Webinar

The Right Kind of Self-Service

 

Self-service can sometimes be a little self-serving for companies — a way to reduce investment in customer service by pushing the work onto customers. But it can also be a powerful tool for helping customers get what they need more quickly, and for creating space for support staff to do much more valuable work.

Join Jeff Toister, customer service author, consultant, and trainer, and Nick Francis, CEO of Help Scout, for a live discussion on the roles of self-service and humans in customer-centered companies.

What you’ll learn:

  • The benefits and drawbacks of self-service
  • How to identify the perfect placements for self-service
  • The role of people in enabling and extending self-service
  • Techniques for creating great self-service experiences

Read full transcript

Nick Francis: My name is Nick Francis. I’m the company-founder and CEO at Help Scout, and today I have Jeff Toister with me. He’s a widely known … one of the world’s foremost experts on customer service. It’s a real privilege to have him with us today.

Nick Francis: He’s the author of The Service Culture Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting Your Employees Obsessed with Customer Service. We love being obsessed with customer service, so we’re super happy to have Jeff with us today. More than 140,000 people around the world have taken one of his courses on LinkedIn Learning, so I know we’re for quite a treat today.

Nick Francis: Jeff, it’s so nice to see you. How is sunny San Diego today?

Jeff Toister: I was hoping we would keep that on the down-low. I’m at a bunker somewhere. I’m waiting out the blizzard with everybody else. But since you asked, I got to be honest, it’s very nice. And for those of you on the East Coast, stay safe. I’ve lived back there before. I know what it’s like. Hopefully you’re going to enjoy this.

Jeff Toister: So Nick, thanks a lot for having me here. I really appreciate it.

Nick Francis: Awesome. Well, it’s good to be with you.

Nick Francis: Before we dive in, I just wanted to talk a little bit about HelpU. This webinar today is actually brought to you by HelpU. And that’s a resource that we made at Help Scout. It’s for people that want to deliver better service, any sort of customer centric business, no matter which tool you use. You don’t have to be a Help Scout customer, although we think that’s great. No matter what took you use, HelpU has resources that can really benefit you.

Nick Francis: Jeff recently wrote an article on HelpU that’s fantastic. I’d recommend that you go check it out. And there’s going to be a recording of this webinar also posted on HelpU. So you can sign up. It’s free. We send you once a week an email with a couple of really great resources and articles on customer support. So that’s helpscout.net/helpu. If you enjoy the webinar, please go check it out and sign up.

Nick Francis: So today’s topic is the right kind of self-service. Self-service is some that we talk a lot about at Help Scout. It’s part of our product, it’s part of the discussion that we have in HelpU.

Nick Francis: So Jeff, let’s just start off with a few questions here.

Nick Francis: What do you see customer service leaders saying about the role of self-service? How important is it to them?

Jeff Toister: I think it’s extremely important, and the ones that are being honest are going to tell you that it’s important because it represents a very cost-efficient way of serving customers. We know that customer service leaders and senior leaders are very concerned about the cost of customer service, and so we’ll get that out of the way and say that self-service is cheaper, it’s a lot cheaper.

Jeff Toister: But the really smart ones also realize that good self-service can be a better customer experience, because customers enjoy solving problems on their own, too.

Jeff Toister: I mean, to give you the basic example, traveling, I think many of us may remember having to the airport, waiting I a line to print to our ticket. Someone’s helping us with that. And now it’s, “Hey, I’ve got it on my app.” That’s self-service. You speed through security and the checkpoints a lot faster because you can do it on your own. So there’s definitely a customer benefit to that, as well, and I think smart customer service leaders get that it’s both a cost savings but a huge customer benefit.

Nick Francis: Yeah. I think that’s something that I personally struggled with early on, probably four, five years ago with Help Scout, and just thinking about self-service. I felt like we wanted to provide the greatest personalized service, but at some point that’s actually quite inconvenient. It can take hours for a real person to get back to you and a better experience can be had via self-service, which is when the light bulb sort of went on for us and we started to develop out some of those tools.

Nick Francis: I mean, when somebody can have that seamless experience without having to interact with a human, I think we could all raise our hand and say that’s a pretty great experience.

