Why Web-based Self-service fails the customer.

This interview highlights some important & very controversial issues for Customer Service Delivery.                

By Niels Kjellerup, January 2009, Editor & Publisher

Q1. You are a specialist on subjects like productivity and customer retention. How do you combine those two? Many contact centers push their agents so hard to handle as many calls as possible that they lose customers.

A1. There is NO conflict between improved productivity and delivering a customer service experience which improves customer rention. In fact 20% of call centres delivering consistent good to excellent service has high and improving productivity (Group A). The 80% of call centres caught in the downward spiral of delivering mediocre to really bad service is also found to have deteriorating productivity (Group B). By investigating these results we find business drivers (KPI’s) which are completely different for the two categories of call centres.

In the B group we find that all KPI’s are call-traffic based measurements; based on the Erlang distribution tables from 1917. In Group A the KPI’s are value based, i.e. they express to what degree service delivery is accomplishing the business purpose of delivering service as defined by Senior Management. With a clearly defined commercial purpose, Customer Service management finds it quite easy to ensure that productivity targets are aligned with the KPI’s. For example, Senior Management wants: 'Happy customers who buy more and more often', then productivity targets would be ‘let's produce more happy customers’.

In the call-traffic based Group B productivity can only mean 'Answer more calls with fewer reps'. Service management has turned the call centre into a call-factory: 'Forget about the customers, we are here to produce completed calls'

In conclusion, call-traffic based call centres (B) define productivity as producing ‘completed calls’ and have in principle left the customer experience out in the cold; which always results in increased customer churn. The value based call centres (A) have no such problems, as productivity means producing more happy customers resulting in improved retention. Value based measurements are now called KVI’s to differentiate from call-traffic based KPI’s. The key is to ensure that the customer and the customer experience are at center of all customer service delivery.

Q2. Do you agree that web-self- service can improve customer loyalty (which results in better retention) and can improve agent productivity (they get more interesting questions)?

And what are the most important conditions for user friendly and efficient web-self-service?

A2. We have nearly come full circle from Customer Service, to Call Centres, to Contact Centres and now finally Web-based self-service-centres; a logical progression for call-traffic based customer service. By eliminating the customer service rep from the equation the vendors are offering companies the ultimate cost saving.  The only trouble with this scenario is that it can no longer be called Customer Service. It’s a directory type service where companies are trying to pre-empt the customer’s reason for calling.

Thankfully another, stronger trend is emerging, where companies are discarding the ‘old’ call-traffic based KPI’s to be replaced by Key Value Indicators (KVI’s). It’s no coincidence, as we are witnessing the demise of vendor driven customer service in self-service centres, that more and more companies are introducing real-time customer surveys focussed on identifying “Promoters” and “Detractors” amongst its customer base. The success of Enterprise Car Rental in the USA & Great Britain has been tied directly to its focus on continually improving the customer experience and correcting bad experiences in real-time.

No wonder GE, AmEx, Proctor & Gamble, Lego and Allianz, to name a few, are embracing the concept of real-time service and are busy upgrading its customer service center metrics to be based on actual value creation.

The productivity of Customer Service Reps should be measured in terms of how much value is created for the organisation and NOT on the call-production statistics; managing service reps based on call statistics rather than call outcome & customers experience is the major source of  demotivated staff, absenteeism & high turnover.

Web-based information is a great idea; calling it service misses the point of what the Customer want, when they need service. 


Q3.You are not prepared to call it service when the website contains many user-friendly and detailed FAQ’s and makes it also possible to make contact with a live agent when you cannot find the information you are looking for?

A3. When the customers need help, they need SOMEONE representing the organisation to engage with the customer, to identify the need and to then help sort out the customer’s problem. Take IVR as the perfect example of why self-service is of little help to the customer and why most customers surveyed really dislike the IVR menus – they make the customer feel STUPID, when it’s not clear what your choices are. I continually feel made a fool of when I try to negotiate 5 menus IVR, because I can’t remember what the first choice was when I reach number 5. The idea that organisations can anticipate what help the customer need and make it available on a website is an idea whose time has NOT come. When did you last read a Manual you could use and understand?  Companies and organisations have a very bad track record in actually gaining an insight into what help customers need. The idea of getting rid of service reps and offering the customers self-service websites as a way to improve customer service is illusionary and deserves contempt.

Customers want someone they can trust to help them and don’t like to be made feel stupid or inadequate by IVRs, Manuals or self-service website.

Improving website content and use-ability is greatly needed, but calling it customer service will very quickly become an oxy-moron like ‘army intelligence’ or every totalitarian regime calling it self ‘The democratic republic of X”.

The only winners in the rush to self-service websites will be the vendors. The organisation will find the number of dissatisfied customers growing and no ROI to speak of.


Niels; 25.1.09 Ashgrove.

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Last update: 22.10.2013