What is self-service?

Give customers the power to help themselves. Self-service options allow for faster problem resolution while reducing strain on your support teams.

Self-service is an approach where users access resources to find solutions on their own without requiring assistance from a service representative.

The age of the reactionary customer is over. Today’s customer is informed, active and tech savvy. They are invested in their own customer experience. At the same time, they are less willing to wait on the convenience of customer-support personnel and service agents. They want reliable solutions, quickly. Often, that means they want self-service.

Self-service is changing the way organisations assist their customers, but it is not a new concept. Self-service vending machines first appeared as early as 1833, and self-service petrol stations arrived in the 1960s. In the 1990s, many supermarkets began to offer self-service options, where shoppers could scan and pay for their own purchases. The 1990s and early 2000s also saw the rise of eCommerce, necessitating advances in digital, online self-service.

As customers became more accustomed to shopping and communicating online, self-service grew alongside emerging digital technologies. Today, self-service options are available across nearly every industry, empowering users to take a more active hand in their own journey.

The idea of self-service seems to fly in the face of what we know about customers: They want more value, and they don’t want to have to invest a lot of effort. By placing the responsibility of customer support back in the hands of the users, aren’t businesses offering less and asking more? The reality is that customer self-service fulfils a separate need; it provides faster gratification.

Contacting and waiting on a customer service agent takes time. When you need a resolution to a problem or an answer to a question, having to remain on hold or keep checking your inbox for an email is frustrating. Customers want a quick resolution, and the perception is that traditional customer support simply cannot fulfil that need.

Self service provides businesses with a unique opportunity to improve their customer service while reducing cost and strain on support personnel.

60% of US consumers choose digital self-service over other options.

Given the choice, more than 60% of US consumers choose digital self-service over other service options. Does that mean that the average customer prefers not to speak with a human agent? Not necessarily. It does mean that self-service is now widely recognised as a faster, easier path to customer support.

There’s more to effective self-service than simply telling customers to go figure it out for themselves. Organisations need to provide their users with the right resources, and the software to access them. In other words, it’s your responsibility to aggregate solutions to known issues together into your self-service system, and then present the tools that make it easy to use.

That said, before you can deliver exceptional customer service, you need to outline your self-service strategy

How to define your self-service strategy

Understanding users is key to building a quality self-service system. To do that, you should start tracking your current customer-support interactions. What are the most common questions your users are asking? What problems are they regularly needing solutions to?

Analysing the cases your customer service team addresses will give you a clear idea of where you can provide reliable self-service, and what topics you will need to address. At the same time, keeping an eye on frequently searched terms related to customer pain points—not only in Google, but also on your own site—can give you further insight into your customers’ needs.

Once you’ve identified recurring questions and problems, you next need to provide the solutions. Have your top support personnel review the questions and create easy-to-understand answers. The goal here is to provide users with a quick, uncomplicated guide that they can follow without having to call your support line. When appropriate, include videos, screenshots and other examples in your answers.

Creating accessible resources and setting up a knowledge base can be an effective approach to customer self-service, but it is not your only option. Other self-service channels may include creating chatbots, providing a service catalogue and creating online communities.

Finally, create a place where users interact with software to search for solutions to their problems. This is called a self-service portal.

What is a self-service portal?

A self-service portal is a website that acts as a searchable database for self-service resources. Users can find information, search solutions and—when necessary—reach out for further support. Self-service portals give users the opportunity to find their own answers without outside help.

From self-service portals, users can browse knowledgebase articles and review FAQ sections. They can visit service forums or talk to AI chatbots. They can access tools designed to help them find the right solutions to their issues, quickly and easily. And, in the event that a customer is still having trouble finding a solution, portals allow users to create cases and contact living support agents. Customers can schedule a time that works with a technician when in-person service is necessary.

How to create a self-service portal

Creating a self-service portal is not overly difficult; the ServiceNow® Service Portal provides tools and resources for building effective customer service portals. When creating a self-service portal, you’ll want to keep the following in mind:

Link to your Portal

Don’t expect users to be able to find your self-service portal if you don’t show them where it is. Include calls to action throughout your main site, linking to the self-service portal. Likewise, you can add links within your product or app and include it in your customer communications, so that when users encounter problems, they know exactly where they should go for help.

Finally, make sure your customer service agents know about the portal and how it works. As they interact with customers, they can introduce them to the self-service portal and show them how to use it. Be aware, however, that some agents may be reluctant to promote the self-service portal if they feel it might diminish the value of agents themselves.

During interactions with customers, they can suggest using the portal for self-service. Keep in mind that agents may be reluctant to suggest self-service because they perceive it could diminish the value of agents. Remind them that self-service will help customers get answers to the common and repetitive questions, freeing up agents to handle more interesting requests or interactions that truly need a personal touch.

Optimise your FAQs

Your FAQ pages should provide succinct answers to common questions. Optimised FAQ pages can also do so much more. Incorporating relevant links into FAQs can give users clear direction about what they should do next. Built-in search functionality improves usability and eliminates the frustration of having to search through answers one at a time. Links to relevant blog and product pages can further elaborate on your existing answers while also improving conversions through your site. And, for those who need more one-on-one assistance, consider including other contact options on the page.

