Why Customer Service Will Be the Target of New Protests


Gartner predicts that by 2026, citizen-led denial-of-service (cDoS) attacks using virtual assistants like Siri or Alexa to shut down operations will become the fastest growing form of protest. This represents a new type of denial of service, led by average people not hackers. These attacks will grow due to the increasing popularity and power of virtual assistants and customers changing expectations around organizations' ethics.

cDoS will become more possible because of the growing usefulness and ubiquity of virtual assistants. Customers are increasingly comfortable using virtual assistants to support routine tasks. In fact, Gartner predicts that 37 percent of customers will try using them to interact with customer service (for example, by waiting on hold for them) by 2025.

However, as legitimate use cases for these technologies grow, so will opportunities for bad actors to exploit them. As virtual assistants become more sophisticated, customers will increasingly use them to contact companies, both for legitimate business like ordering a pizza and as a form of protest.

As these devices become more commonplace, customers might also use them nefariously to overwhelm systems designed for customer service.

Protests against business and government organizations are increasingly digital. Beyond speaking out on social media, there were at least 9.84 million distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks designed to shut down organizations' websites by overwhelming them with traffic in 2021, a 14 percent increase from 2019,according to HIPAA Journal.

There is debate about whether DDoS attacks should be considered a form of free speech, as it currently violates various international policies and laws. This debate will only become more complicated, potentially spurring the need for new legislation when these attacks are increasingly perpetrated by citizens via cDoS attacks focused on social issues as opposed to maliciously motivated hackers.

The Connection Between CSS Leaders and cDoS Attacks

So you might be wondering where CSS leaders begin fitting into this narrative. Great question! By 2024, Gartner predicts that citizens will shut down a major global enterprise's contact center through denial-of-service attacks launched by virtual assistants.

cDoS could force organizations to incur significant expenses by disrupting customer service operations. Shutting down a major customer contact center for a day, or even just occupying a chatbot or IVR with fake traffic, could cost a large business hundreds of thousands of dollars in operating expense, lost productivity, customer churn, and long-term brand impact. It would also harm other customers seeking legitimate and potentially urgent assistance and generate bad press, hurting the brand overall.

Gartner recommends the following actions for CSS leaders to help prepare for a cDoS attack:

  • Identify when and how a citizen-led denial-of-service attack would be most likely to occur. Protestors are likely to stage these attacks after bad press, a controversial new announcement, or during times of high contact volume when an attack would be most disruptive.
  • Speak with your chief information security officer and technology partners (e.g., carriers, ISPs, SaaS providers) to flag cDoS as a concern and explore leveraging existing technologies that help with DoS attacks.
  • Accelerate investment in cloud/VoIP technology as vendors of these technologies have features that offer protections against DoS attacks.
  • Work with operations, IT, communications, legal, and product leaders to create a business plan and get it up and running as soon as possible. Some examples include promoting alternative channels like social media and proactive communication to high-value customers.

If CSS leaders keep these four steps in mind, they can enable customers to seek service through virtual assistants while minimizing the risk of these devices being used to shut down contact centers.

Emily Potosky is a research director within Gartner's Customer Service and Support Practice.

Eric Keller is a senior director in Gartner's Customer Service and Support Practice. He sets the strategic direction for research initiatives and conceptualizes and executes on research plans and products that help customer service leaders address their most pressing challenges.