Jeff Toister: And you raise such a good issue, too, that there’s a time and place for that personalized interaction, and when I have a really complicated issue as a customer, I want that personalized interaction. I want someone there to help me out. If I have something transactional, like just resetting a password, I don’t really want to answer questions about how my day’s going. “It’s a big inconvenience right now, I need to get back to work.” Right?

Nick Francis: Exactly.

Jeff Toister: And so that time and place thing, you’re absolutely right. There’s a balance there to be had.

Nick Francis: Awesome. So do you talk to individual customers support professionals about self-service? Do they sort of have a different perspective on the role of self-service and how they related to it?

Jeff Toister: The short answer’s yes, I do. I think what’s interesting to me is that agents really like self-service when it’s done right. And I think that’s the challenge, right, is when it’s not done right they find it to be incredibly frustrating.

Jeff Toister: And let me give you an example of that. Earlier I said the password reset. I think if we think back to support even five years ago, certainly 10 years ago, a lot of support was transactional and routine. And that’s not fun. It’s not fun to do things that are transactional and routine every single day, day in, day out. We want challenges. We want problems.

Jeff Toister: And I’ve heard agents say things like, “If we could only update our knowledge-based article,”, or “That’s happening all the time.” So they get tired of dealing with the same problem over and over again. So the agent perspective is absolutely that self-service is awesome, as long as it is helping them have more meaningful interactions with their customers.

Jeff Toister: And I’ll tell you another thing that agents often will enjoy is when they’re working with a customer and there’s a particular challenge, they want to be able to provide resources. And so often we think about self-service as contact deflection, but self-service can also be future contact deflection, and I think a lot of agents enjoy empowering their customers so they don’t have to call back. So most agents I talk to really like it if it’s done well.

Nick Francis: I totally agree with you. I read a stat not long ago that said, depends on the use case, but up to 54% of customer questions can be easily answered, right? They’re considered to be easy questions. And there’s not many customer service professionals that love to answer those over and over again. I mean, one of the goals of HelpU is to elevate the role of the customer service professional in any organization, and there’s no better way to do that than to remove them from some of those easier questions to answer and enable them to participate in maybe further revenue-generating activities or proactive sort of support. That’s really a great opportunity for them, don’t you think?

Jeff Toister: Well, and it’s interesting that you talked about freeing them up, because what I’m seeing in a lot of support teams is there’s not a budget to add more staff. So how else are you going to free them up to be able to have those interactions? It’s by removing those routine transactions so that your staffing levels remain the same, ‘cause we don’t have the cost or the budget to staff up, but we’re just allowing them to do more or have those more meaningful interactions.

Jeff Toister: So it’s a good point. I’ve heard that over and over from support leaders that, “We can’t hire more people, so we better make their work more meaningful.”

Nick Francis: Well, in my experience, too, a great self-service experience is still curated by that team, right? So a lot of the people on the support team are the ones creating the documentation needed, they’re collecting the right feedback from customers and understanding what the trends are so that they can create the right self-service content.

Nick Francis: So even being able to mix it up a little bit. It may be tough to talk to 100 customers over the course of a day. Being able to mix up your tasks a little bit and say, “Hey, I’m going to work on some support docs and knock out some of these more trending topics that we’ve been talking with customers about, that’s another way to just kind of mix it up again, elevate their role into doing something that’s a bit more scalable.

Jeff Toister: Well, and the curation aspect is interesting. I think it solves an additional problem for the contact center or support leader, which is, “Maybe I don’t have growth opportunities for my more senior people, but I still want to make their jobs more interesting, because I want to hang onto them.” And what we’ve seen is you kind of make someone kind of an expert in a particular area, like the go-to person, and assign different topics for people to curate, and that makes that person feel valued and respected for their knowledge, their in-depth knowledge. So the curation turns into an engagement opportunity.

Jeff Toister: And then something that’s really cool is I see some organizations allowing their agents to update things on the fly, or at least have some sort of alert button that allows somebody to know, “Hey, there’s something wrong or out of date with, let’s say, this knowledge-based article.

Jeff Toister: On of the worst things that can happen, and I’ve seen this happen in organizations where they don’t have that ability to flag things, and then things just stay stale and stagnant. And there’s this weird kind of twisted assumption on the frontline agent’s part, which is that it’s almost done deliberately, like we just don’t care so we’re not going to update it. And the truth is usually there’s just no mechanism to readily flag something and fix the issue, yet agents are kind of like, “I guess you guys don’t care, so I’m going to stop caring, too.” So it’s a cascading effect either way in terms of engagement or disengagement to kind of have that curation model.

