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How self-service automation streamlines customer service

Self-service support has long been a cornerstone of customer service, empowering customers to find answers and resolve issues independently. This approach has been worthwhile for businesses as well, enhancing operational efficiency and customer satisfaction.

However, with the advent of automation, self-service support is quickly evolving into a multi-faceted service medium that goes beyond traditional FAQs and knowledge bases. By combining self-service options with automation, businesses can deliver unprecedented levels of convenience, efficiency, and satisfaction. 

Self-service empowers customers to take control of their challenges, resolving issues independently and at their own pace. Automation, meanwhile, provides personalized guidance and proactive assistance, which can, ideally, support customers’ self-service efforts and further strengthen their autonomy. 

But how do you decide which self-service options will work best for your customers? 

And how do you incorporate automation in a way that’s seamless and immediately adds value? 

Join us as we take a deep dive into the burgeoning realm of self-service automation, shedding light on its numerous benefits and exploring best practices that will help your business stay ahead of the curve.

Understanding self-service automation

Before we delve deeper into the intricacies of self-service automation, it's important to establish the differences between self-service and automation. Both play unique yet complementary roles in enhancing the efficiency of modern customer support.

Self-service empowers customers to find solutions independently, while automation streamlines various business processes by employing technology. The combination of self-service and automation creates a powerful synergy that enhances the customer experience and increases a business’s operational efficiency.

What is self-service?

Self-service, in the context of customer support, encompasses a range of tools and channels that enable customers to resolve issues independently without the need for direct assistance from a support representative. This approach empowers customers to take control of their support interactions, fostering a sense of autonomy and satisfaction.

Common self-service support channels include:

  • FAQs: Structured collections of frequently asked questions and their corresponding answers, offering quick solutions to prevalent customer inquiries.

  • Knowledge bases: Comprehensive online repositories of information, FAQs, and troubleshooting guides that customers can access to find answers to common questions and resolve simple issues on their own.

  • Chatbots: AI-powered or rule-based conversational assistants that engage with customers in natural language, answering their questions and guiding them through troubleshooting processes.

  • Interactive voice response (IVR) systems: Automated phone systems that guide customers through self-service menus, enabling them to check account balances, make payments, and report outages without speaking to a representative.

  • Self-service portals: Secure online platforms where customers can manage their accounts, update information, track service requests, and access a range of self-service tools, reducing the need for human assistance.

The limitations of self-service and how automation addresses them

While self-service offers numerous advantages, it also has certain limitations:

  • Limited scope: Traditional self-service options often address only common and frequently encountered issues, requiring the more complex or unique problems to be handled and resolved by support representatives.

  • Lack of personalization: Generic self-service content may not address the specific needs or context of each customer's inquiry.

  • Passive approach: Traditional self-service requires customers to proactively seek out solutions, which may not be suitable for the most urgent or immediate needs.

  • Navigational complexity: Navigating through complex knowledge bases or searching through vast FAQ sections can be time-consuming and frustrating for some customers.

Automation addresses the limitations of traditional self-service by integrating technology – including and especially artificial intelligence (AI) – to create a highly proactive, customized support experience.

AI-powered chatbots, for instance, are now able to engage with customers in natural language, understand their inquiries, and provide tailored responses and recommendations. Moreover, they can proactively suggest relevant self-service content, guiding customers towards the information they need without them having to navigate through complex menus or search through vast knowledge bases.

The integration of automation into self-service support extends beyond chatbots. AI algorithms are now being employed to deliver self-service experiences across various channels, including virtual assistants, mobile apps, and websites. By analyzing user behavior and preferences, businesses can tailor helpful content and recommendations for each individual customer, providing a relevant and effective experience that maximizes their independence and accelerates issue resolution. 

What is self-service automation?

Self-service automation can be most easily understood as the seamless integration of self-service and automation, creating a transformative approach to customer support. It combines the autonomy and convenience of self-service with the proactive and personalized assistance of AI and automation, empowering customers to resolve issues independently while simultaneously providing tailored and timely support.

To illustrate the transformative power of automated self-service, consider a common scenario: a customer facing difficulties logging into their account. Traditionally, the customer would have a couple of options:

  • Reaching out to customer service: This could involve waiting in a queue or spending time on hold, potentially causing frustration and delays in resolving the issue.

  • Accessing the company's knowledge base: While there’s no doubt knowledge bases can be helpful, sifting through large repositories of information  can be similarly time-consuming, and in some cases may not even provide the specific solution needed.

Self-service automation transforms both scenarios by providing a more seamless and efficient experience:

  • Proactive assistance: An AI-powered chatbot can initiate a conversation with the customer, rapidly grasp the details of their inquiry and provide relevant self-service content drawn from the knowledge base.

  • Personalized guidance: The chatbot can tailor its responses to the customer's specific situation, providing step-by-step instructions or summarizing key points in a clear and concise manner.

