The Battle Between Website Self-Service and Live Chat Customer Service

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You know that feeling when you solve your own problem without having to ask for help? That feeling of complete self-reliance and control…? No need to turn to a friend, a peer, a call center or even a live chat operator, because you have found the answer you were looking for?

Website self-service is a dynamic tool that will leave your customers feeling empowered and satisfied.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, there are about 2.3 billion active Internet users. Of those 2.3 billion "online" users, Forrester says that 72% of these customers prefer using a company’s website to answer their questions. However, only 54% of customers actually find the information they were looking for online. That is barely over half. What about the other billion active Internet users?

While website self-service and live chat are often viewed as the same, they are actually two very different approaches to online help. Live chat has really sprouted over the last five years. Companies want a personalized touch in their user experience. But keeping this many employees behind the curtain can be costly. Consumers want answers right when they are looking at the product.

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A Nielsen-McKinsey study in 2012 actually found that 45% of customers abandon transactions when queries are not attended to quickly. This means that companies need to have people working their live chat 24/7 (even during the weekends and holidays)! This much money spent on live chat implementation might feel like you’re burning a hole through your pocket…

Thankfully, self-service doesn’t cost as much and can put your efforts elsewhere. However, all great things have a couple downsides here and there.

So what are the pros and cons of self-service?

Some Self-Service Pros:

  • Immediate access – self-service is instant. Instant usability. Instant access. You don’t have to find any phone numbers or email addresses. The self-service app usually pops up on the bottom or sides of the screen in a bright color that is easy to notice making it very easy to use while saving you time.
  • Convenient – having support on site right at the tip of your fingers is useful for everyone. It can get confusing when searching through websites looking for the “help” center. Keeping it right on the page is a simple solution for convenience. Just like mentioned above, you don’t want to lose 45% of your customers due to unattended customer support…
  • Lowered costs – no one wants to work on weekends, late into the evening, or on holidays. You also don’t want to have to spend the money on that. Self-service is so brilliant because we live in a day and age where technology is so smart that we can have a contextual self-service platform. It can answer your customers’ questions without having a real human working behind the scenes.

Some Self-Service Cons:

  • Impersonal touch – it’s hard to make a computerized program personal. But studies show that more than being personal, users want to have the right information at the right place at the right time. Self-service cannot replace a human helper for every need, but it can do so for the most common needs that require straightforward answers so users can keep moving forward.
  • Rare or high-touch questions – on the rare occasion that a user has a one-off question nobody else has ever asked, self-service probably won't be able to address it. Rare questions are often high-touch questions that need personalized service. Self-service is great for handling 80 percent of questions, the most common ones, leaving 20 percent of the questions to be handled by higher-touch methods.
  • Generational gap – users who are not extremely tech savvy might be hesitant to use any type of self-service tool – no matter how simple. Your audience can be set in their way of doing things -- picking up the phone to call for support, or sending an email asking for help. But, that doesn’t mean that they can’t drop their old habits if something better, like self-service, comes along. 

Key takeaway: Understanding your audience is the key to navigating through these types of decisions.  Every business decision has its own set of pros and cons.  Make sure you understand how these impact your customers’ ability to experience success on your website.