You can reduce Service Desk costs by helping customers solve their own problems. Self-service can reduce the number of tickets being handled, thus lowering staff head count and/or allow staff to work on other tasks. Resistance to self-service often comes from customers who see this as not their job. However, if done correctly, an effective self-service strategy will save them time as they are able to get quicker responses at any time of day, as they no longer need to wait for a Service Desk operator to answer.

For customers to help themselves, you need clear and concise instructions they can follow and you need to make it easy for them to find it when they need it. In this article, I will cover how you can use ServiceNow to achieve this.

First things first, you need to understand who the audience is and what they are capable of and (with some urging) willing to do. In most cases your customers will be non-technical and will run for the hills if they see command line instructions. Every organisation is unique so do this assessment for your own user base. You may find that your customers have a range of skill levels or the steps for one group of customers do not apply to other groups, as this might be the case if they work in different locations. If you have this situation, then look at identifying these groups based on user attributes such as their Location or Department and creating User Criteria records in ServiceNow to limit visibility of articles to specific groups. This will ensure that only relevant information is shown to the customer.

Next is to identify what content is needed. You can run reports against historical tickets to find what are the high-volume requests. This is a good starting point. Speaking with front-line teams is even better. They have good insights into the kind of frequent requests and incidents that they get on the ServiceDesk. What’s more, they will also tell you about the ones that are so short they don’t bother to log (Yes, it does happen). These short, light tasks are often prime examples of something that can be solved by simply providing a how-to guide or FAQ to users but they won’t appear in a ticket report. Both approaches work in any environment.

If you are using ServiceNow, you also have the ability to use powerful tools that leverage Artificial Intelligence against your organisation’s ticket history to find candidates for content. While Automation Discovery is intended to find candidate use cases for Virtual Agent, I have used it to do an analysis for me to find high volume cases that a Knowledge Article would solve. What I like about this tool is it also shows the time and effort that could be saved which is great for prioritising or making a compelling case to push your self-service initiative. This is a ServiceNow store plugin that can be installed in your instance and run against your data in a matter of minutes.

Similarly, there is also Knowledge Demand Insights. This is targeted at comparing tickets against knowledge articles. It comes preconfigured to analyse Incidents and Customer Cases and show where knowledge bases are missing information. It can be used to find content for self-service but is also useful to find gaps in the knowledge bases that your internal teams are using for process guides.

A common question I hear is about the safety of your data when using AI. Both tools use machine learning algorithms that run in your ServiceNow instance so there is no risk of your data being sent off-shore or co-mingled with other ServiceNow customers. For a more detailed answer there is information available on ServiceNow’s website.

It will make it much easier for your customers to quickly understand a self-service guide if you adopt a consistent structure. Self-service guides should be clear and concise and use normal language. Avoid jargon that your audience won’t understand. Be clear as to what problem the guide will solve. This should be at the start of the article so the reader can immediately decide as to whether the article is relevant to them. Describing the problem that this solves will also make the article appear in search results when users are describing their issue. Use an active voice and verbs. This places the emphasis on the user and their actions, rather than the guide itself. For example, instead of saying “These simple steps will show you how to troubleshoot your issue,” say “You can troubleshoot your issue with these simple steps.”

At the end of the guide, you should also include alternative actions to take if the guide fails to solve the problem. These could be links to other guides, raise an incident or to contact the ServiceDesk.

Now you know your audience and have content. Time to put it to work and make it available. Obviously, a self-service web portal of some description is needed here. But don’t put knowledge articles in their own section of the portal. It is too easy for users to immediately go to the log an incident button and not try to navigate a knowledge base. Here is where ServiceNow’s Employee Centre blurs the line between forms and knowledge articles and shows both types together when browsing and searching the portal. This way it removes that decision that users typically must make, will my problem be solved by a self-help guide, or can I just log a ticket? Most users will take the latter – the easier option. Another tool to promote your self-service guides is to show possible solutions to an issue as the user is describing the problem when submitting an incident or case. ServiceNow’s Contextual AI Search can be added to your forms and will show the user a list of relevant articles based on what they have entered into the form before they submit it. This is a great way to avoid tickets being submitted and the user gets a solution without waiting for someone to contact them.

Another channel to promote self-service guides is via the ServiceNow Virtual Agent. A big advantage here is that the chat bot can be used in both the ServiceNow portals and embedded in MS Teams, Slack or even other websites. With minimal effort the ServiceNow Virtual agent can be configured to return knowledge articles to answer questions that users ask it. Of course it is capable of much more but this is an easy solution to enable that opens up many more ways to deliver your self-service guides.

Now sit back and relax.

Not quite. It is important to monitor and manage the effectiveness of your self-service initiative. Getting user feedback is vital. Using ServiceNow there are several ways that users can provide feedback. Every article can be given a star rating, be flagged as helpful or unhelpful and can also receive comments. At least one of these options should be adopted. If your users are taking the time to provide feedback, don’t let them down and ignore it. Make sure action is taken by automatically assigning a task when improvements are needed.

It is also important to ensure articles are regularly reviewed for accuracy and relevancy. To this end a knowledge lifecycle needs to be defined where new articles are reviewed and then reviewed again after some period. This can easily be done with the Valid To field on knowledge articles which can display an expiration date. Then you need a report to show which articles are nearing this expiration date and their authors.

After these practices have bedded in, mature environments may want to adopt a more formal process of reviewing the quality of articles. ServiceNow provides the Article Quality Index for this purpose. The AQI sets out a checklist to be completed for each article that calculates a quality score which is used to determine if something needs to be changed. I rarely see this in action, but I would imagine it would benefit very large knowledge bases that are being assessed by teams of reviewers and there is a need to do this in a consistent and traceable way.

And that is it. No wait. One last thing, make sure you show how effective your self-service initiative is. The simplest method is to report on a reduction in ticket volumes. But here again there are out of the box solutions in ServiceNow that you can leverage. The built-in User Experience Analytics will show you the behaviour of your users navigating the portal. It will give you insights into what they have searched or browsed and when they have landed on a knowledge article instead of logging a ticket.

I hope this has been some help to you in planning to drive a self-service initiative. If you need further help with this then AC3 has the experience in complex and sometimes challenging environments to successfully guide customers on this jour