Why your self-service portal fails – and how to fix it

The potential of a self-service portal to reduce support costs and improve IT customer satisfaction is well understood.  However, relatively few organisations have mastered it and instead are seeing poor uptake of self-service.  Here’s why.

To understand why your self-service is failing, step one is ditching the excuses:

“Customers don’t want to help themselves, they want the service desk/IT colleague to do it for them.”

In 2017, this is evidently rubbish.  Ten years ago, this point had some validity.  In 1997, Google wasn’t a verb for answering our questions.  Very few people searched YouTube expecting to find a handy tutorial.  eCommerce was still fairly exotic and used by brave technology pioneers.  Our phones had only just begun offering usable internet, so we were still reliant on email or a phone call for help.

But today, the culture has changed completely. We are all comfortable typing questions into a search engine, using knowledge bases, and shopping on our phones.  In fact, the culture has shifted so definitively that many of us prefer to help ourselves rather than make a lengthy and tedious phone call.

If we accept that the culture has changed and customers are happy to help themselves, what is the real reason why our self-service portal is failing?

Terrible portals

Although the culture of self-service has changed, our collective tolerance for poor help facilities has tumbled.  We expect an intuitive interface, rapid access to answers and a backup facility (chat, email) if we can’t immediately find the correct information.  Therefore a clunky and confusing self-service portal will immediately be off putting, never to be returned to.

Step one of understanding why your self-service portal fails is to test it yourself.  Be honest. Would YOU want to use the facility? If not, it must be fixed.

Self-service in isolation

Developing IT services and rolling out technology without involving the individuals who use it is foolhardy.  This approach means the business fails to get the technology needed to work more effectively.  This approach has led to Shadow IT because the business has been forced to look beyond its own IT department for the right tools. 

The same dynamic is sadly demonstrated when it comes to self-service portals.  They are developed by IT teams based on what they think the user of the portal needs.  And while some of this guesswork will fortuitously lead to the creation of some self-service value, it will always be limited by the guesswork.

Initiatives such as DevOps exist to address the separation between IT and the rest of the business.  IT needs to apply DevOps-style principles to improve self-service.  By first learning what the business needs and then improving the facility, self-service will improve.   

Broken knowledge gathering

How does your organisation collect knowledge used by the self-service portal? Many businesses have a manual approach to building the knowledge base.  They rely on subject experts to retrospectively create knowledge articles.  This is laboriously and often unstructured, meaning it gets overlooked.  A self-service portal with outdated or limited knowledge will not offer much value.

Knowledge Centered Service (KCS) is a methodology to improve how organisations capture, share and maintain knowledge.  You can learn much more about how KCS works by reading our introductory guide here, but for the purposes of this blog, here’s a quick summary.  KCS creates a process where knowledge is captured at the point it is shared, typically during a service desk or other customer service interaction.  Because the knowledge is documented as a question and solution as it is being applied, it is automatically contextualised.  The knowledge is implicitly accurate otherwise the interaction wouldn’t conclude. In other words, the KCS approach records knowledge that is based on real-world, real-time application of that knowledge.

This approach takes away the labour-intensive process of gathering knowledge.  It also self-sorts by ensuring that only relevant and correct knowledge is recorded.  And the continuation of the KCS process means that the knowledge is self-managing based on feedback and usage. 

The quality of knowledge is pre-requisite to any successful self-service portal.  Using an approach such as KCS is essential for organisations that want to create a portal that delivers real value to the business. 

Fixing self-service


The fundamental approach to knowledge management and self-service must change if it is to deliver something usable.  Fortunately, there are many factors working in favour of IT managers.  As already explained, the culture has changed so demand is there – as long as the facility is decent.  The technology powering the self-service portal itself is improving all the time.  It’s possible to build or embed a natural language interface portal which backed by chat support for very little outlay today. 

The tougher challenge is gathering and maintaining knowledge. No one technology will fix this.  However, an approach such as KCS offers the tools needed to make this a self-managing process.  Quality knowledge feeding a decent portal are the critical components to self-service adoption.  If you build it, the business will do the rest.

Want to learn more about KCS and how to improve self-service and knowledge management? Download our comprehensive guide here.

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