief paragraph of text. Knowledge bases are ideal for less common, more complex issues.

These issues can require longer, more technical explanations, images and more “further reading." Generally speaking, knowledge bases are meant to be more in depth than their FAQ brethren.

A knowledge base is ideal for issues that have come up with enough frequency to create a notable pattern in tickets, chats, or calls, but that are simple enough that the explanation can be put into a graphic or article and posted (knowledge bases can be more technical than FAQs, but don’t try to walk your customer through something a tier one rep couldn’t easily do on day one).

Maintaining knowledge bases is key. Allowing articles to be posted to the knowledge base because an agent sees the same issue twice in a ticket is a recipe for an unnavigable knowledge base that’s actually more frustrating to the users than no knowledge base at all.

A good best practice for knowledge bases is to review them monthly (or at least quarterly) and pull out articles that aren’t getting traffic. In this way, you ensure that your knowledge base has useful information rather than getting cluttered and becoming overwhelming.

Optimized Search

Optimized search is one of the most important things a knowledge base can have. It gets its own category because, while perfect for knowledge bases, it should be used on the entire site. Modern users expect to be able to “Google” everything. Even if it’s not in Google, they want to Google it (kind of like how every automated voice has become “Siri” to me). By implementing an optimized search, in your knowledge base, your customers will be able to directly search for their specific issue, rather than scrolling through the database hoping to find a solution.

Customer Forum

A customer forum is another valuable option for any company wishing to implement self-service. Customer forums are better suited to companies with products that are more complex. They allow customers to communicate with each other about information, like how they configured the software to fit their needs, and address any challenges they may have experienced. In an article with Inc., Microsoft’s Sean O’Driscoll stated, “Creating a customer-service community can help your customers be more engaged with both your product and your company...How do you get users to want to stay at your site and engage with others? The only way is peer-to-peer discussion, in their own voices, rather than the company’s voice.” With thoughtful moderation, a customer forum can be a great way to change a passive visitor into a promoter.

Dropbox is a great example of a company that has successfully adopted self-service by implementing FAQ and Knowledge Base sections in their help center. Organized by common ticket topics such as “Files and Sharing” and “Payments and Billing”, they make it easy for the customer to navigate and search for their specific issue. The optimized search bar is centrally located in each landing page, creating for a quick and user-friendly experience. Very few systems and methods can increase CSAT while decreasing costs, but these self-service options, as well as the methods below, all fit that exact description.


Shift Left

The Shift Left model helps you analyze the cost of having an interaction at each support level and determine which contacts you can “shift left” to a less expensive channel without harming the CSAT ratings. In order to begin implementing shift left, you must first understand why calls occur in the first place. For example, let’s say your most common contact issue is regarding password resets. By including detailed step-by-step directions in your knowledge base or FAQ section about how to reset passwords, you eliminate the majority of direct conversations about this issue thus shifting it left from higher expense channels like phone or email, to lower expense channels like self-service or chat.

In order to show value in this methodology, you have to measure everything. In addition to knowing your cost per agent, cost per call, and  cost per resolution, you must examine:

  1. Adoption rate
  2. Success rate
  3. How was the experience?

How many customers chose self-service to reset their passwords? How many were successful or did they call after a failed attempt for further assistance? Take this approach with your most common issues and examine how you can resolve them quicker. After all, first call resolution is closely linked to customer satisfaction. By only shifting left the issues that don’t impact CSAT, you have ensured that your team is handling issues in the most cost-efficient way possible while maintaining high customer happiness ratings.

As “tech natives” come into their own both in terms of web usage and purchasing power, self-service will continue to grow in demand. People who’ve grown up online, are totally comfortable with technology, and trust their abilities to do basic technical maintenance have no interest in interacting with an agent if they don’t need to. By empowering customers to help themselves, you’re not only teaching good best practices in terms of customer behavior, you are saving your team money, and improving CSAT to boot. One might even say it sounds a little bit self serving.


More Posts