by Gary Beach

The Self-Service Economy

Jun 01, 20032 mins
Data Center

At a recent tech event in New York City, I decided to ride the Big Apple’s subway system rather than hail an overpriced taxi. I approached the fare booth, pushed two crisp one dollar bills through the opening and asked the attendant for a coin token.

“Sorry mister, we don’t sell tokens at this station any longer,” the attendant said as he returned my bills and directed me toward a wall of machines across the subterranean foyer. “You need to purchase a ticket yourself at one of the machines.”

With some help from a veteran rider, I bought my paper ticket and continued on my way. As I pondered my ticket experience the next day, I realized I shouldn’t have been surprised. Within the past month I had self-service experiences at two department store checkout lines and acquired a boarding pass for an airline flight from a self-service machine, in the process replacing a 30-minute wait in line with a much needed early morning cup of coffee.

Moreover, since last fall I have been zooming up and down the East Coast paying tolls with a plastic automated radio frequency device called Fast Lane. Since 1988, when I first became addicted to ATMs, I can count on my right hand how many bank tellers I have encountered.

Forget about the “new” economy or the “e” economy. Bring on the “self-service” economy. Customers—and for CIOs that means employees, partners and paying customers—are smarter than ever. CIOs themselves are using this newfound customer leverage to wrangle incredible terms with tech vendors as the spending morass continues.

Is your company—and in particular your company’s website—ready for the most demanding customers in the coming self-service economy? The economics of self-service are compelling. Gartner claims it costs 24 cents for automated customer service on the Web versus $5.50 to serve a customer on the telephone. How important is fast, convenient service? In a word, very. The Forum Corp. reports that 69 percent of customer defections are because of poor service or sales interaction.

As business continues to improve in 2003 and CIOs start to look at their priorities for 2004, examining your organization’s infrastructure and how well it holds up to self-service customer requests might be one of the most self-serving things you can do to keep your company ahead of the competition.

And to keep your job.