How AI in Self-Service Portals Improves Customer Experience

There is no doubt B2B ecommerce is changing to resemble that of B2C. B2B stakeholders are being challenged to create Amazon-like, personalized experiences while still accounting for the peculiarities of the B2B model. To do so, they adopt out-of-the-box or tailored customer portals.

With digitalization moving at a breakneck speed, businesses are now looking to go one step further and incorporate AI technology into self-service portals.

In this article, we dissect self-service portals and the value they have to offer B2B businesses. We also look at what AI integration into self-service portals could mean for businesses and the best practices for maximizing this technology.

b2b ecommerce efficiency

Benefits and reasons B2B buyers want them 

Self-service portals are online platforms that allow users to access information, perform certain tasks, and find solutions without relying on customer support agents for direct assistance.  

These portals provide customers access to a repository of tools and resources, such as frequently answered questions (FAQs), knowledge base articles, troubleshooting guides, and chatbots, from which users can autonomously access support, navigate product offerings and much more.  

The fact that 86% of B2B customers prefer digital channels with self-service features justifies these autonomous portals. This might be because 62% of millennial workers occupy managerial roles and are slowly but surely changing the work environment to fit their expectations and habits. 

For example, according to Gartner, 38% of Gen Z and millennial customers give up on a customer service issue entirely if they can solve it in self-service. Likewise, Salesforce shares that 39% of millennials check FAQs first when they have questions. 

Therefore, B2B companies must revise their customer service models to accommodate these changing customer behaviours. Failure to do so puts businesses at the risk of lagging behind competitors in this ecommerce sector. 

Whether you look at self-service portals from the business or the customer side, you will see the advantages.  

For businesses, these portals help to unburden support agents, allowing them to be more productive in other areas. Similarly, autonomous portals help businesses handle larger volumes of requests at lower costs.  

For customers, they enjoy prompt and personalized responses, simultaneously improving their experience and solving their issues. 

The AI difference in customer service transformation 

When one imagines a fully functional self-service portal, characteristics like a user-friendly interface, comprehensive knowledge base, intelligent search functionality, and multi-channel support come to mind. Creating an optimal self-service portal used to be an extremely daunting task. However, since the integration of AI in self-service portals, the outlook has been completely different. 

Admittedly, the road to AI-driven self-service portals is challenging:

  • The initial financial investment required can be high.
  • There might be resistance to change among stakeholders.
  • The early phases of implementation still require significant human input to monitor and improve the systems.

However, once businesses overcome these difficulties, the benefits are worth the wait. AI's ability to analyse huge volumes of data, understand human language, and automate processes can transform your portal into a one-stop solution for customers while saving organizational resources. 

Here are 4 features AI can bring into self-service portals

Intelligent chatbots 

The most obvious feature of AI-driven self-service portals is intelligent chatbots. AI in self-service portals means businesses can build chatbots that can interact with customers in a human-like fashion. This is thanks to natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning algorithms that help machines understand user input and provide informative answers. 

AI chatbots offer instant support to users, providing real-time assistance to customers within the portals. They also provide 24/7 availability that offers customers human-like interaction round the clock, free from time zones or working hours limitations. All the chatbots require is a rich knowledge base to draw from and some training, and they will be ready to interact with and engage customers efficiently. 

Improved search functionality 

Another habit B2C customers are bringing into B2B `commerce is their preference for voice and visual search. 71% of consumers prepare to find products online using voice search. Similarly, 62% of Gen Z and Millennial customers want visual search features more than any other new technology. In both studies, respondents cited convenience, speed, and ease of accessibility for their preferences. 

Artificial Intelligence can improve your brand's ability to deliver voice and visual search capabilities to customers. Driven by its powerful algorithms, AI can process images and voice commands and provide users with desired responses. 

Voice search in self-service portals provides hands-free alternatives to finding information. Visual search, on the other hand, is particularly useful for manufacturers of complex products that users may struggle to describe. By uploading images, customers can bypass complicated descriptions and find products or get technical support for problems. 

Automated customer support 

For your self-service portals to add value to consumers, they must go beyond answering simple questions to resolving real-life issues. With AI in self-service portals, your business can automate the resolution of common issues without human intervention. 

For example, AI can evaluate refund requests using predefined criteria such as purchase date and reason for refund and automatically trigger refunds for qualified requests. Similarly, AI-driven self-service portals allow users to track orders in real time without emailing or calling support agents for updates. 

Additionally, artificial intelligence can automate issues like processing returns, updating order information, and routing support tickets to appropriate agents. With such capabilities, customers will enjoy faster service and higher satisfaction while businesses will reduce operational costs.  

Advanced analysis and reporting 

Artificial intelligence is known for its advanced analytical power, and that quality is of great use in improving self-service portals. Customers' interactions with this portal represent an opportunity to collect and process data. 

AI can analyse user interactions to understand their preferences and use it to offer personalized content and recommendations. Also, AI can analyse the pattern of resolved issues and the steps taken to resolve them, update the knowledge base, train the chatbots, or create entirely new articles and videos. This improves the depth of information on the self-service portals. 

Best practices for AI-driven portals 

Seeing the remarkable functionalities that can come with AI in self-service portals, it's understandable if you want to get started right away. However, the results produced by AI are still largely dependent on the humans behind the machine. 

Let's briefly look at some best practices to ensure that AI-driven self-service portals serve your business and its customers well. 

Prioritize learning and improvement 

It is important to implement machine learning algorithms to enable AI to learn from user interactions over time. Insights from social media, live chat, email, and all customer interaction channels should be fed to the AI to enable the system to adapt to new scenarios and improve its performance. 

Maintain data privacy and security 

Safeguarding user data is paramount to maintaining customers' confidence in your brand. Implement data protection measures that secure AI interactions and ensure compliance with GDPR. 

Provide escalation feature 

As powerful as artificial intelligence is, there will always be moments when it cannot satisfactorily handle requests, especially considering the complexity of the B2B buying journey and transactions. Integrate your AI-driven self-service portals with live chat or phone support so customers can smoothly transition to customer support agents, getting the human touch they desire without starting the conversation from scratch. 

AI for superior service and efficiency 

Bringing the automation and analytical powers of AI into self-service portals is a step that could transform the experiences of support teams and customers alike, manifesting in revenue increment.  

Will customer service ever be 100% automated? Probably not. Customers will always require the human touch and businesses must be aware of that fact. However, embracing self-service portals and AI is important for maintaining a competitive edge, ensuring customer engagement, and positioning businesses for the future of B2B online marketing. 

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