An A – Z of IT Self-Service Success Tips
Many organizations are starting to realize the benefits of implementing self-service. It’s a capability that works around the clock, is consistent, and can save money.
And customers like self-service and self-help too because it’s quick and easy, and they increasingly want to be able to help themselves. In fact, one study conducted showed that “91% of respondents would use a knowledge base if it were available and tailored to their needs.”
But here lies the common issue with self-service: “tailored to their needs.” Self-service is only useful, and successful, when it’s working for the customer and, too often, IT organizations aren’t recognizing this. Instead, their IT self-service capabilities are potentially designed quickly (with little or no customer input), implemented in a hurry, and then left to do its thing. Then when it inevitably doesn’t perform as well as promised, self-service gets a bad reputation.
Here’s the secret that needs to be shared: self-service isn’t as simple as people expect (or as they want to believe). It takes significant time and effort and your IT organization needs to be “in it for the long-run.” If you’re looking for a quick, overnight fix for your issues, then self-service isn’t going to work (although I challenge you to tell me what would).
On this note, I thought I’d write an A – Z of self-service success tips to help you, and your IT organization, on your implementation journey.
The concept of self-service is to reduce the workload for all employees. On the IT side, instead of answering the same questions, dealing with menial admin tasks, or fixing basic tech issues, your IT service desk agents are free to handle more phone calls and deal with more complex issues. On the customer side, they should spend less time on getting the solutions they need.
However, this can only really work well when you automate your self-service workflows. Your customers should be able to order new IT equipment, reset their own password, or fix a slow PC without the need for any intervention from IT staff at all.
Even partial automation will alleviate some of the workload pressure on your IT service desk agents. For instance, you might only automate logging an IT ticket but it’s still one less task your agents need to complete within the incident management process.
In many organizations, IT is still often seen as a separate entity to the rest of the business, and it can be hard work to fully integrate the IT department with others. It is therefore a good idea to (corporately) brand your self-service portal to firstly show your end users that it’s part of the organization they’re working for. And secondly to encourage adoption through familiarity.
A generic, out-of-the-box self-service portal doesn’t carry any weight with your customers and it potentially still keeps IT at “arm’s length” from them. So, make a small effort to brand your portal and you’ll find that people are more inclined to gravitate towards something they recognize.
Configuration and Customization
You’ll want to ensure you choose an IT service management (ITSM), or self-service, tool that lets you configure and customize your self-service experience (think as configuration as click-based changes versus customization’s code-based changes). There’s no one-size-fits-all option for self-service available in the market; every organization is different, so you’ll want to be able to pick and choose what works for your customers and change/remove what doesn’t.
Data Drives Your Decisions
Self-service technology will give you some excellent data to work with, and you’ll want to use this data to drive your future self-service, and wider IT, decisions. So, don’t just guess what your end users want, and don’t try to predict what’s going to happen using a crystal ball. You’ll probably just end up getting it wrong and having to start over.
Self-service data can help you to answer questions that you’ve been struggling with. For example, you can use it to understand the needs of different business areas, identify certain trends, or even pinpoint broken processes.
My point here is to plan for these data needs at the outset (of your self-service initiative) such that you’re then using real statistics to help you plan and drive self-service, and wider IT, improvements instead of simply crossing your fingers (something which is actually quite difficult for me) and hoping for the best.
Once you’ve implemented your self-service technology, you can’t just expect your end users to simply begin using it (no matter how intuitive the technology). Instead, you need to promote it and lead them to it. And part of this is to actively educate your end users on self-service and how it will benefit them.
For example, say a customer calls the IT service desk to get their password reset. And recently your organization has implemented an automated password reset option that can be accessed via the self-service portal. The agent can reset the password and then go on to explain to the user how, in the future, they can resolve this issue themselves. Yes, it will drive up the average call handling time of your agents but the long-term benefits of teaching your customers about self-service will definitely outweigh this.
Ensuring that your self-service technology is fit-for-purpose is critical.
It depends on the needs of your organization, as to what you’ll need in a self-service tool, and it’s important to understand these needs before you go ahead with your purchase. Only then can you make sure that it’s fit-for-purpose so as that it can do everything you need it to and – importantly – in a way that will work for employees.
Similar to when I called out the configuration and customization options – look for something that will work well for your organization not just something that works well for others.
Self-service can be viewed as a “gateway tool” in that it doesn’t have to be – and likely shouldn’t be – the only tool you offer for IT support. The problem with self-service design, creation, and adoption sometimes is that organizations expect it to answer everything for a customer, so they can drop other support options (or at least make it more difficult for customers to access them).
So, plan for self-service to tee-up other support channels, and in a way that minimizes the effort, and friction, for all involved.
