What Is The Self-Service Software Model In SaaS?

What Is The Self-Service Software Model In SaaS?

Self-service software is the perfect antidote to the modern world of instant gratification.

The majority of SaaS users want to get what they want immediately, as opposed to waiting to speak with a member of your team.

Responding to their needs slowly often leads to a low NPS score at best or, worse, to churn.

But what exactly does self-service mean? And how do you turn your SaaS product into a self-service solution? Allow us to explain.



  • Self-service software helps users to find solutions, information or support on their own, without talking to your team.
  • Examples include a frictionless sign-up flow, a knowledge base, a help center widget, a tooltip, or a welcome screen.
  • For SaaS businesses, solutions like these will save money hiring an expensive support team, prevent support agents from quitting due to answering repetitive questions, reduce customer response times and better educate customers.
  • Most SaaS businesses can benefit from a self-service approach, provided that their product is not extremely complicated or of life-changing importance to users.
  • There are solutions on the market that will allow your users to both proceed down the user adoption journey and self-support without needing to talk to your team.
  • Userpilot excels in both of these categories.

What is self-service software?

Let’s start with a quick definition.

Self-service software empowers the user to find solutions, information or support on their own, without requiring a conversation with your team.

The concept of self-service isn’t unique to software. Think of the time that you bought candy from the vending machine, or took out money from the ATM.


In each of these cases, the user is in control of their own customer experience. This promotes feelings of autonomy and accomplishment in the customer. It also radically decreases how long the customer has to wait to get their needs met.

As technology has advanced, the concept of self-service has moved to the software world as well.

Increasingly, customers can find solutions to their problems on their own online, without having to wait to talk to a member of your team.

This is a win for customers because they don’t have to wait around for an answer. And it’s a win for online businesses, because they don’t have to employ as large of a support team to constantly deal with customer queries.

Self-Service Software examples

Here are some examples of self-service software that you probably use frequently without realizing it:

  • Frictionless sign-up flow: when you sign up and pay for a new product in just a few simple clicks, without talking to sales or onboarding.
  • Knowledge base: when you look up a solution to a query about a product you’re using in their dedicated help pages, without talking to customer service.
  • Help Center widget: like the knowledge base, but even easier to find, since it’s located inside the product, as opposed to on a separate section of the website.
  • Tooltips: when a UI element shows you what it means when you hover over it, removing the need for you to ask someone.
  • Welcome screen: when you to select your user persona from a pre-set list and thereby have a custom onboarding experience, without the need to talk to an onboarding agent.

If you’d like to learn more about any of these examples, click on the respective link.

Why is self-service software growing popular in SaaS?

As the above examples show, self-service is increasingly a trend in the SaaS world. Here are some reasons why:

Save money hiring support agents

save money

It’s extremely expensive to maintain a dedicated support team, especially if they are all salaried employees.

SaaS teams of all sizes are under pressure to lower customer support costs without negatively impacting the quality of support given.

Self-service support software solves this problem by putting the answers to the most common user questions in one place.

By leaning on software, support agents are only needed to deal with the most serious and unusual support queries, so SaaS companies can get away with a much smaller support team.

Reduce staff attrition caused by answering basic questions

Put yourself in the shoes of a typical SaaS support agent for the moment. Every day, you get asked the same basic questions dozens of times.

Not only does answering these questions take loads of time, but it’s also very draining. Doing the same thing over and over again every day can eventually lead to demotivated, burned out employees.

If those employees quit, the investment your SaaS made in training them is lost (or, worse, passed on to a competitor). And you have to spend additional time and money hiring and training their replacement.

Self-service software takes all the pressure off the support team by answering the most basic questions in an automated way.

This leaves support free to deal with queries that are especially unusual or especially serious. The novelty of the former and the gravity of the latter are both energizing in different ways, meaning that your team are less likely to want to quit.

Faster response time

From a customer’s perspective, it’s very frustrating to run into a problem during onboarding and not know how to fix it.

If they then have to wait 2 days to speak to a support person to get the problem sorted, well… you probably don’t have a customer anymore. Day 1 retention is a huge problem for many SaaS businesses.

Imagine instead if the same customer can find a solution to their query in the help center widget located inside the product, or if a tooltip points them to the UI element they’ve been seeking for 5 minutes.

This allows the customer to meet their needs significantly faster. In a society obsessed with speed and efficiency, short response times like this create happy customers. And happy customers don’t generally churn.

Educate customers

As we’ve written before on this blog many times, customer education is a journey that should never end.

It’s not sufficient anymore to only educate customers during initial onboarding. To maximize engagement, you need to support them with educational resources across the entire customer journey.

