The Self-Service Guilt Trip


Self service is the most effective way for customers to get the answers they need, reduce call volume and stress for your live agents.

“Yet,” says Jon Meyer, Knowledge Guru at Twilio, “the customer service leaders I’ve talked to have an enormous sense of guilt around pursuing a self-service strategy.”

Some customer service strategists have become the all knowing, all organic super moms of the online playground, preaching the need to talk to your customers and shunning self service as a channel. The best in the business know otherwise.

I want to break down some of the biggest guilty thoughts you might encounter when trying to build a self-service strategy. While these might be brought up in your own mind, or preached at you by industry leaders, they simply aren’t true.

“We don’t want to be efficient”

Let’s break this down. When this argument comes up, usually it’s from companies that are funded, or have money to throw at a problem. What they are trying to say is that they want to do everything for their customer. They don’t want to treat them like tickets. While this is noble, it’s also wasteful.

By not investing in self service, you’re turning a $.25 question that could be answered by self service to over $2 for a live agent. (Note: $2 is probably the cheapest you can get for live assistance, generally for email support. Most phone calls, even if outsourced, cost over $6 per call.)

Think about what else you could invest that money in: training workshops for customers, proactive support and more hands-on onboarding. These are all amazing ways to spend money on your customers. Wasting money on a phone call that doesn’t need to be a phone call isn’t one of them.

Efficiency doesn’t necessarily mean lower quality. Self service isn’t the difference between factory lines and hand stitched clothing. Instead, it’s allowing customers to serve themselves (think Menchie’s frozen yogurt) with exactly what they need. It doesn’t lessen the importance of the human contact that does occur in the store.

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Answer: Self service is more efficient, but it doesn’t need to mean lower quality interactions.

“We want to actually talk to our customers”

Yes! Definitely! Talk to your customers all the time. But do it in a positive way. Forcing customers to call you for every answer is selfish. You aren’t giving them the choice to help themselves. Instead, you’re holding answers hostage for your own gain.

There’s a million ways to talk to customers in a more positive way than forcing support calls. Schedule interviews to discuss use cases and feedback. Host community events.

Answer: Investing in self service doesn’t prevent you from talking to customers, it just prevents them from needing to talk to you for every question.

“We want it to be painful for us when our customers have problems”

This is the reason Buffer chooses to only have static FAQs. They believe that being forced to answer questions means their team will feel the pain and work harder to fix them in product.

However, one strong technical writer or documentarian could easily track which articles are getting the most views, what people are searching for and funnel this feedback to the product team.

Most customers start by looking to help themselves. So not only are they frustrated by the product and need to find an answer, they’re frustrated a second time by having to email in and wait for a response. Measuring knowledge base views is just as easy as measuring the number of tickets – but a heck of a lot cheaper.

Answer: It’s not about you, it’s about your customers. Think first what they want, then make it happen.

The bottom line

Nobody should feel guilty about self service as their first, and best, customer experience.

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Ignore the customer voices in your head of “Oh they only do this to shut out their customers”; “They must view customer support as a cost center”; or “The company must be in trouble if all they can afford is self service!” Those feelings of guilt are simply unfounded.

By investing in your self service, you are putting your customers first. Not only can they help themselves, but you can help them BETTER.

Do you have any more objections to self service? Throw them in the comments below – I’m ready for a discussion!
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