Let’s look at an example: a customer uses your knowledge base and cannot resolve their query. So now they have to call the IT service desk for assistance. At this point, instead of having to explain what they need again, and what they’ve already done to try to resolve this, self-service has created a ticket with the information and sent it directly to the IT service desk queue. Agents thus have all the details readily available to them when they pick up the phone such that they’re in a position to quickly help the customer right from the point where they stopped being able to help themselves.
Ultimately, if you make customers repeat themselves, then they won’t bother with self-service again – because they’ll just see it as a waste of their time.
When you first launch your self-service portal, don’t expose it to the entire organization – because it’s very likely that you won’t have got everything right the first time. It’s not that I don’t have faith in you, it’s just that this is a big project with a lot to consider.
To this end, it’s best to select a pilot group (and make sure that they’re a friendly bunch) who can quickly point out what’s working well and what they don’t like so much. This way you get to make any vital changes before you fully let your new self-service capability out into the wild.
Remember, it’s going to be much easier to gain buy-in from your end users if you deliver a self-service experience that exceeds their expectations rather than one riddled with issues from the get-go. Plus, a bad reputation is difficult to turn-around – and you needn’t be in this position if you perform some “happiness testing” beforehand.
This one is a little more elaborate, and might not be vital for your organization, but choosing an ITSM, or self-service, tool that can integrate with others can be incredibly useful for any organization that works with third parties for IT service delivery and support.
For instance, when you have a third party that looks after one of your services and you experience an incident with that service, you can log a ticket via your self-service portal which also gets sent across to your third-party’s ticketing tool. This can really speed up resolutions and help to remove confusion between the two organizations as you’re both able to follow the same ticket.
Journey of the Customer
The “journey of the customer” concept, and technique, needs to be at the center of your planning. Why? Because self-service is all about your customer and it’s important that it works well for them.
This means that you need to think about the entire journey they’ll go on when using self-service. And don’t just make it look nice, make it easy to use and ensure that it meets their needs (for help or new services).
Ideally, a thorough understanding of the customer journey should be captured, and understood, before any self-service portal design begins.
Hopefully this isn’t a newsflash for you: Self-service technology is going to let you down if you don’t have robust knowledge management capabilities in place.
Why? Because if you’re seeking to reduce the workload for your IT staff, then you need to make sure you have excellent knowledge documentation available for your customers to follow. This means having a capability in place that creates, approves, and uploads new knowledge documents, and regularly reviews existing documents, retiring anything that’s outdated.
Old knowledge documentation, that doesn’t help anymore, is one of the quickest ways to annoy, and potentially alienate, customers who are trying to resolve their own issue, only to find that they need to phone the service desk anyway because your self-service capabilities haven’t given them what they need.
While live chat is often considered an alternative to self-service (as an IT support channel), it can also play a part in rounded self-service capabilities.
This is where it becomes important to remember both that self-service is a gateway and happiness testing is key. So, does adding a live chat capability to self-service help end users (or is just another barrier to the eventual resolution via a telephone call)? Could it be better placed and operated for an improved end-user experience?
These days, hopefully it should be obvious that responsive design and mobile apps are a necessity. More and more people are increasingly accessing the internet via mobile devices over traditional PCs, and your self-service capabilities need to take this into account.
Don’t restrict people to accessing self-service only via their desktop. They should be able to self-serve wherever they might be, using their device of choice.
But don’t just make self-service accessible via mobile devices – end users demand more. Make it mobile-device-friendly, such that it’s both convenient and easy to use, and this will go a long way to reaching more people and upping self-service adoption levels (and thus its return on investment (ROI)).
Never Stop Improving
This might just be the most crucial tip that I can give you.
You cannot put a ton of time and effort into designing and implementing a new self-service capability and then just move onto the next “IT project.”
Self-service capabilities need to be regularly reviewed to ensure that they’re still meeting the needs of your customers. Both business requirements, and employee expectations and needs, can change rapidly, so your self-service capabilities will most likely need to be frequently adjusted to keep up.
The best way to do this? Ask for feedback from your customers and book in reviews to assess what they’re asking for. Plus, check your self-service use data and use this to help drive your improvement plans.
Offer Other Support Channel Options
Going 100% self-service will not work for most organizations. You must therefore offer other options to contact IT support to your customers, because the self-service channel will not be the best answer for every customer need.
Yes, self-service is brilliant for assisting with basic needs and inquiries but it’s not helpful in scenarios where your customer has an urgent requirement and probably needs to speak directly with an agent. Similarly, for inquiries of a sensitive nature, that need to be handled carefully, offering telephony or even walk-up support is going to be more helpful.
Personalize Your Portal
Personalizing your self-service portal can make the difference between a good experience and an experience that exceeds the expectations of your customers.
It isn’t vital (self-service will still work without it) but it will impress your end users and encourage them to use it more often.
I spoke with a developer recently who had designed the portal for his organization. He said: “Personalization changes your self-service portal from a generic experience to one that caters directly to your end user.” The result of this – the organization in question saw an uptake in the number of customers choosing to use self-service once they’d personalized and branded their portal.
