One to one customer service is expensive. To have one agent speaking with one customer can cost a lot of money. The technology needed, the physical infrastructure, staff time and management are all costs to serve the customer service function.
Customers are often simply looking for an update on an existing issue or wanting to find out about a product, maybe get an account balance etc. Employing staff to fulfil these tasks is inefficient and pricey. This means that companies are looking at other ways to cater for these tasks.
One way is to have an IVR system that allows customers to enter an account code or can recognise a phone number and tell the customer the information before getting through to an agent. Another way is to put the information on a web portal or provide automated answers to common questions, leaving agents to interact with customers only when it's needed.
Some of the biggest companies in the world have revolutionised the customer experience by not providing a voice option at all. Try and find a phone number for eBay or Google and you’ll be hard pressed.
So why is it the accepted practice for online companies but not the rest of the market? Partly this is due to how a company is set up, give customers the option to phone eBay or google to make a complaint and they will, but don't give customers the option and they are forced to find other ways. It is also true that most issues are common and by sharing complaints publically information is available for the next customer with the same problem so these companies are fulfilling a need before it arises.
One thing is for sure, with organisations expecting cost reductions year on year we are likely to be seeing more and more self-service contact centres in the future.