USER EXPERIENCE BEST PRACTICES
FOR WEB SELF-SERVICE
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction .......... 1
Ten User Experiences (UX) Best Practices for web-self service .......... 1
1) Make it easy to find .......... 1
2) Make it easy to use .......... 2
3) Understand the issues your customers have .......... 4
4) Provide clear and readable content .......... 6
5) Offer multi-channel choice .......... 7
6) Iteratively optimize based on customer feedback .......... 8
7) Measure the performance data of the site .......... 9
8) Deliver a contextual and personalized experience .......... 11
9) Ensure it is accessible .......... 11
10) Cultivate and reward good customer behaviors .......... 12
Conclusions .......... 12
References .......... 13
About the Author .......... 13
Copyright .......... 13
About RightNow .......... 14
The document presents a series of customer-centric recommendations to help you deliver a
world-class customer experience by ensuring that your Web Self-Service (WSS) offering is
performing to its highest potential.
RightNow has experience with more than 1700 customer implementations of WSS.
Through this extensive experience, we have seen a number of patterns arise; a second
purpose of this paper is to help you avoid common mistakes that might seem like a good
idea at the time but are more complicated than they first appear.
We encourage you to think about WSS in terms of a long-term sustainable commitment
to your customers achieved through continuous refinement and improvement. We’ve
found this approach will allow you to reap the largest overall reward, as it will serve
as a competitive differentiator for years to come. Successful customer experiences are
multifaceted and it often takes organizations years to fully mature to the point where they
can reliably deliver amazing results.
With that said, there are significant short term and immediate benefits that can be had from
following the best practices outlined in this paper and empowering your customers with
TEN USER EXPERIENCE (UX) BEST PRACTICES FOR WEB-SELF SERVICE
1) Make it easy to find
It may seem obvious, but if customers cannot locate a self-service area, then functionally it
doesn’t exist! This lack of find-ability will not only frustrate customers, but will also increase
the use of more expensive assisted channels such as the phone.
We’ve heard horror stories of disgruntled customers using services such as Get Human
(http://gethuman.com) to bypass bad support sites entirely, or worse, causing brand
devaluation by Tweeting or blogging about their bad experience for the world to see. One
customer even told us that he got so frustrated with a certain electronics company he once
faxed his service issue directly to the corporate office fax number for investor inquires.
Apparently the executives at the corporate office were much more willing to help than the
agents in the contact center.
To maximize the possibility that customer will find your WSS features, we recommend the
· Integrate WSS into the Information Architecture (IA) of your website. This should
be done by placing a link or button to support/contact us that appears prominently
on most or all pages of your general website. You will likely need buy-in from your
Marketing department to do so.
· Design WSS so it matches your larger corporate presence and feels like a
continuation of the larger web experience.
· Invest resources into Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for major web search
providers (Google, Bing, and Yahoo). This is critical. One study found that 65% of
web searches start at Google , bypassing large elements of your site’s navigation or
· Make sure support pages are indexed and ranked in your overall site search so that
support content shows up these search results.
· Use caution in obscuring phone numbers and other contact information. We
recommend offering multi-channel choice and a consistent experience across these
channels. See best practice #5 for more information.
· Ensure that knowledge in your Web Self-Service (WSS) knowledgebase is properly
optimized for easy information retrieval. Check out the RightNow Customer
Community or ask Pro-Services for more information on this topic.
For more information on this best practice, we recommend you check out our Best Practice
document on Knowledgebase Optimization .
Once customers have located WSS, they will then need to interact with it in order to
achieve issue resolution; this leads us to our next recommendation.
2) Make it easy to use
Companies with the highest WSS success rates and greatest ROI are ones that are able to
make consumers feel self-confident, assured, and empowered with self-service. The usability
of WSS is thus critical to its success.
Displaying a large amount of information to customers will just overwhelm and make them
feel helpless. When in this psychological state, a customer is more likely to try and ‘Get
Help’ by seeking a more expensive assisted support channel.
To help improve the usability of WSS we offer the following recommendations:
· Focus on design simplicity.
· In general, WSS is ephemeral – users don’t want to learn how to use your site. They
just need to use it to resolve the issue at hand and get on with the more important
things in their life.