Nick Francis: Yeah, and this is where I think support leaders can really step in and have a big impact. I was talking with a support leader just a couple months ago, and she introduced me to a term that I think she invented called “Just in time support docs,” which means they have a policy on their support team where if something comes up that feels like, first of all, there’s a documentation gap, and secondly, it’s something you’ve heard more than a couple of times, stop what you’re doing and work on a support doc right then and there, ship it or update that doc, whatever it might be, and then you can get right back to our work. So being able to implement a policy like that at the leadership level really reduces some of the challenges faced by the professionals that are talking with customers every day.

Jeff Toister: Now, did she address the question I think a lot of our audience members are automatically asking themselves, does that person take themselves out of the support queue when they’re going to do the automatic update? How does that work to balance that? It’s always the challenge, right?

Nick Francis: Yeah. Yeah, it is. I mean, I think the point that she was making is just that something that’s going to scale, right?

Jeff Toister: Yeah.

Nick Francis: And really, it is hard to keep docs up to date and fresh, so being able to prioritize that at that very moment and then come right back into the queue, at least for some organizations is a good way to do that when you don’t have a dedicated documentation team, where some larger organizations will just get into that dedicated team and say, “Hey, write this doc,” you pass it over the wall, and then you get right back into the queue.

Jeff Toister: Cool. I can tell you something as a training professional. So many years ago, I won’t say how many, but it’s a lot, I ran a contact center training department, and date documentation was a huge problem not just for the contact center floor but for training, as well. And so if you have a really good, up to date support doc system, you can leverage that for, let’s say, new hire training. So instead of having all of your data in a knowledge base and then also having it in a training system, you just trained them to use the knowledge base from day one, and any time that data updates, they learn how to use the tool, not memorize the knowledge. So you actually accelerate the pace of training, as it becomes an additional benefit of having that realtime update ability that you’re talking about.

Nick Francis: I love that, yeah. Such an outstanding benefit that people don’t really think about immediately offhand.

Nick Francis: Let’s move into the next question and talk about a pretty nasty phrase, at least here at Help Scout. It’s a phrase, “ticket deflection.” We’re pretty pro-conversation at Help Scout, try to humanize that experience as much as possible, but how can a company implement effective self-service without losing their customer centric focus and attitude?

Jeff Toister: I think if you start with a question around how can we get more people to use self-service, you’re going to end up with the wrong conclusion, and that is what we see a lot of companies doing, they effectively force people to self-serve. We’ve all been the phone just yelling, “Human, human,” or I mean, a lot of support sites, it’s like a maze just trying to find the “contact us” page, and then they have all these questions that you have to answer. “Was your problem one of these?” And you’re like, “No, I want a person. Let’s stop with this.” But I think those are the results of how can we get more people to self-serve.

Jeff Toister: So I would suggest changing the question to, “How can we serve customers more effectively?” And when we do that, I think what happens is you realize that your customers want self-service. Self-service is a benefit for simple transactions. There’s really only a couple of times when customers want to talk to a live agent, either over the phone, via chat, email, et cetera.

Jeff Toister: One is they perceive the issue so complicated that self-service is not going to work, so that’s probably good to get them to a person anyways, because it just speeds up the problem-solving. The second is they tried to find self-service and they couldn’t. So I think ticket deflection’s great, but if you just made your self-service portal better, more intuitive, easier to use, you’re going to find that people natural want to use it. And the last thing is that they can’t find the resource.

Jeff Toister: So one is they tried to use it and it didn’t work the way it was supposed to or the instructions didn’t make sense, but the other was they simply can’t find it. And it could be something as simple as someone’s typing your knowledge base, maybe it’s an airline knowledge base, and they’re typing “suitcase” because they want to know how large my suitcase can be, and they get a “no result.” There’s nothing that comes back. Well, that’s because they had to have typed “luggage” to get the luggage knowledge-based article.

Jeff Toister: And so sometimes the documents are there, there just not easy to find. And so if you start with, “How do we serve our customers more effectively?” Truly start saying, “Let’s just give them the path of least resistance, and if our self-service is awesome, they’re going to choose to use that unless they really have an issue.”

