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Customer Self-Service Portals

As the number of Internet users crosses over 700 million, there has been a resurgence of interest in self-service portals. Companies are experimenting with new processes that enable customers to better serve themselves.

Several interesting companies built around the theme of online self-service are emerging. One of the most interesting is InterActiveCorp (IAC), formerly USA Interactive. IAC is composed of multiple self-service businesses:

  • Expedia, which oversees Interval International and TV Travel Shop

  • Hotels.com

  • HSN

  • Ticketmaster, which oversees Evite and ReserveAmerica

  • Match.com, which oversees uDate.com

  • Citysearch

  • LendingTree

  • Precision Response Corporation

By pursuing a multibrand strategy, IAC is aiming to become one of the largest e-commerce companies. The company's ability to aggregate multiple self-service portals under one umbrella is unique. The aggregation logic is simple: Using web services to link the various portals enables customers to move from buying a ticket from Ticketmaster to arranging a date via Match.com.

Another interesting form of multi-channel self-service can be found in the airline industry. The industry has gone through a lot of turmoil in recent years. To cut operating costs and ease passenger discomfort, airlines are migrating rapidly toward more self-service capabilities. Initially, self-service was limited to searching for a seat. It evolved to include booking and purchasing a seat. Currently, airline self-service even spans at-home check-in or kiosk check-in. Our research indicates that 30–50% of passengers are serving themselves.

Figure 1 illustrates the cycle of self-service in the airline industry. From the initial customer contact through service completion, different processes handle different parts of the service chain. To satisfy customers, it was necessary to study the processes from the current and future perspectives of the customer. In this way, the airline industry was able to understand what new timesaving, queue-busting functionality was required.

The airline industry's goal is deceptively simple: Make the customer central to every interaction and transaction. The airline industry's process digitization is unique because the goal of becoming "easy to do business with" largely drives the overall strategy. If you look behind the self-service portal, you begin to see that services are really composed of a variety of business processes.

Figure 1Figure 1 Cycle of self-service for the airline industry.

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