· An 80/20 rule often applies for WSS – 80% of visitors are seeking only about 20%
of the content. Place this 20% of content prominently and you’ll have a big bang for
your screen real-estate buck.
· Design for “probabilities not possibilities”. Instead of trying to offer every possible
choice to a customer, focus on the probable actions which are most likely to help
· Allow customers to visually select their support category by offering a series of
product images or icons (where product-specific support content is appropriate) as
the starting point to their service experience.
Figure 1: A visual product selector that allows customer to restrict knowledge by product or
category (Image courtesy of Logitech.com).
· Users are likely to remember an email address more effectively than a “username”
when returning to a site after a period of absence. Keep this mind if you require a
· Leverage the wisdom of crowds to direct customers to the best content. One way to
do so is by dynamically generating a list of Frequently Asked Questions. A second is
by automatically linking to “Answers others found useful” section at the bottom of
individual answer pages.
· Focus on simplicity! Did we mention that already? It’s so important it’s worth
repeating. Making things simple is harder than it seems .
FIGURE 3: Focus on simplicity! Image courtesy of Stuff That Happens by Eric Burke 
Usability goes well beyond the design of your site – if that design doesn’t contain
functionality that truly helps the customer, then again it will go unused. In order to avoid
this issue you will need an accurate understanding of the tasks you offer with WSS; this
brings us to our next best practice.
3) Understand the issues your customers have
Resolution rates for Web Self-Service are largely determined by an organization’s
understanding of the problems that their customers frequently need to resolve.
Organizations that have a deep understanding of these issues are able to structure their
WSS experiences to help customers resolve these issues by achieving their goals for the
Based on extensive user and market research, RightNow recommends that in addition to
any customer goals you identify which are specific to your business (see also best practice
#6), you also understand that customer goals for WSS can ultimately be distilled to two
· Find Information: The customer is looking to self-serve and wants to locate some
information or perform a function which will help them to do so.
· Get Help: The customer feels they have a problem which can’t be resolved with self-
service and they need a knowledgeable human being to assist them.
These two user goals must be acknowledged and ingrained within your web support
experience. Information that satisfies the ‘Find Information’ goal should be the primary
content on the page, but ‘Get Help’ goal states should also be visible. Burying them will
only further irritate customers who have a goal of ‘Get Help’.
There are often times when the use of assisted support experiences (Get Help) allows you
to achieve greater revenue by increasing selling/cross-selling/up-selling, First Contact
Resolution (FCR), conversion rates, or Customer Lifetime Value by offering VIP service to
high value customers.
RightNow has conducted eye-tracking on several WSS designs. We have found that the
order in which contact channels are presented has a direct correlation on the frequency of
use for each channel. To encourage use of a specific channel, place it at the top of a list:
Figure 2: The top of this list receives greater frequency and durations of customer eye-gazes.
During a recent eye-tracking study, we also examined the order in which customers look at
page elements in the November ’09 reference implementation – note that the “Contact Us”
area is consistently the last area that customers look at on the page. If a customer with the
goal of ‘Find Information’ locates an element they feel will assist them with their goal, they
may continue their journey directly from there and not even see the contact us region.
Figure 3: This visualization shows the order in which customers view elements on the page.
Lastly, it can be tempting to build a self-service experience based on how internal
departments or existing workflows are structured. If this delivery does not match the
“mental model” of how the customer thinks about your world, this will only confuse them.
Customers simply don’t care about your company’s internal structure - they just want to
resolve their issue as painlessly as possible.
Even if a customer locates WSS, and it is usable and contains content that is applicable to
their issue, it STILL doesn’t mean that customer will be able to successfully self-serve. This
brings us to our next Best Practice.
4) Provide clear and readable content
Ensure that your content is easy to read (written in plain language, without jargon) and to
the point. Web users are notorious for quickly scanning and flipping between pages, trying
to quickly locate the “information scent” of the knowledge they are after. Breaking up
content with graphics, visual diagrams, videos thumbnails, bullet points, and inline bolded
text to enrich your content sometimes has the effect of forcing the user to glance at these
elements when scanning the page and this will increase their engagement.
Content is often overlooked in terms of its importance – this is a big mistake, and good
content is absolutely critical for a good experience. We recommend that unless you have
a particularly technical or educated target audience of customers, you make all of your
content readable at no more than an 8th grade reading level, such that the average 13 or 14
year old can make sense of the information.
