Lessons in Web Self-Service from Facebook, Dropbox and MailChimp: a Q&A with Ashley Verrill

There is plenty of research out there that shows many customers prefer to receive support from self-service channels. Forrester, for example, found earlier this year that 60 percent of consumers use Web self-service knowledge to find the answers to their questions. However, simply offering these channels will only get you so far. If your FAQs, knowledge articles and communities aren’t built out with the right content – plus easy access to that content – your customers will easily grow frustrated and move to a different channel.

 Recently in Software Advice’s Customer Service Investigator, customer service analyst Ashley Verrill took a look at the trademarks of effective self-service channels, as demonstrated by Facebook, Dropbox and MailChimp. In our Q&A with her below, we discuss how their stellar examples of self-service can be implemented to boost your organization’s online self-service offering.

You mention how MailChimp uses an “escape valve,” in their self-service portal, or links to where customers can chat or email an agent if they need help. Is this a better strategy than having agents chat proactively when the customer first navigates to your site?

Ashley: It’s all about analyzing the customer’s on-site behavior, because you’re right — you might need to proactively chat with every customer. That requires manpower, and you might be using that manpower in an instance where the customer could have really found the answer themselves. So, the alternative is to only proactively offer chat if the customer has demonstrated they are not finding their answer and is likely becoming increasingly frustrated. For example, if the customer has conducted three or four searches and clicked through to several articles, that could be an indication they need help, so in that case you might serve them a chat.

At the same time, you should take a look at what the potentially frustrated customer was reading when they ran a new search or navigated to another article. If they still aren’t finding what they need, this means you don’t have the right content there. So you need to create it. That’s the other “alternative” — making sure you have all of the content in your self-service channels that customers would feasibly look for, and presenting in a way that effectively solves their problem.

How can calling out community moderators deliver better support?

Ashley: One of the big obstacles to running a successful community is utilization. A lot of companies imagine they can just turn these channels on and voila, they’ll start deflecting tickets from the call center. That just isn’t the case. In order for self-service to really work, you need customers and employees to actively use the community. Customers will only use the community if they feel confident they can actually get their questions answered quickly, and one thing they look for as an indicator in this area is whether or not employees are actually paying attention. For this reason, it’s really important that you have some kind of visual indicator that calls out your community moderators. The goal should be for employee response to jump off the page.

What do you think are the leading reasons people get frustrated with self-support and move to a different channel?

Ashley: We’ve talked about a few, but it pretty much boils down to two primary buckets: not being able to find their answer in the content you’ve provided and/or not being able to find what they are looking for quickly. Even if you have the best content in the world, if you don’t have an easy way for customers to find that content, it’s essentially useless. Making that content findable comes down to design–having really thoughtful menus, etc.–and providing an effective search bar. Even better, a search bar that offers predictive results, auto-filling with answers as the customer types.

If a company wanted one quick, easy way to drastically improve their Web self-service, what would you suggest they do?

Cut the copy on your self-service home page in half. Don’t dump all of your discussion threads onto your self-service homepage or an endless list of FAQs on a page. Instead, strive to use as little copy as possible in really intuitive menus and of course, put your search bar front and center. Most customers will default to using that search bar, so make sure it works and that your articles are optimized for the variety of ways customers might search for that topic.

Ashley Verrill , Managing Editor at Software Advice

Ashley Verrill has spent the last six years reporting and writing business news and strategy features. Her work has been featured or cited in Inc., Forbes, Business Insider, TechCrunch, GigaOM, CIO.com,Yahoo News, the Upstart Business Journal, the Austin Business Journal and the North Bay Business Journal, among others. She also produces original research-based reports and video content with industry experts and thought leaders.


Amy Clark is the Lead Author & Editor of IWantItNow Blog. Amy established the Customer Engagement blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to customer service, support and engagement.