You’re aware of the need for great customer service on your website. You have put thousands or hundreds-of-thousands of dollars into phone support, email support, live chat, and “help islands” like searchable knowledgebases, FAQs, and forums. Throughout this process, you have become justifiably proud of what you’ve built. That’s why it is so hard to accept the following truth, which is inescapable for even the best customer support.
Your customers hate talking to you.
Yes, I realize that “hate” is a strong word. But it is justified here. The moment your customers have become desperate enough to pick up the phone, write an email, engage in live chat, or dig through your help island, they have already come to loathe you, even if temporarily. They have already wasted minutes or hours of their lives. They have already felt helpless. They have already had an awful experience. Customer support, no matter how great it is, happens after the tipping point: By the time a customer has reached out to you, they have suffered greatly, and hate you for it.
The name of the new Amazon Kindle Fire assisted help solution offers a lesson: “Mayday” is something people holler when they’re about to crash or sink. It is a term of total distress. Wouldn’t you hate whomever has put you in such distress?
Five reasons for the hatred
There are at least five reasons why your customers hate talking to you. And by “talking,” I mean not just on the phone, but also on email or live chat.
1. Talking to you was never your customer's goal.
Remember, your customers came to your site to get something done. That something was not to deal directly with you. It may have been to purchase a product or service, or find information. Your customer support may help them achieve this, but talking to you was never the plan.
2. Talking to you happens only after your customers have had a bad experience.
As I noted at the outset, by the time your customers have admitted their helplessness and need for assistance, they have already endured Frodo’s journey to Mount Doom.
3. In talking to you, your customers experience a “social cost.”
When moving from self-sufficiency to assisted help, there is a social cost: I have to be polite, I have to describe my situation to someone else, I have to answer their questions, I have to provide them with information I already know. When the live chat agent opens with, “Hi, how are you today?”, I feel like responding, “How do you think I am? I’m here chatting with you.” But I can’t do that. That would be rude. And it takes energy not to be rude when that’s how I’m feeling.
4. Having to talk to you is disempowering.
Your customers were initially doing things themselves when their experience turned confusing or frustrating. Out of desperation, they decided to talk to you. They went from a feeling of self-sufficiency to a feeling of helplessness in a matter of seconds. This disempowerment has long-defined many people’s relationships with their computers. It is a worn and tired saga.
5. Talking to you takes too much time.
Forcing your already-frustrated customers through a menu of phone options, a mess of live chat sign-in fields, or an online email form only frustrates them more. All this takes time from the customer. Even after the conversation begins, average resolution times are 7 minutes for phone conversations and 9 minutes for live chat. And yet, 74% of live chat users say their question could have been answered in a one-line response. “Hi, how are you today?” is not that one line.
Better self-service is needed
The good news is that the above five problems can be avoided with excellent website self-service. In fact, Pew Research found that 75% of online users would prefer to self-serve over having someone help them. If done right, self-service can keep customers moving along their critical path. Self-service avoids the social cost of assisted help. When customers find the answers they need, they feel empowered, not helpless. And self-service can be quicker than waiting for assisted help.
Unfortunately, the benefits of self-service are not being realized. Current website self-service solutions do not improve the user experience before it goes south. By the time customers dig into a knowledgebase, FAQ, or forum, they are already frustrated. And they are likely to be frustrated further: Research by the Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA) shows that 61% of self-service attempts fail to provide the answer customers need. That means customers are failing more often than succeeding. And those are the motivated customers who have bothered to self-serve in the first place. Most others just quit.
M-commerce makes this situation dire
According to Forbes, 20% of e-commerce now takes place on mobile devices. By 2015, that number is projected to be 50%—half of all e-shopping—and yet only 20% of companies are projected by Gartner to have mobile self-service by 2015. Small screens, tiny keyboards, and frequent context-switching makes satisfying customer support difficult to achieve.
The mobile world is currently a touch screen world, and on touch screens, the simple “tap” reigns supreme. Everything must be achievable within a few taps. That includes the taps it would take to type out a full description of one’s problem. Typing paragraphs is never a good solution for anything mobile.
Selection-based self-service solution
The best future for both customers and businesses is when self-service becomes good enough to satisfy all but the most complex customer needs. This future is more satisfying to customers and more cost-effective for businesses. Research by Forrester indicates that phone calls cost a minimum of $12 per incident, and live chat and emails $5 per incident, but website self-service costs at most 10¢ per incident. The TSIA puts this cost at 6¢ per incident. Oracle estimates the cost of maintaining a website self-service solution at 2% the cost of operating a call center.
These are great savings, but website self-service must achieve two things: (1) your website visitors have to actually use it, and (2) the self-service experience must be more often positive than negative. Put simply, self-service must be easy and effective. These are the principles AnswerDash has adopted for its self-service solution.
Research shows widespread inability to find information using keyword searches, so at AnswerDash, we have removed the need for keyword searches by allowing users to simply select things on websites they have questions about, and relevant answers appear. This selection-based design works especially well on mobile devices, as users only need to tap items they have questions about, and AnswerDash retrieves the most relevant answers in-place. Beyond providing customer support, AnswerDash’s service has been shown to increase website conversion rates by double-digit percentages. Companies using AnswerDash make money and save money at the same time.
It is actually good news that your customers hate to talk to you because with that clarity comes a clear agenda. Customers want to self-serve. We only need to give them the right tools to do so, and we all win.