There are a variety of free online tools available to check reading scores for web content,
but we particularly like the Juicy Studio tool available at: http://juicystudio.com/services/
Following these content guidelines will not only help with the effectiveness of your content,
but will also make it easier to translate content if you are serving a customer base across
several languages. Visual material and diagrams often do not need translation.
For additional content Best Practices, please see our publication on this topic in the
RightNow Customer Community .
5) Offer multi-channel choice
Offering a unified experience across multiple channels is not only important to the
customer experience, but can also has impact your bottom line. Consider the nature of
each channel when determining where it can be used most effectively.
· Web Self Service - Facilitating and directing interactions that are low in complexity
(but high in volume) to WSS will result in high self-service rates. Customers are able
to resolve their problems quickly and effectively and the organization is able to build
the customer relationship while saving significant costs.
· Community – Leveraging the collective intelligence of customers allows the
organization to provide a whole new dimension to WSS. It may be surprising
how willing customers are to help their peers and collaborate on problem solving,
especially because this is frequently done with minimal involvement from the
supervising organization. Community functionality is also perfectly suited for high-
volume, low-complexity issues.
· Chat – This channel provides a powerful way to either “break into” the customers’
thought process through a proactive notification, or more passively provide a helpful
channel for the customer to engage in when they are ready. Real-time interaction
with the customer provides an effective way to improve sales by engaging customers
who are at risk of abandoning a shopping experience, as well as engaging other high
value customers who have been identified with behavior targeting or other analysis
· Phone – While this channel is the most expensive, it also provides unparalleled first
contact resolution (FCR). High-complexity but low-volume problems are best suited
for this channel and customers with this type of specific issue should be guided to
· Email – This communication channel allows for asynchronous communication
between customer and organization. This style of interaction is useful for low-
priority, low-complexity issues and provides the customer with the ability to respond
when it is most convenient for them.
· Assisted Browsing – While not strictly a support channel by itself, the ability to
directly take control over the user’s computer can greatly reduce handle time on both
the Chat and Phone channels. This mechanism also assists in achieving maximum
· Click to Call Back – This is not strictly a channel by itself, but it provides the ability
for a customer to schedule a call at a convenient time for them rather than wait on
hold. Caution should be used to make sure that this feature is offered in customer-
centric terms and not organization-centric terms, but scalability benefits for the
organization are also achieved by flattening the peaks and valleys of incoming call
When offering true multi-channel choice, we recommend integrating live wait times with
your WSS Customer Portal – this allows a customer to quickly understand which channel
has the shortest wait time, and can help act as a dynamic load balancer if one contact
channel’s queue starts to get too long. It also allows you to creatively encourage use of
certain channels (see also Best Practice #10).
Figure 5: Channel wait times integrated and displayed on WSS
Lastly, British Telecom (BT) makes excellent use of multi-channel choice by automatically
guiding consumers to only the appropriate channel types for their issue type. See the BT
Contact Us area at: http://btbusiness.custhelp.com/app
6) Iteratively optimize based on customer feedback
In order to provide a superior customer experience, it is important to have an intimate
understanding of the audience served and detect and take action when there is a change in
that behavior. There are many different methods to gather customer feedback, below is a
high level list of these approaches.
· Surveys (CSAT, Net Promoter, WAMMI etc.)
· Web analytics and search logs
· Customer feedback on individual answers
· First hand customer interviews and focus groups
· Usability testing and collaborative design
There is no “one right way” to understand and empathize with your users, so information
may come from a variety of sources. Companies that take the time to continually measure
and improve their WSS experience based on customer input are ones that most effectively
achieve their business goals.
We have found usability testing to be one of the most powerful measurement tools available
to understand the customer experience and we recommend the excellent (and short!) do-it-
yourself usability testing book by Steve Krug, Rocket Surgery Made Easy .
There are some new startup services (Loop11, UserZoom, TeaLeaf, Clicktale, others) that
offer “unmoderated” usability testing – essentially these companies provide technology
which allows a simple usability test to be automatically administered remotely over the web
to real visitors. This type of analysis can be very valuable and cost effective, but typically
adds the most value when you already have an advanced understanding of your site and are
looking to take that knowledge to the next level – it’s not something we recommend as a
7) Measure the performance data of the site
The load time of an individual web page has been shown to increase the overall site bounce
rate (the percentage of visitors who initially load or try to load a page, but then do not
continue and view other pages on the site).