Self-service doesn’t need to do absolutely everything that’s possible on day one. It’s better to start small and grow as you go.
And a great strategy to employ when you begin your self-service journey is to identify any quick wins that will quickly reduce tickets (or work) for your IT support staff. Or that significantly improves the customer experience.
For example, you could quickly create a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) and produce related knowledge documents that help with these and make them readily available via your portal.
Reporting and Analytics
When you introduce a self-service capability, you’re going to want and need to start reporting on its data. You can analyze trends, track performance, and better understand what your customers are looking for. Your reports should definitely be used during your self-service reviews to assist your improvement plans. Reporting can also be used to gain buy-in from senior management for future self-service investments.
So, choose a tool that offers great reporting capabilities such that you can glean as much insight as possible, and – when needed – customize the way you present different types of data to different groups of people.
A common mistake that some organizations make is to launch their self-service capability without really telling anyone. Then they wonder why nobody is using it.
You need to shout about it! Not only to tell customers that it’s now available, but also to highlight how it will make their lives better when they use it.
Instant answers to questions, no queuing for support, 24/7 availability, and the ability to resolve their own incidents are all ways in which you can excite your customers and get them on board.
When you’re designing your self-service experience, you’ll want to involve your various IT teams, particularly your IT service desk agents who are best placed to know the needs of your customers (they deal with them all day after all). They’ll have a good idea of what customers regularly ask and complain about, so use this knowledge to help guide your design and reviews.
Involving your IT staff can also help to motivate them and ensure that they become invested in the project too. This means they’ll be more than happy to talk about self-service and educate users because they’ll want to share in its success.
Understand Your Goals…
…And remember them throughout your design, implementation, and review processes.
Ask yourself why your organization needs self-service and what it will get from it. And never forget the answers. It can be too easy to get distracted by the “noise” as you jump through the necessary hoops to get self-service going, and clearly understanding your goals will help you to stay focused throughout the project.
An important thing to think about with self-service is whether or not it works for all of your user base. Often an organization will already have certain end users that require a different level of support to the “normal” customers – this is where the introduction of a VIP process can come in handy.
VIPs might be senior business managers who simply don’t have the time to navigate through self-service or to fix their own issues. Or they might be less-senior people in business-critical roles. Either way, quick resolutions are the order of the day. And sometimes this will need to be route-1 via the telephone channel.
A VIP process via self-service can be a great option too though. Something as basic as a simplified form for the end user to fill in which immediately alerts a member of the IT service desk once logged. The user doesn’t have to spend much time reporting their issue and IT are able to pick it up quickly and ensure the relevant action is carried out promptly.
Who Is Self-Service For?
For self-service to truly work, you need to remember that self-service is for your customers not for your IT department (despite my earlier talk of IT service desk workload reductions).
Thus, when designing the self-service journey, it’s the customer you need to keep in mind. If you don’t make it work for them, then they aren’t going to use it.
So, ask them what they want from the self-service experience and use their feedback to shape your portal. Making them feel involved in its creation is also a great way to get them excited for what’s coming, making them more likely to use it once it’s launched.
X for Experience (as in UX)
If you’ve a better tip for the letter X, then let me know. This letter keeps me up at night every time I write one of these A-Z blogs!
Although it’s a cheat on my part, it really is important to think about this.
User experience (UX) is more than just a good-looking portal. Yeah, it’s nice to make it look fancy, but it also has to be simple to use and to make life easier for your end users.
If you’ve a nicely-designed portal that’s tricky to navigate and it’s difficult for people to find what’s needed, then users will likely just give up and phone support instead. Ultimately, a bad user experience is enough to drive people away and you’ll find yourself back at the drawing board.
Remember those happiness tests we discussed? This is exactly where you can try out the user experience of your portal to see if it’s working (or not).
You Should Choose Phased Delivery
Another cheat? Perhaps, but you really should (choose phased delivery).Rather than trying to design a self-service portal that tackles everything all at once you should release your self-service experience in stages. This will help both you and your customers.
In my experience, a phased delivery is the smartest way to tackle such a huge “project” because it allows you to understand what is and isn’t working. If you deliver everything at the same time you could end up with stacks of improvements to make (and this is if you can actually “see the wood for the trees”). It’s best to move slow and steady with this one.
Approach your self-service project with zeal (that’s enthusiasm to us ordinary humans and puppets) and you can’t go too far wrong. As long as you can remain enthusiastic and motivated, you’ll be able to deal with whatever happens.
Accept that you’ll likely make mistakes, so be prepared to learn from them. Shout about the good stuff, motivate your staff, and enjoy the process.
Self-service is going to do so much for your organization. So, keep this in mind whenever you feel the struggle and push on through.
Have you already been on a successful self-service implementation journey? If so, what other tips would you offer to someone about to embark? Please let me – and others – know in the comments.
Posted by Joe the IT Guy