Nick Francis: That’s a really great [inaudible 00:14:59]. I think that a lot of business owners maybe by default feel that customers just have to talk to a human. Really, when you think about it, the motivations are aligned. I read a stat recently that said 71% of consumers want the ability to solve most customer service issues on their own. They want to solve them on their own, the company wants to be able to provide that seamless experience and give them an instant answer. Both sides want it, but the fact is, even in the best case scenario, about 50% or more of the time it’s going to an issue that can’t be answered on the self-service side. So why don’t you just kind of give them the choice, right? And make that choice available up front. Don’t make them run through the maze.

Nick Francis: Another stat that I pulled out was 86% of people believe that self-service should always back up to a real person, right? But putting that person closer to the front of the maze would be really effective in just trying to just kind of give people the option to self-serve or try to address a more complex issue without having to jump through a bunch of hoops.

Jeff Toister: Oh, absolutely. And companies inadvertently create a different problem. So if all you cared about was cost consciousness, well, if you put a person right at the front of the maze, that seems counterintuitive to ticket deflection. But what you’re really saying is, “We’re so confident in our self-service that you’re going to only choose this person if you really need that person.”

Jeff Toister: But here’s what I think a lot of organization don’t realize. Let’s say they make it difficult to reach someone. Well, research shows that when you’re already angry and frustrated, you become more judgmental and less open to ideas. And guess what that does for the service interaction? It extends the time.

Jeff Toister: So if you’re cost conscious, guess what, your handle time goes way up because you first have to talk the person off the ledge before they’ll listen to any ideas on how to resolve the issue. It becomes less interesting for the customer because they’re already upset. It becomes more frustrating for the agent, because they have to deal with an upset person rather than kind of a helpful, friendly conversation. So everything unravels and ultimately ends up costing you more, anyways.

Jeff Toister: So it’s one of those that I think executives that are cost conscious think only A to B, and with support it’s kind of an A to B to C, where you really have to see things from the customer’s perspective to realize the cost savings is there, it’s just not the way you think it’s going to happen.

Nick Francis: I love that. And the key is that an executive is not going to see that show up in a spreadsheet, right? When you’re looking at support data or reports totally based on quantitative analysis, you’re not going to see the great point that you just made about cost savings, right? And that actually increasing the time and investment required on this core professional’s part.

Nick Francis: So you really have to dig in and look at some of the qualitative data that’s going through your system and really make an educated decision about how to implement self-service the right way. That’s something I constantly find myself talking about is, “Look, support cannot just be measured only on the quantitative stuff, right? This is a very qualitative sort of thing. You need to see the big picture. You need more context than what’s available to you in some report.”

Nick Francis: Cool. All right. Let’s move on to the next question.

Nick Francis: How do you identify the right places to invest in self-service options?

Jeff Toister: So I think you need to have really good data. And I like how you talked about the qualitative data, so not just points or statistic, but being able to put some context to them. And I’ll give you a few examples. One is simply to talk to your live agents. You might have a system that captures this data, and if don’t, you can do it by hand, it’s easy to do, or even just bring people together and ask them, “What are the contacts you’re getting that should be self-serviced?” And that will tell you a lot in terms of the routine transactions and what are probably the easiest opportunities to either make something available for your customers to help themselves or to make something that’s already available more intuitive for customers, maybe putting self-service in a different place, right at the point of contact, for example. So that kind of data really is helpful of identifying those opportunities.

Jeff Toister: I think the second thing is listening to your customer, that voice of customer feedback, seeing things through your customers’ eyes, mapping your customers’ journeys. The thing that a lot of organizations are super guilty of doing is they collect all this data about their customers, and then they sit on it and they do nothing. And I bet most organizations if you’re doing a customer service survey, you could mine that survey for data points and stories and find out, “Why, there’s things that are broken.” The person saying, “I’m upset because I try to figure this out and your website stinks, and now I have to find someone, and that was tough, too.”

Jeff Toister: There’s context in there that says something’s broken, so you figure out well, why were they contacting you, and then figure out how many other people contacted us for the same issue, and there’s probably a huge opportunity there. So you kind of have to do a little detective work and start with some of those data points, but as you point out, looking for that context, you’ll probably find quickly there’s some easy opportunities to improve self-service.