Following the idea that users always gravitate to the path of least resistance, a slow, awkward
WSS experience is likely to cause abandonment to a more expensive channel. This
aspect of the user experience is often overlooked during web design; RightNow has taken
exceptional steps to ensure high performance with both the distributed cloud hosting
variety of browsers.
Make sure that any graphics used have been optimized for the web, and that you use place
multiple images into a single “sprite” where possible . The use of sprites improves web
performance because only a single server request is sent and then all images are returned in a
In order to do a quick check-up on the current load performance of your WSS site, there
are a variety of free speed check analysis tools online; for one example you may wish to run
a quick check using this tool: http://www.websiteoptimization.com/services/analyze/
In addition to technical performance, it is also important to measure the business
performance of your WSS experience; this is often referred to as “deflection rate”. We prefer
the term “self-service success rate” as we believe this more accurately describes the true
benefit of WSS.
A self-service session is considered a “success” if one or more answers are viewed by the
user, and this session does not request use of the Contact Us area or results in an incident
submission. This usage data is then used by RightNow to dynamically optimize and rank
useful answers. Please note that this measure does not deterministically define a task
success – the user may have viewed an answer and then simply given up! Also note that
your self-serve rate could immediately be brought to 100% by eliminating the contact us
area – this obviously isn’t a good idea as the increased rate is due to false positives, rather
than true positives.
Figure 8: Web Self-Service Truth Table
Healthy self-service rates may vary considerably, and we hesitate to give you a target number
that you should adhere to. Depending on the nature of the business, we know customers
who have a 20% success rate and are looking decrease their rate, as well as customers
with a 90%+ rate and are trying to increase their rate. We do however recommend you
keep careful watch over this Key Performance Indicator, as it provides the greatest overall
snapshot of WSS.
Lastly, we recommend you track the “bounce rates” for each page in Web Self-Service. The
bounce rate is defined as a visitor who views only a single page. For the main “Support
Home” page and other non-answer pages you should use the following measures as a rough
Figure 9: Bounce Rates and Classification
This bounce rate table DOES NOT APPLY to individual answers. A customer who
performs a web search (Google/Bing) and is taken directly to an answer page (and doesn’t
look at any additional answers) is technically counted as a “bounce”. In this case a high
bounce rate is actually a good thing, provided the answer is receiving positive answer
feedback from customers and the “Time spent on page” seems reasonable for the amount of
content on that page.
For instance, if you have a 1,000 word answer with a high bounce rate (50%+) and a very
low time spent on page (Under 10 seconds), you know you have an issue that needs to be
corrected. Consider –rewriting the answer based on our content best practices .
8) Deliver a contextual and personalized experience
Make sure to take into consideration information that you already know or can be
automatically retrieved for a given customer’s current situation and state of mind.
Personalized experiences build brand loyalty and can help achieve simplicity by avoiding the
need to ask for unnecessary information.
· Don’t force the user to re-enter login information when they are already logged into
another portion of the site or system, and consider using a single sign-on capability
like pass through authentication (PTA). You may also wish to examine the business
acceptability of using a universal sign-on ID such as Google, Open ID, or Facebook.
· Automatically populate data fields and other site information if the user is already
logged in or has entered similar information on a related page. Allow them to edit or
modify these fields as they desire.
· If applicable, allow customers to “register” their product and remember this when the
customer submits a support incident or visits WSS to find information.
· Provide special contact channels or custom knowledge base articles depending on
their Service Level Agreement (SLA).
· When authenticated – welcome the customer with a personalized greeting.
There are often many opportunities to provide other nice-to-have personalization options.
Use your imagination and put yourself in the customer’s shoes – what little extras would
help you to have a better, more pleasurable or less painful experience?
9) Ensure it is accessible
Also often overlooked is the importance of information accessibility. True accessibility
means support for a variety of browsers, as well as assistive technology used by people with
disabilities. Good accessibility will ensure that your WSS site is able to achieve maximum
reach into the market place and results in self-service task success for the greatest possible
number of customers.