  • Seamless escalation: If the chatbot cannot resolve the issue on its own, it can escalate the conversation to a support rep with speed and proficiency, ensuring that the customer receives the assistance they need without unnecessary disruption.

TL ; DR: Self-service automation represents a win-win solution for both businesses and customers. By embracing and implementing this emerging technology, businesses can streamline operations, enhance customer satisfaction, and gain a competitive edge in the modern marketplace. Customers, in turn, benefit from convenience, control, and personalized support.

Learn how you can improve overall customer experience and workflow efficiency with self-service.

The evolution of self-service automation

Self-service automation has undergone a remarkable transformation over the past few decades, mirroring the rapid advancements in technology and the evolving expectations of customers. 

The early stages of customers helping themselves – i.e., self-service – were marked by rudimentary solutions, such as static FAQ pages and interactive voice response systems (IVRs)

In the developing phase, these solutions offered a basic level of independence to customers, allowing them to access pre-determined information and navigate through automated voice menus. However, these systems were often limited in their ability to provide tailored support or address complex issues, shortcomings that customers often struggled with. It was more of an advanced version of self-service rather than something resembling true automation.

The advent of the internet brought about the development of web-based self-service portals, providing customers with access to comprehensive knowledge bases, online chat, and FAQs. These solutions offered greater flexibility and convenience compared to traditional IVRs. But automation still remained in its nascent stages, primarily limited to basic, rule-based systems that were not always particularly adept at achieving issue resolution.

The integration of AI and machine learning has transformed self-service support. AI-powered chatbots can now engage in natural conversations and recognize far more details and nuances than their technological predecessors, providing tailored solutions and guiding customers through troubleshooting processes. 

At the same time, knowledge bases are becoming more dynamic by leveraging emerging technology to suggest relevant information based on context and past interactions. This highly proactive approach helps customers address their needs faster and more efficiently.   Download our latest report to find out about the top ways AI is transforming customer service, plus actionable tips and strategies to adapt to these exciting innovations.

Not sure which chatbot will work best for your business? Here’s a guide to make sure you choose the right AI bot for your support needs.

Why do businesses need self-service automation?

According to our Customer Service Trends Report 2023, 83% of support teams have witnessed a surge in customer expectations, with the majority seeking faster response times, more personalized assistance, and convenient resolution options.1

While most traditional support methods are struggling to meet these rising expectations, automated self-service is capable of closing this gap by providing customers with the autonomy to resolve issues independently, and on their own time. AI-powered chatbots like Fin can engage in extensive conversations with customers, understanding their queries and subsequently providing customized solutions. Fin can even take its support a step further, guiding customers through troubleshooting processes intelligently.

Another growing challenge businesses face is the neverending struggle to balance meeting rising customer expectations with the need to maintain operational efficiency. Automated self-service offers a novel solution to this problem by empowering customers to solve their issues on their own. 

By strategically deflecting a significant number of customer inquiries from frontline representatives, it frees up valuable human resources and gives reps the chance to  focus on more complex, singular issues. Customer service queues are consequently lower, improving response times and enhancing overall operational efficiency.

There’s no question that the rapid evolution of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and natural language processing (NLP) are reshaping the customer service industry. In order to stay competitive and meet the growing demands of tech-savvy customers, businesses need to find ways to implement them thoughtfully and without making major compromises to effective preexisting workflows.  Self-service automation consolidates all of these technologies in a single versatile solution that provides customers with a more proactive, seamless experience.

Businesses, in other words, can use automated self-service to position themselves to meet the ever-increasing demands of their customers, fostering loyalty, driving growth, and establishing themselves as leaders in their respective fields.

Download our latest report to find out about the top ways AI is transforming customer service, plus actionable tips and strategies to adapt to these exciting innovations.

The advantages of self-service automation

Self-service automation has emerged as a transformative solution to the challenges faced by today’s businesses in meeting increasingly steep customer demands. Here are several reasons why you should pursue automated self-service:

Helps save time

Enhancing self-service through automation solutions saves customers a lot of time, as they no longer need to wait in queues or restrict their troubleshooting efforts  to a company’s business hours. This is particularly beneficial for routine support requests. By providing relevant information based on intent, AI chatbots help customers resolve basic issues quickly and easily, without having to contact a customer support representative.

Optimizes resource allocation

Automated self-service can handle routine and repetitive tasks. By redirecting routine support requests to automated self-service, businesses can strategically allocate human resources to more complex challenges. This enables businesses to operate more efficiently, while also ensuring that support teams have the bandwidth to focus on tasks that demand their unique expertise and empathetic capabilities. 

Round-the-clock availability

Customers today operate within a globalized marketplace, and they expect support whenever and wherever they need it. Self-service automation ensures 24/7 availability, providing customers with immediate access to support resources, regardless of their location or time zone. This unwavering support fosters customer satisfaction and loyalty, even in the face of international operations and customer bases that are scattered all over the globe. 