Nick Francis: Well, and this is something for the executives in the room. I’m just going to pound my fist again and say, “The answers that you need are right in front of you in and within kind of the support team, right? They’ve got so much of this context. They’re talking near customers every day. They need to have a loud and impactful voice in your organization. That’s one reason that support today and always will report directly up to me.

Nick Francis: so we’re here. We’ve structured support not only that they report up to me, but they’re part of our product organization. They have a loud and impactful voice, even when we don’t like hearing what they have to say, and it makes a significant impact on our product.

Nick Francis: Sometimes it’s just giving them the space or being a good listener to say, “Hey, I know that this isn’t a quantitative game. There’s a lot of context. Let me do some of that detective work you’re talking about. Let me understand a bit of the experience that our support folks are having.” And through that process not only are you going to get the information you need to know in terms of where you need to invest in self-service, but you’re probably going to make their job a lot more enjoyable by taking away some of those challenges they’re facing on a day-to-day basis, some of that redundant work that they’re having to do.

Jeff Toister: I think it’s incredible that you have your support team reporting to you. And I’m wondering if you can answer a question that probably a lot of people have, which is, do you find that they’re ever reluctant to share with you? And I ask that because it seemed like a lot of leaders think that their people won’t share feedback. Is that the case?

Nick Francis: It’s something that you really have to press for and you have to set a track record of being able to act on the feedback that they’re giving to you, right? They don’t want to put a lot of work into collecting feedback and doing some research and talking to customers and presenting something to you to have you not act on it. So I make it a real point to whatever something is important to Abigail, who runs our support team, that I really make my best possible effort to act on that expediently.

Nick Francis: So I try to create a track record where we as an organization are super responsive to the biggest concerns that are facing our support team, and once you establish that track record, they get louder, which is a good thing. It’s a great thing, ‘cause they want our organization, they want our products to be better, and they will … I have yet to meet a support professional that has unreasonable expectations as to how the organization should react to some of the challenges that we might be facing or some of the eyesores in our product.

Nick Francis: So they understand. They get it. Some of these things are really complicated. But at least being able to have a conversation about it and be heard is often all that they need. Maybe they need a little bit more context as to why that particular problem exists, but man, that’s so helpful and it’s so healthy for the organization. Again, when it comes to elevating customer service professionals, I think that’s one of the best ways to do it is just to become a good listener, not just as a CEO or an executive, but just as an organization, to become a good listener to what they have to say, because you’re talking to your customers every day.

Jeff Toister: Nick, I think that’s so key, and I’ve heard people say that over and over again what you just said, which is, if you listen and you actually care what your people are saying, they’re going to talk to you. And if you take action, they want to help, too. I mean, most customer support professionals want to deliver outstanding service. They’ll talk if you’re willing to listen. But you’re also right, if the leadership is not listening, then they’re going to throw their hands up in the air and say why bother.

Nick Francis: Yeah, absolutely. I’m going to skip to the last question, ‘cause it looks like we have a couple from the audience here, so what advice do you have for teams that want to make genuinely useful self-service experiences for their customers?

Jeff Toister: I think it’s got to be, like any aspect of customer service, it’s got to be an iterative process, which means we’ve never perfected it. Every single day we’re looking at what’s working. Let’s leverage that and what’s not working. And so that’s an ongoing process of adjusting and perfecting self-service.

Jeff Toister: So I’ll kind of come back to a couple of examples we talked about earlier. One is just looking at if you have a knowledge base, what terms are people searching, what comes up most frequently, are there terms that people are searching for that yield zero results, when contextually you’re like, that should have resulted in helpful articles, for example. Are we putting self-service in the right place and constantly looking at things through the customer’s eyes, talking to your support agents and saying, “What repetitive types of requests are you seeing and hearing? What are the top ones? How can we make those easier?” And as soon as you fix those top ones, then another top one’s going to come up and going to have to start all over again, but that’s part of the fun, that it’s a constant problem we’ve got to solve.

Jeff Toister: So the biggest advice, again, is it’s an iterative process. Look at data. Take action and involve your team. And if you’re doing that, you’re going to find things keep getting better and better and better.

Nick Francis: Outstanding. Let’s take a couple of audience questions here.

Nick Francis: So, “Do you have advice for teams who are looking to launch their first self-service offerings effectively? Does your help desk or customer service software choice play into the type of self-service you can offer?”