Please note that a WSS site which is not technically accessible will provide a low or zero
self-service rate for disabled individuals. These individuals will be forced to use another
available channel. For instance, a blind person trying to use a screen reader to interact with
the web will not be able to properly utilize your WSS site if it is not accessible, and they will
then likely be forced to ask a friend to retrieve a phone number for the company and then
call the company. This results in both a poor experience for the disabled customer, as well
as a more expensive phone call for the organization.
Proper visual design, clear use of icons, and appropriate font size helps all users, but
especially the elderly and those with low vision. As the baby boomer generation continues
to age, the importance of usable and accessible WSS will only increase as boomer’s sight and
other skills begin to deteriorate.
There are several laws and standards with respect to Accessibility both in the US and
Internationally. The RightNow reference implementation meets the technical requirements
of Section 508, WCAG 2.0, and was developed following guidance of PAS 78. We
encourage all sites to meet these same criteria not only for ROI reasons, but also because it’s
the right thing to do.
For a quick and free visual Accessibility audit of your site, the non-profit Web AIM
organization provides a free tool that can be used through a web browser: http://wave.
10) Cultivate and reward good customer behaviors
Humans naturally gravitate to the path of least resistance. If a customer with a low
complexity (and you have found to also be a high volume) interaction uses a more expensive
channel such as the phone, it is likely a result of their mental model; a mental model is the
way that an individual internalizes the inner workings of a complex system – sometimes
these models are accurate and sometimes they are not. For instance, if a customer’s mental
model informs them that the phone will be their path of least resistance it may be due to
the fact that they a bad experience with WSS in the past.
Taking the time to “train” a problem customer to self-serve by orienting that user with the
WSS experience allows you to restructure this mental model to more accurately reflect their
true path of least resistance.
RightNow has found through user interviews that most users DO have a tendency to
avoid the phone if possible. They often have a fear they’ll be placed on hold for an
extended period of time, or perhaps will be connected with a representative who has poor
communication skills or will lack empathy.
Behaviorist modification techniques can also be used to remove the reward which may
occur if a customer exhibits poor behavior – one way to do this is to placing a small
barrier to phone usage (a short but reasonable wait time, regardless of agent availability).
This implicitly establishes the phone channel as a path which is not of least resistance.
Customers will learn over time they can self-serve on their own and resolve their issues more
quickly and with a greater feeling of empowerment. This good behavior can be fostered
with a recorded message which tells the customer about what can be accomplished through
web self-service during the imposed wait time.
Another example of behavior modification that we have seen is the priority offering of
an assisted channel (for instance the phone) to customers who have already visited WSS.
This can be accomplished by providing the customer with a reference number to enter via
an automated Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system when they call the organization.
These customers can then be taken to a special higher priority queue instead of waiting in a
general queue, and do not need to explain to the agent who they are or what answers they
have already looked at.
We hope this paper has provided you with some “aha!” moments in your understanding
of the self-service customer experience. Depending on your circumstances, it may feel
overwhelming to execute on ten best practices at once. As we mentioned in the beginning
of this paper, it often takes organizations years to increase their maturity from simple
awareness of WSS concepts to practicing and then eventually growing into an industry-
leading provider of amazing customer experiences.
RightNow is pleased to serve as an expert guide on your journey to achieve better customer
experiences, and we wish you luck in you endeavor. Let us know if you get stuck or need
expert guidance along the way!
 Web COE Content Best Practices Document [In progress at time of publication], will
be made available on the Customer Community.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Ben Werner, MS, AUXP has conducted extensive user research regarding self-service,
usability, and customer centric design methods. He also holds a Master’s degree in Human-
Computer Interaction from the University of Minnesota and is a board certified Associate
User Experience Professional.
David Fulton, PhD – is a Product Manager in the Web Center of Excellence at RightNow,
and is a passionate advocate of the importance of delivering great web experiences for
self-service. David regularly visits web self service sites of all shapes and sizes after buying
a product or service (whether he has a question or not) to assess the quality of the user
experience. He holds a Doctorate in Computer Science from University College London,
This is a preliminary document and may be changed substantially prior to final commercial
release of the software described herein.
The material contained in this document represents the current view of RightNow
Technologies on the topics discussed as of the date of publication. Changing market