Help Your Customers Help Themselves Printer friendly format

By Myra Golden
Consultant to this Program

smiling woman at ATMI arrived at Boston Logon Airport with plenty of time to make my flight, which was a contrast from my usual mad dash to the airport immediately after a speaking engagement. The extra time gave me the opportunity to observe a startling trend: Passengers were lined up, waiting at the self-service kiosks, rather than going to the gate attendants where there was no wait. Why would people wait in line to serve themselves when there is no wait to be serviced by a human?

Is it possible that everything we’ve been taught about what customers want is wrong? Could it be that customers don’t actually want to talk to live people? In the Harvard Business Review article Why Your Customers Don’t Want to Talk to You, Matthew Dixon and Lara Ponomareff offer a sobering hypothesis: “Maybe customers are shifting toward self-service because they don’t want a relationship with companies.

Companies began to launch self-service options in an effort to deflect employee handling and to shave costs. Self-service is a smart, cost-effective business model. Trends suggest that consumers are embracing this business model. Customers prefer ATMs to doing business inside a bank. Fifty-seven percent of customer service calls come from customers who first tried to resolve their issue on the company’s website (Dixon & Ponamareff, 2010). America’s largest cable operator reports that more than 51.7 million pages have been viewed in their online self-help forums this year. 

While the most recent research doesn’t pointedly suggest customers don’t want to interact with live people, it does tell us that customers very clearly want self-service options. If customers want self-service options, companies must aggressively work to create the best possible self-service customer experience. Here are 3 ways to create (or improve) your company’s self-service customer experience. 

1.  Put a clear, robust FAQ section on your website

Identify the top reasons customers contact you by phone and email and then prepare clear, comprehensive answers for each of those top issues. Next, group the most common contact issues into logical categories your customers are most likely to search. Test your FAQ on focus groups and constantly check your FAQ for ease of use and on its true ability to help customers.

2.  Establish online customer forums

Online forums are a great source for quickly finding help, troubleshooting, and getting buying advice from a community of experts. Your customers are often experts on your products and services. Leverage customer knowledge in online communities where your customers can talk and problem solve among themselves. A good online community deflects agent phone calls and gives customers a quick and comprehensive customer experience. Here’s a good benchmark for an online forum:

3.  Make web chat fast and personable

Web chat is an online text-based communication between the consumer and the company. Live web chat gives customers an opportunity to get answers to questions they can’t find on the company’s website. When web chat is quick and helpful, it delivers a great customer experience for customers who prefer not pick up the phone. To be effective, web chat needs to be available nearly immediately and the tone of the communication must be friendly and personable.

In the age of Smartphones, apps, and the constant juggling of multiple priorities, customers are demanding one-stop self-service options. Improve your customer experience by offering self-service options that allow customers to quickly get answers and solutions, and constantly evaluate your self-service customer experience. Your reward will be a reduction in employee handling costs and increased customer satisfaction. 


Sources cited:

Dixon, Matthew, Ponomareff, Lara, Why Your Customers Don’t Want to Talk to You. Harvard Business Review, July 28, 2010. Retrieved from: 

Cable forum statistic retrieved from: on November 10, 2011.