Does Self-Service Really Reduce Call Volumes?

annoyed at phone

Self-service is often assumed to reduce the strain on the call centre, by sharing the work of advisors with web speech or touchtone applications.

However, self-service could in fact increase call volumes, with businesses so determined to cut costs that they ignore the effect that self-service has on the call centre.

According to one consultancy group, “If self-service is not done right, the results can be worse than not doing it at all. Failure can result in increased call volumes, dissatisfied customers and defections.”

Below are six factors that affect whether self-service could increase call volumes in the contact centre.

1. Failure demand drives phone calls

Despite companies investing millions in new self-service applications, many customers will be unsure of how to navigate them.

A report from the Warrington College of Business confirmed this, noting that “this information can create uncertainty, leading to customers seeking more information and hence making more telephone calls.”

In support of this claim, the report included the results of an experiment which highlighted that “Web-based self-service usage leads to a 14% increase in telephone calls.”

This failure demand often stems from the factor of poor visibility, where customer service options are frequently hidden by a maze of menu options and gateways.

Additional aspects of failure demand include the information gap between self-service and call centre advisors, with the majority of web-based channels not having the same access to the knowledge base as the call centre. Also, the immediacy of self-service often increases customer expectations, and if there is a delay in the process, a fall-back call is likely.

2. More information drives more queries

When self-service applications are introduced, they will often provide the customer with more information than a call centre advisor would have disclosed over the phone or that would have been mailed in the post.


This means that the customer has more information to ponder over and they may either become confused as to what this information signifies or show interest in learning more.

A good example is in the tracking details for a delivery.  With this additional information, some customers may wish to know why their parcel has spent so much time in one location, even though it may simply be standard procedure.

Another example is pension statements, which used to be sent in the post once a year but can now be viewed at any time, courtesy of self-service. With this increased viewing, an increased number of queries would likely follow.

3. Username and password problems

Many self-service systems require personal identification to protect a customer’s private information.  Yet, whilst this is necessary, it also involves hassle, as the customer must remember their contact information, such as their username and password, to access personal information.

It is likely that we have all been in the position where we have forgotten these details. So, what did we do? We communicated with the contact centre.

This communication with advisors, whether through a link on the self-service application or by a phone call, increases strain on the contact centre as well as causing customer frustration.

4. Incomplete information on self-service


Many self-service solutions, or knowledges bases, may only partially answer the customer’s problems.

For example, if a customer is beginning to attempt to use a self-service application which is digitalised, and they cannot resolve their problem, it is likely they will visit a FAQ page or an online forum to find a solution.

Having done so, it is probable that either the customer’s issue was only partially resolved or that no kind of solution was presented at all.

The call centre then becomes the next call of destination for the customer, who will at this point be exasperated by the complications caused by the procedure. They will then seek the help of an advisor and gain a negative opinion of your self-service, which will prevent future usage.

5. You may increase overall demand for both self-service and phone calls

In a 2013 survey, it was discovered that only “About half (45 percent) of executives with web or mobile self-service capabilities report measurable reductions in phone inquiries.”

The inference is that 55% of the others either saw no decrease in call volumes or actually saw increased calls made to the contact centre, even though you may think that traffic would be diverted through the medium of self-service.

Self-service can stimulate demand. As customers become happier with self-service, they will use it more frequently. By doing so, you may increase customer satisfaction, but you may not  reduce call volumes.

The more customers use self-service, the more they will need to call into the contact centre.

6. Even where self-service does remove phone calls, take-up can be slower than anticipated

Many companies have overblown expectations on the number of calls that can be removed from the contact centre and the speed at which customers may utilise self-service.

A customer can only begin to successfully adopt self-service instead of the call centre when they are aware of the options available on the application and know how to find answers to their queries.

Avoiding these self-service difficulties

If you fall into the traps specified above, it is likely that call volumes will increase once you have introduced your self-service scheme. However, they can be avoided so that self-service reduces strain on the call centre.

Peter Galloway

Peter Galloway

Peter Galloway, Project Manager Change Consultant at Vovere Consulting, stresses that self-service will only increase call volumes “if the system is poorly designed! If a self-service system needs familiarity, it is not well designed!”

As well as this, key technologies that aim to support self-service systems are improving and future additions to self-service, like knowledge bases and automated webchat, may, in time, reduce call volumes effectively.

But what impact is self-service having on your call centre? And if you have recently introduced it, have you seen a change in call volumes?

Please put your responses in an email to Call Centre Helper

Author: Robyn Coppell

Published On: 1st Feb 2017 - Last modified: 26th Oct 2022
Read more about - Customer Service Strategy, , ,

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