Consistent service delivery

Consistency is vital to the longer-term project of building trust with customers. Automated self-service creates standardized support resources that are accessible to all customers across omnichannel touchpoints. This helps businesses maintain a high standard of service, reinforce brand reputation, and achieve that all-important consistency that the most competitive companies are always striving for. 

Scalability and flexibility

As businesses expand, so do their support needs. Self-service automation provides scalable and flexible solutions that can easily accommodate increasing customer volumes and growing operations. This adaptability ensures that businesses can maintain a high level of support as they evolve, giving them the chance to scale seamlessly, without having to overhaul their support infrastructure.

Contemporary businesses need a holistic and efficient approach to client servicing, and self-service automation provides an indispensable asset to achieving this goal. It meets the evolving expectations of both businesses and their customers.

What if we told you that Intercom can help you resolve up to 50% of customer queries using a chatbot? Sounds great, doesn’t it? Learn more about Fin — our breakthrough AI chatbot.

Best practices to get results from self-service automation

As technology continues to transform the way businesses operate and interact with customers, automated self-service is poised to play an even more significant role in shaping the future of customer service and business success.

However, implementing self-service automation effectively requires careful planning, strategic execution, and a willingness to seek continuous improvement. Here's a quick guide to maximizing the benefits of this tool:

Identify common customer issues

Before automating self-service options, it's crucial to identify the customer issues your support team encounters most frequently. This can be achieved through various methods, including analyzing customer support tickets, conducting surveys, and reviewing customer feedback. By leveraging automation to handle common questions and problems, businesses can significantly reduce the burden on support representatives and enhance customer self-sufficiency (which, in turn, can positively influence customer satisfaction)

Craft a seamless user experience

The success of self-service automation hinges to a significant degree on the ease and intuitiveness of the user interface. Businesses should develop a self-service portal or chatbot that’s easy to navigate, with clear instructions and a user-friendly design. Avoid overwhelming customers with too many options or complex navigational paths. Rather, you should strive for a streamlined experience that guides customers toward resolving their issues quickly and efficiently.

Establish clear expectations and scope

Clearly communicate to customers the scope of what can be resolved through self-service automation. By setting realistic expectations, you dramatically reduce the chances of customers becoming frustrated when they discover the limitations of your self-service platform. Finally, clearly differentiate between self-help options and human support channels to manage customer expectations effectively.

Provide accessible escalation options

While self-service automation should empower customers to resolve many or even most issues independently, there will always be scenarios that require human intervention. Make sure that clear and accessible escalation options are readily available within the self-service automation framework. This could include providing a direct link to contact a frontline rep, offering a callback option, or integrating a chatbot with human support channels.

Continuously monitor and improve automation tools

Self-service automation is an ongoing process that requires regular monitoring and a willingness to continually pursue refinement. Regularly analyze usage patterns and track key performance indicators (KPIs) to identify areas for improvement. Relevant KPIs might include resolution times, customer satisfaction ratings, deflection rates, and closure rates. Use this data to refine the overall experience, address any pain points, and ensure that the automation is effectively resolving customer issues.

Regularly analyze customer feedback

Customer feedback is a valuable source of insights for improving self-service automation. Utilize feedback analysis tools to gather insights from customer surveys, support tickets, and social media interactions. Analyze this feedback to identify areas where the existing process can be simplified, streamlined, or personalized to better meet customer needs.

Keep adapting to customer needs

Customer expectations are constantly changing, and your self-service automation strategy should be adapting accordingly. Stay abreast of emerging technologies, trends, and customer preferences to ensure that your offerings remain relevant and practical. Be prepared to revise or build on them to meet the expansive and ever-evolving needs of your customers.

Embrace self-service automation for sustainable growth

Self-service automation is a powerful tool for businesses of all sizes, as it offers a range of benefits that can improve customer service, optimize operations, and drive growth. Our Customer Service Trends Report 2023 indicates that nearly 77% of support leaders plan to invest more in self-serve support in the coming years.2

If your business is focused on delivering exceptional customer experiences, our Customer Support software comes with a built-in self-serve support feature that helps you:

  • Automatically resolve repetitive questions with chatbots and help articles

  • Provide faster and more accurate responses to your customers

  • Deliver omnichannel support through simple embeds and integrations

  • Offer a highly customized self-service experience

  • Design and implement custom chatbots

With Intercom, you’ll be able to transform your service delivery, optimize your operations, and achieve sustainable growth. Sign up for a free trial or book a demo now to understand how Intercom can help you deliver what matters most — optimal customer satisfaction.


[1] [2] Intercom, Customer Service Trends Report 2023. We surveyed 1,700 global support leaders and decision makers.