Educating customers manually one by one would be prohibitively expensive. But using software that allows customers to educate themselves is both practical and affordable.

If your customers are remotely growth-orientated (and most people in the SaaS world are), they’ll thank you by sticking around as loyal customers.

When does it make sense to make your SaaS self-service?

Keeping a self-service perspective in mind is a good strategic move for most SaaS businesses due to all the benefits we just outlined.

However, there are cases where maximizing friction can actually be in a SaaS company’s best interests. Sounds counter-intuitive, but let me explain.

There are some products that are so complex or important that the only way to use them is through heavy engagement with the customer support or customer success teams.

Absent this degree of support engagement, users won’t activate.

Consider the example of FullStory, which is software for recording browser sessions and playing them back.

The FullStory product is almost completely useless if the user doesn’t install the FullStory JavaScript, which can be rather tricky technically. The company’s sign-up flow therefore has a lot of friction, including talking to an agent if required.

fullstory js

Source: FullStory

Another example is Coinbase, which is a digital wallet for storing and trading cryptocurrency.

After previous wallet sites got hacked and users lots a ton of money, the crypto community has become very concerned about security and fraud. Registering on Coinbase is therefore a very involved process, including sending ID to Coinbase that has to be manually reviewed by an employee.

coinbase verification

Source: Coinbase

In neither of these examples would a breezy, self-service process be conducive to getting users to sign up and activate.

By contrast, if your product is super easy to use and if failing to use it properly would not cause dangerous personal consequences for customers, then self-service software is a smart choice.

In practice, this is the case for most products. Even the above two examples have automated as much of their user interaction as possible.

An example of a product with a simple, self-service sign-up flow is Airtable.

airtable ui

It’s so frictionless that a new user can reach the UI in less than a minute, and even reach the “Aha moment” on their own.

The UI itself is also intuitive to use, and requires almost no external integrations.

In cases like this, heavy engagement with support would just be a burden — to both users and the company alike.

Now that you understand what self-service software is and why it’s a valuable option for SaaS businesses, let’s explore some different tools for making your product more self-service.

Product adoption tools for self-service software

1. Userpilot

Userpilot has multiple features that make it easy for your users to adopt your product without frequently talking to your team.

One such feature is the welcome screen, which can be set to pop up automatically in your product whenever a new user joins.

postfity welcome

Source: Postfity

The welcome screen will generally ask users a question or two to gauge which user persona they fall into, and then serve the user a customized onboarding experience according to their answers.

Onboarding often takes the form of going through a short checklist that highlights the narrow range of features a particular user persona needs to understand in order to activate.

These checklists can also be built using Userpilot.

Thus welcome screens facilitate onboarding, but without the expense of having a team member talk to the user.

Another example is the tooltip feature, which highlights UI elements and explains how they work to users.


Userpilot provides two ways to create tooltips:

  1. As part of an extended experience flow
  2. As a standalone tooltip. We call these “native tooltips” because they effectively become part of your native UI.

We previously explained how to create both types of tooltips here.

Here are some examples of how you might use tooltips practically:

  • To highlight a new feature or page
  • To nudge the user towards a certain feature in a way conditional on their previous in-app behavior
  • To display subtle help text when a user mouses over a feature
  • To highlight and explain a less obvious UI element

All of these examples facilitate product adoption in a self-service manner.

And none of the above features require code to use.

Userpilot is available starting from $249 per month for 2500 MAUs. Book a demo today to get started.

2. WalkMe

walkme logo

WalkMe is a cloud-based platform for managing in-app experiences and creating product tours.

As its name suggests, WalkMe is focused on allowing you to build product walkthroughs in your product. These walkthroughs show off your product’s features to users, without them having to speak to an onboarding agent.

To help you review the success of these product adoption tools, WalkMe provides a powerful suite of analytics. You can use insights from these analytics to improve your product walkthroughs, making it even less likely that a user needs to talk to one of your team.

There’s no doubt that WalkMe’s solution provides a lot of value in the self-service onboarding space, which is why they’ve been able to build up a strong brand over the years.

One challenge with WalkMe: like the FullStory example we discussed above, it requires a comprehensive technical installation before you can use it. This can sometimes put off some less technically-minded users.

If you decide you don’t like it, you’d need to remove its code, which would also be a hassle.

We suspect this is why most of the WalkMe reviews online are from enterprise businesses with 100 employees or more. Teams of that size can handle a complex tool like this.

WalkMe’s pricing confirms this theory. It’s a bit hard to gauge prices from their website, but reviews elsewhere on the Internet suggest fees of between $9k-50k per year.

In summary, this is a powerful tool, but one probably beyond the reach of most SMEs.