Jeff Toister: Well, I’ll let you take the software portion. I’m a people expert. I’m a people person. I work with whatever software we’re bringing to the table or whatever technology.

Jeff Toister: The one thing I think about implementation is I would suggest starting with something that you can do well and scaling from there. Sometimes the desire is to do the opposite and let’s just go full bore and everything’s self-service from now on. And that’s probably going to be a disaster that drives up your live agent support volume. You don’t want that. So start small, experiment, perfect something, and then build from there once you’ve established kind of the know-how and expertise.

Jeff Toister: What do you say on the software side of things?

Nick Francis: Yeah. I mean, when it comes to selecting software, I think you’ve just got to make sure that you’re selecting a tool at includes a built-in knowledge base. So Help Scout has a built-in knowledge base. There’s plenty of other tools out there that have a great knowledge base.

Nick Francis: I would just make sure that the tool offers one, because if they do, it’s probably pretty seamless to set up, that you just set up your own custom domain, you’re off to the races, and you can start creating articles.

Nick Francis: One really great thing about and integrated help desk like messaging tool and knowledge base is that usually they can talk to each other, so in the case of Help Scout, when you’re replying to a customer, there’s a very simple search box where I can search our knowledge base and insert a link straight to an article without even leaving the page. And so typically there’s a very seamless integration between the two. So just make sure you’re selecting a tool that has them both and can offer that self-service offering to your customers.

Nick Francis: Final question here, and I’ll start off with an answer and then pass to you, but, “How can teams successfully execute on self-service with a limited budget?”

Nick Francis: And I wanted to start with this one because we’ve talked about self-service is usually motivated by cost savings, right? If there is some of that up-front investment and being able to take some of the time that you have in the queue and create documentation to serve your customers, to be available to your customers, then in the end, that’s an infinitely kind of scalable and instantly available mechanism that’s going to serve your customers on a regular basis.

Nick Francis: And so if you’ll make the initial investment, which doesn’t have to require money, it just has to require time of your support team, then that’s going to start paying dividends very quickly, wouldn’t you say so?

Jeff Toister: It does. I think the problem that a lot of customer service and support leaders have is speaking the financial language that their executives speak. And so when they talk about an investment, often we mean an investment in technology, which for a company, budgeting wise is often a capital expense. And for support leaders, it’s tough to say, “Understand that capital expenses come out of a different pants pocket than operating expenses.”

Jeff Toister: We need to understand, and I would suggest, go to your CFO or go to your financial analyst and say, “I know there’s money here, but I need to understand how to articulate that.” So to your point, there’s built-in cost savings from self-service. I think support leaders need to get really good at articulating that cost savings in terms that are easy for their executives to understand. Because otherwise what executives end up hearing is, “Hi, I’d like to spend more money, please. I haven’t run the numbers on the business case, but it’ll be good.”

Nick Francis: This is an ROI case that’s pretty easy to make. There are other areas of the support stack that are tough to … they’re more challenging to make that kind of ROI case to the higher-ups, but this is not one of those. It’s one where you can very clearly track the implementation of a knowledge base to cost savings in the end, and not only that, but a better customer experience. That’s what’s most important.

Nick Francis: Looks like there’s one other question here, and I’ll see what you have to say on it. I certainly have an opinion.

Nick Francis: Can you speak on the role of behavioral data in terms of serving the right docs or the right articles at the right time? Does that make sense to you?

Jeff Toister: Actually, not really. I don’t know if you have any clarification. I know it’s a question coming in.

Nick Francis: So I think that great customer experiences, to try and provide that great customer experience, sometimes it’s interrupted in some way to even have to redirect someone to a knowledge base. Is there a way to have that more integrated into the experience, so being able to [inaudible 00:30:49] the right docs at the right time is something that’s pertinent to me, because we’re actually building something along these lines, where we have this tool called Beacon where you can actually imbed it onto your website, and that way people can access the knowledge base straight from the page that they’re on.

Nick Francis: But one thing that we’re building that’s additive to that that’s really based on behavioral data is when you toggle Beacon, it’s actually pulling up results that are relevant based on the page that you’re viewing, right? So if you’re viewing the invoices page where you’re looking at your invoices, as soon as you toggle open Beacon, we want to be able to show you building related articles right off the bat, right? Answer the question before they even ask it.

