The average user today has endless sources of information available at their fingertips. That explains why the majority of people choose self-service first. Most people would rather handle things themselves, and they know that they’ll likely find the answer just by reaching for the nearest internet-enabled device.

What are the five layers of self-service?

The starting points for these customer self-service journeys are as infinite as the amount of available information. One might decide they need a new dishwasher, for example. Or they might try to make a warranty claim a few months after purchasing the product.

Regardless of how and when they begin, that person will usually move through the five layers of self-service, as follows.

5 Layers of Self-Service graphic powered by MindTouch

1. External search

The majority of self-service experiences start with a search engine. Eighty-seven percent of smartphone users alone start with a search in times of need. For many, querying a search engine is the fastest way to gain access to a variety of information, from a variety of sources, that might quickly answer a question or resolve an issue.

In addition, a search is device-agnostic, meaning users can search Google on a smartphone, laptop, tablet, or even using a voice assistant.

Reasons for abandoning search:

  • Lack of relevant and/or branded search results
  • Presence of superior or more numerous search results from competitors/third parties

2. Branded website

The next step is to a visit to a brand’s website in search of authoritative information. A user can arrive at a brand’s website either from search engine results or straightaway. Once on the site, they will perform click navigation or site search to locate the information they need.

Reasons for abandoning a brand’s website:

  • Poor site speed
  • Poor navigational experience
  • Inability to find content

3. Chatbots and conversational interfaces

Often, a customer service chatbot experience is the last line of defense before the user picks up the phone or sends an email. Customers will usually initiate a chat once they’re already on a branded website because the lack of relevant self-service content in the previous layers has made this step necessary.

Reasons for abandoning an automated chatbot interface:

  • Slow, inaccurate responses
  • Irrelevant, impersonal content
  • Being lead to “dead ends” that don’t answer a question or provide a solution

4. Live chat or email

A customer may already be interfacing with an automated chatbot that then escalates the case to a live-agent chat. The customer might also initiate a live chat directly. If live chat is unavailable (outside of regular businesses hours, for example), the user will often have the option to send an email instead.

Reasons for abandoning a live chat:

  • Agent unresponsive or lacking in knowledge
  • Agent forcing the customer to repeat questions or information
  • Inability to resolve the issue
  • Need for escalation to another tier of service or support
  • Live chat is unavailable and the customer does not want to write an email

5. Talk to an agent

A live call to the contact center is usually the last resort for customers. They call in either because the previous layers of self-service failed to resolve an issue, or because they’ve skipped those layers due to a lack of confidence in their ability to be effective.

Reasons for abandoning a phone call to the contact center:

  • Waiting on hold too long
  • Multiple call transfers and escalations
  • Having to repeat information or try resolutions multiple times
  • Lack of agent knowledge

What are the consequences of frustrating self-service experiences?

As you might have noticed, these layers of self-service are ranked in order of effort, and customers only move to the next layer of self-service if they absolutely have to. As customers move through these layers, their effort level increases alongside the chances they’ll abandon the channel—or the journey—altogether. This outcome can be costly to the bottom line, customer loyalty, and overall brand perception.

Common to each layer is content (or lack thereof). Self-service content, specifically. It’s what customer seek each step of the way, whether they know it or not—timely and digestible content that is relevant to their issue. This puts a spotlight on a company’s ability to surface the right content throughout the self-service journey, something comprehensive knowledge management platforms make possible.

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Additional categories: Customer Experience, Knowledge Management