Online self-service vs one-on-one support

Online Self-Service Vs Traditional One-on-one Support

Written by on June 28, 2018

Online self-service support is any form of contact between the company and the customer that doesn’t involve a real-live person. Everything from self-checkout, to an online knowledge base and even chatbots fall under self-service.

One-on-one support is the traditional form of support where one person or team from a company talks to the customer over email, phone, or chat and solves their problem.

Both kinds of support have their own pros and cons. While one-on-one support has been the standard form of support for a long time, 81% of all customers now prefer using online self-service over reaching out to a live representative when they have a problem.

Watch this debate to find out which model of support is right for you:

As you can see, the best form of customer service combines both models and improves the customer and the agent experience.

So how do you go about combining them? We looked at some of our favorite online self-service experiences to find an answer. Before we get into it, if you’d prefer watching these tips to reading about them, you can do so here.


Integrating online self-service support with your traditional one-on-one support model involves 4 major steps.

Step 1. Changing customer behavior

The biggest roadblock while moving from a one-on-one support model to a hybrid model is changing the customer behavior.

How do you train customers to go through online self-service first before contacting support? Let’s look at some best practices.

a) When your self-service site goes live, make sure you inform the customers about its existence using social media, email, and more.

b) Link your help site from your website or from within your product, like Freshsales does.         

1. Freshsales_How to add self-service support to your one-on-one support model  

c) Encourage your support team to talk to customers about the self-service site every time they resolve a problem. Just saying something like, “To get help quickly, you can always check out our self-service portal” at the end of the call or adding it to your email signature would work.

Self-service VS One-on-One Support_Adding to emails sent

d) You can even add it to the welcome emails you send out to customers like Mailchimp does.

Self-service VS One-on-One Support_mailchimp

e) Whenever agents answer a question that can be found in the self-service portal, in addition to providing the answer, send them a link to the article too. 

Self-service VS One-on-One Support_ Agent adding link

f)This process will become easier with tools that suggest related articles to agents based on the ticket content. You can also use tools that can suggest relevant articles when customers are filling out your contact form.

g) If you provide in-app support, make sure that you add links to FAQ articles like they do in Freshchat.

Self-service VS One-on-One Support_Freshchat

You can use these tips to inform and educate customers. But in an effort to increase online self-service adoption, most companies make the mistake of forcing customers to use it even if they don’t want to. Even if they don’t get the help they need.

Step 2: Make the handoff seamless

When you are setting up a hybrid solution, remember that support agents should be ready to jump in at any time to help customers out knowing the complete context.

Follow these tips to make the handoff between online self-service and one-on-one support seamless.

a) Show customers that real humans are still available to help. For example, Shopify has put up a picture of their support team on their self-service portal.

Self-service VS One-on-One Support_Shopify

b) Always be a click away in case customers can’t find the answers they need. For example, Amazon has a great online self-service experience but they still have a contact us button next to every support article.

Self-service VS One-on-One Support_amazon

It’s the same with chatbots. If the problem is not solved by the first solution provided by the bot, direct them to one on one support immediately.

c) While you are at it, if you use bots for self-service, be upfront about it. Customers are quicker to forgive when it’s a bot making a mistake. They actually get more frustrated when humans talk like bots.

Self-service VS One-on-One Support_Bots

d) When a customer contacts one-on-one support after going through and not finding the answer in your self-service portal, agents should not make the mistake of suggesting articles that the customer has already seen. Tools like Freshdesk help you prevent that by showing the articles the customer already went through before contacting support using the Customer Journey feature.

Self-service VS One-on-One Support_CustomerJourney

e) Get feedback on every knowledge base article, like Twitter does, and turn them into actionable tickets. This way, not only can you make the article better but you can also reach out to the customers who gave the feedback and solve their problems.

Self-service VS One-on-One Support_Twitter gif

Step 3: Retrain your agents

Even as you are making your customers’ lives easier, a hybrid model gives you an opportunity to make things better for your team too.

A good self-service experience will filter out all the level 1 or how-to questions. That’s great because agents don’t have to spend time doing repetitive work. But the tricky part is, if you have agents whose only job is to handle level one problems, they will have to be retrained.

You can do this by setting up a formal training program or workshop. Or you can get your more experienced, expert agents to mentor the level one agents.

Step 4: Leverage your community

Another great way to implement a hybrid support model is by leveraging your community.

Companies like Google or Mozilla that deal with millions of users cannot even think of setting up one on one support for some of their products. Instead of relying on a purely self-service experience, which will probably be inadequate, they rely on their community to provide one on one help.

Self-service VS One-on-One Support_Google

This way, when a user poses a complex question, they will receive help from a real person in the form of the community moderator or a fellow user. But this exchange will be publicly available so other customers who face the problem can also help themselves.

Self-service VS One-on-One Support_Mozilla

You can also do what Dropbox does. They use their community effectively by making relevant discussions available right next to their knowledge base articles.

Self-service VS One-on-One Support_Dropbox

Canva’s support portal has an interesting mix of FAQs and community. They give options for self-service users to vote on known issues that are affecting them. This way, the Canva team can get a clear idea on which issue affects most of the customers and prioritize it.

Self-service-Vs-One-on-one-support_Canva


These are the 4 steps involved in combining the online self-service experience with the one-on-one support experience.

Follow the tips we shared to make your support better for everybody involved. If you have any questions, feel free to post them in the comments section below!

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