The Internet Self-Service Threat to Call Centers

By Peter DeHaan, PhD

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of AnswerStatA few years ago, Internet-centric companies were the next big thing; they were the dot coms! Their basic premise was insightful, if not simplistic. With the pull of the ubiquitous Internet and the support of massive server farms, their business models would be infinitely scalable, while customer service would be strictly self-service.

The problem was that most people were not ready for self-service via the Internet; the dot com bubble burst. A few insightful innovators changed paradigms, supplementing their limited self-service Websites with full-service people. Call centers were built and staff was hired.

The call center industry breathed a sigh of relief, sensing the threat of Internet self-service was dead.  This reprieve, however, is not long-term. Although wide-scale defections from full-service call centers to self-service Websites is not an eminent concern, it is one,nonetheless. Call centers are advised to pursue a two-prong strategy.

Short-term: look for ways to differentiate oneself from the competition,including other call centers and self-serve Websites. Make your services stand out, do what others don’t, and position yourself to be indispensable.

Long-term: be aware that commerce and customer service will migrate to the Web.  What can your call center do to capitalize on this? Certainly offering email support, text chat, and assisted browsing are called for. For the ultimate answer, ask yourself what services — any service — can you provide to supplement and support the self-serve model.  The answer may have little to do with traditional call center work and everything to do with your long-term viability.

Fortunately, there is still time to plan, but time is running out because Internet self-service isn’t going away.

[Posted by Peter DeHaan for AnswerStat magazine, a medical healthcare publication from Peter DeHaan Publishing Inc.]