Nick Francis: I think that’s the behavioral data that software makers like us trying to act on, right? How can I make it possible to answer a customer’s question before they even have the question, right? Just provide that answer right there. I mean, talk about a seamless customer experience. That’s actually just part of the user experience. It’s just boom, I find my answer and I’m right back where I left off and I can continue. So it can actually make up for any gaps in the user experience just by putting knowledge in the right place at the right time. Make sense?

Jeff Toister: It does. And as I said earlier, I’m a people person in terms of how do we get our employees to perform their best, so the technology side I’m always a little bit behind on.

Jeff Toister: I can instantly see an application, though, that swings over to the people side of things, and that is contact center support teams spent on average 12 weeks. That’s average, of onboarding, training, and nesting their new hires. That’s too long. That’s three months.

Jeff Toister: And one of the ways you cut that time literally in half, and I’ve done it, is you leverage not only the customer facing knowledge base, but you have a internal knowledge base, ideally even the same one. So take that same scenario where you have software that says wherever you are it’s going to serve up the right answers. You don’t have to ask your support team to memorize all the information.

Jeff Toister: That’s very inefficient. We’re not good at memorizing stuff. You show them how to use a tool like that, then you can throw just about any question their way and in realtime they’re coming up an accurate answer, even if that answer changes. So from a training perspective, I could say huge cost savings and efficiency gain by having something that available to your agents.

Nick Francis: Yeah. And there is a lot of hype, I’m going to say AI right now, and there is a lot of hype around AI, but this is one really practical outstanding application where AI could play a role, which is being able to just read an email from a customer and suggest a few articles that you may be able to point in their direction, right? So that just kind of takes away the step where you have to do the searching.

Nick Francis: And so there’s not a huge data set that’s required for this sort of AI to work for any size company. It’s basically just doing natural language search, so they read the email and suggest a few articles. That’s one really practical way a newbie, somebody that’s training, right? They’re part of that initial 12-week cycle, and if you’re able to provide the right answers like that or even similar conversation …

Nick Francis: So a lot of the way our customer support people train is by viewing conversations that have already been answered along these lines, so being able to just serve those up and be like, “Hey, how did so-and-so answer this question when it was raised?” Instantly be able to kind of pull that up, reference their reply, and then provide a really outstanding reply that’s very human, very personalized to their situation.

Nick Francis: But you’re kind of learning as you go and the software is providing just-in-time information that kind of trains you on the go. I mean, if that was perfect, if that was functioning really well, the need for actual training might just go down to a week or two, I don’t know.

Jeff Toister: And that’s very feasible. I think you could do that even now with some existing technology.

Jeff Toister: The thing I would add to that is training people to use their brain. And what I mean is sometimes we get so reliant on technology that it serves up the answer. We click on it and there we go. And the customer ends up getting an answer where AI screwed up and gave something that was completely out of context, and a human could have been there to stop it, but they didn’t. They trusted the system a little too much.

Jeff Toister: So I think we need to never lose sight of our humanity and realize that we’re always going to be a step ahead of AI in many places, and so that that last quick check is, “Does this make sense? It does. Okay, I’ll send it.” Or “Does this make sense? No, it doesn’t.” And don’t send it.

Nick Francis: Totally agree. And I’m a big believer that all implementations of AI in its current form should be empowering the customer service professional to provide a great experience, right? It’s not going straight AI to customer, right? There’s a human element to it where it’s just a people power thing, right? It helps the professional move a bit faster, but in the end they’re still able to provide the same level of service. You’re just taking a couple of steps out where they have to look up an article or something. So definitely needs to be human powered.

Nick Francis: Awesome. Jeff, this was a really great conversation. Thank you so much for your time, and I really appreciate it.

Nick Francis: To everybody that’s watching, I really hope that you got some value out of the recording today. Be sure to go to helpscout.net/helpu. We’re going to post this recording. If you have any other follow-up questions, you can leave a comment and we’ll be sure to get that to Jeff.

Nick Francis: So thanks again, Jeff. Hope you have a great weekend, man.

Jeff Toister: Thanks to you, too. I really appreciate it. It’s been fun.

Download the Guide to Hiring Your Customer Support Dream Team

Get a Help Scout Resource

The quality of your customer service will never exceed the quality of the people providing it. Learn how to build, grow, and train a world-class team.

We’ll also send you new articles every week; unsubscribe anytime.

Live webinar starting in