3. Pendo

pendo logo

Pendo is one of a small number of platforms that enable you to create both self-service onboarding processes and experience flows that collect in-app feedback.

The self-service onboarding processes are great for improving product adoption rates. Pendo gives you the option to choose between walkthroughs, in-app messages, and various other types of guide.

Like Userpilot, you can use Pendo to segment your users by persona and show them personalized, in-app walkthroughs.

Notably, unlike Userpilot, Pendo doesn’t allow you to build checklists or tooltips.

If you want to use data to improve your self-service onboarding, Pendo has got you covered there as well. There are tons of ways to connect user feedback, including NPS scores, and turn insights from that data into improved product experiences for your users.

Installing Pendo isn’t as arduous as WalkMe, but you can still expect to spend around half an hour fiddling around with tech. Depending on your skillset, this could be a barrier to using it.

And like WalkMe, Pendo isn’t particularly clear about their pricing. The only thing apparent from their website is that they offer a free trial for up to 100 MAUs.

Customer support tools for self-service software

1. Userpilot

If you want to build a self-service customer support tool into your product, Userpilot could be the solution for you.

Earlier in this article, we discussed help center widgets as an example of self-service software. To recap, these widgets allow customers to pull up articles from your knowledge base while inside your product.


Widget courtesy of Postfity, built with Userpilot

Userpilot has a dedicated feature that allows you to build help center widgets like this without using any code.

To ensure that you don’t show the widget in a way that obscures other important parts of your UI, you can specify the conditions and location it should be launched on, such as the desired page or domain.

userpilot domain settings

The easiest way to tell the widget where to pull queries from is to link it to a particular page or domain you want it to search. If you prefer a more manual or custom approach, Userpilot also allows you to add modules to the help center to explain especially important FAQs.

Both the widget and the help center are fully customizable to your brand and product. All the color and design options you can think of are included, so that this feels like a seamless extension of your business.

userpilot look and feel

To ensure that the finished product lives up to your wishes, it’s worth ensuring that you only publish for yourself initially. A useful testing feature lets you view as many iterations as you like before you’re sure you want to launch.

For a step-by-step tutorial explaining how to make help center widgets with Userpilot, click here.

2. Zendesk

zendesk logo

Zendesk enjoys a great reputation in the support tools space, and many of the solutions it provides are self-service.

One such product feature is their web widget, which is basically a snippet of code that displays your knowledge base once you’ve added the code to your product.

Conveniently, you can also use Zendesk to build your knowledge base from scratch. As previously discussed, having a dedicated knowledge base is a great way to empower your users to answer their own queries, without coming to a support agent in the first instance.

userpilot knowledge base

Userpilot knowledge base

Building your own knowledge base is pretty straightforward with Zendesk, thanks to its intuitive drag-and-drop interface.

Once you’ve got the knowledge base and web widget set up, you can set Zendesk to automatically recommend three relevant help pages to users which correspond to whatever section of your product they’re using.

This is called “contextual help,” and is the ultimate in automated self-service support.

All of Zendesk’s support options can be customized to your product or brand in terms of colors and feel. The only minor complaint we have is that you have to subscribe to their enterprise plan to remove the Zendesk logo and go full white-label.

Nevertheless, an excellent self-service help tool at prices starting from $29 per month.

3. Freshdesk

freshdesk logo

Created by Freshworks, Freshdesk is an online help support suite.

As a major competitor to Zendesk, they have pretty much all the features that Zendesk offer, including a knowledge base and a help center widget.

If you want your customers to self-support, it needs to be obvious how to use whatever software you choose. Freshdesk excels in this area, with the most intuitive UI of any tools in this article.

Unlike some of the product adoption tools we discussed earlier, it’s incredibly simple to connect Freshdesk to your product without requiring code as well.

One of my favorite parts of Freshdesk’s solution is their “optimize for deflection” feature.

This means that you can set the help center to only display a contact form in the event that a customer marks an article as unhelpful.

This creates another level of friction that makes it less likely that users will reach out to customer support, and correspondingly more likely that they will use self-service support to solve their own problem.

It’s also a great way to ensure that your support agents aren’t swamped by a ton of basic, repetitive questions.

The only downside we can see to Freshdesk is that the customization options (especially the color palette) are somewhat limited compared to the other tools on this list.

You can start using Freshdesk from $15 per month.


After reading this article, you should be able to understand:

  • What self-service software is
  • Why it matters for SaaS
  • And what types of tools you could use to make your existing product more self-service today.

The self-service software movement is a really elegant way to give users more autonomy. For this reason alone, we think self-service is something that all SaaS companies should aspire towards.

If you’d like to try out Userpilot’s self-service software for free, click on the banner under this post to get started.

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