Incorporate multimedia

Individuals learn differently, and a block of text isn’t always the best way to guide your audience. When creating your self-service portal, consider incorporating multimedia. These may include diagrams, videos, flowcharts, images, podcasts or any other media that might benefit the user.

Improve self-service search

Search functionality is an important factor in self-service. When creating a search function for your self-service portal, make sure that you are focusing on user experience, first and foremost. Make the search bar easy to locate and large enough to fit longer queries. Include auto suggestions and make sure to account for keyword-related issues, such as misspellings and synonyms. Include filtering and advanced search options.

Keep your content up to date

Change is inevitable; the answers and solutions you provide today may not be applicable tomorrow. Regularly review and update your self-service resources. Include the last updated date in the resources themselves, so users can see at a glance how recent the information is. Having a standardised workflow will help ensure consistency, tracking and that the right people are participating in reviews and updates.

Optimise for mobile

The desktop computer is no longer the primary device for accessing information online; employees and customers often prefer to use mobile devices. As you establish your self-service portal and its underlying self-service channels, be sure not to skip over mobile usability. Optimising your portals for mobile will make them more accessible, and thus more likely to be used.

There are two different types of self-service portals: customer facing and employee facing.

Customer self-service

A customer self-service portal is designed to function as an easy-to-access resource for leads and customers. It generally includes knowledge-base articles, FAQs, chat services, tutorials, community forums and other relevant options for finding solutions. 

The customer self-service portal is usually hosted on the company’s website and is available 24/7. Customer self-service empowers clients and potential clients with quick resolutions to common first- and second-tier issues.  

Employee self-service

An employee self-service portal is designed inward facing. This kind of portal likewise provides relevant resources and solutions to common problems, but also gives employees a place where they can manage their payroll, access the employee handbook, review benefits, read up on policies, update personal information and more.

Employee self-service portals are accessible online, 24/7, but are generally not open to the general public; employees need to securely log into the portal to access company documents and personal information.

Self-service platforms may have essentially the same goal, but they do not all provide the same capabilities. Here are several important features and tools to look for when choosing a self-service solution for your business:

Service portal

In addition to giving users a central location from which to locate solutions and access self-service options, service portals can also be personalised to specific users across every channel. Users can review their previous cases, check on the progress of current cases and open new cases, from any device and anywhere in the world.

Virtual agent

Virtual agents offer a more personalised, intuitive experience than static resources. The best virtual agents are able to use natural language and respond to customers on their terms. For those issues that necessitate help from a living agent, the virtual-agent conversation and history can be seamlessly transferred over. Top self-service options include the ability to analyse and improve virtual-agent performance.

Knowledge management

Effective self-service platforms use advanced search and personalisation features to help users find relevant resources quickly. They also take things further, automatically identifying gaps and triggering workflows for creating new resources.


Built-in access to online forums and social communities gives users a place where they can workshop solutions together. It also gives you more insight into the problems, ideas and experiences users are having. This lets you identify unsolved issues and assign them to agents.

Service catalogue

One of the biggest differentiators of a top self-service platform is whether it includes a service catalogue option. The ServiceNow® Service Catalog application uses simple forms to give customers the opportunity to request solutions directly from relevant departments. Workflow allows you to monitor progress, analyse performance and detour customers when needed.

What is customer lifetime value?

Self-service portals enable users with the resources and support to find their own solutions, improving the user experience. But self-service portals also generate a number of significant benefits to the organisations that offer them.

Employee self-service portals free up HR personnel from repetitive tasks related to HR transactions and many employee services. Employee portals also help standardise important processes, while offering a reliable platform for record keeping and reporting. Together, these advantages translate into cost savings in terms of both time and efficiency.

Customer self-service portals may be even more rewarding. When strategically planned and properly implemented, customer self-service improves business productivity and reduces customer-service costs. As customers find the solutions to their own problems, your agents will be able to focus more of their time on helping those customers who cannot find their answers on their own.

Additionally, customer-service portals benefit your business by educating your customers. They learn to better use your product and are capable of solving similar problems in the future. As they become more familiar with the ins and outs of what you are offering, they will be more likely to want to do business with you in the future.

Planning your rollout

Once you’ve decided on a self-service platform, the only thing left to do is roll it out. Most platforms will provide the guidance you need to ensure that your users can effectively access and navigate your self-service portals. Follow the steps outlined by the platform providers, and work with them to resolve any apparent issues before you present your portal to your users.

Click here to learn more about successfully rolling out your self-service platform.

Self-service allows your business to offer faster, more effective and more cost-effective support. Accessible at any time and from anywhere, self-service portals reduce service agent workloads. At the same time, self-service empowers customers to find solutions on their own terms, within their own timeframes.

Whether you are designing self-service options for customers, usability should always be your primary goal. Provide insightful, helpful resources, make your portals easy to search and navigate, and make sure that you are optimising for desktop and mobile use. With these factors in place, your customers will benefit—and so will your business.

Dive deeper into ServiceNow Customer Service Management

With ServiceNow® Service Portal, you can deliver your apps to employees through a modern, easy to use portal they can access from any device, any time.

Loading spinner