High costs and sluggish response times are putting call centres on a collision course with increasing customer expectations, according to an ongoing benchmark study by Hackett Best Practices in the US.
The 2002 edition of the study evaluates the performance of nearly 2,000 global organisations and identifies the key differences between 'world-class' and 'average' companies across a range of industries and geographies. It correlates a worryingly low usage of best practices with failure to control costs, manage risks and improve service.
The best practices trend study evaluates the effectiveness (quality and value) and efficiency (cost and productivity) of call centres in five performance areas:
· Strategic alignment with the business;
· Ability to partner with employees and customers;
· Use of technology;
The study reveals some significant best practice findings and trends:
- More than three quarters (78%) of call centres with online channels have average response times of more than twelve hours - a powerful disincentive for customers to use lower-cost online channels. And of those, 22% average three or more days for online responses. The problem is due at least in part to the fact that only 22% of typical call centres have an infrastructure in place that allows them to prioritise traditional calls, internet contacts, e-mail enquiries and training through a 'universal queue' system.
- Only 38% of average call centres have a complete history of customer contact available to representatives online. By contrast, world-class call centres provide agents with easy-to-use systems that provide the information necessary to personalise service to each caller.
- Exactly half of the call centres are running at 90% of capacity, exposing those that are unable to accommodate sudden spikes in calls - risking customer defections, bad publicity and, in regulated business sectors, financial penalties. Among world-class call centres, around two thirds (66%) avoid those risks by using multi-site load balancing systems.
"We are in the process of documenting the next generation of best practices as they are tested and defined by world-class organizations. Our empirical data indicates that these are aimed principally at meeting increased customer expectations about service levels and channel choices," explains Richard Roth, managing director of Hackett Best Practices. "For example, customer routing applications that link multiple locations, connected by a backbone of network technology that enables information sharing, are proving to be a key differentiator in the ability to offer consistent customer service levels via any channel."
However, Roth insists, achieving excellence in performance needs a commitment not only to best practices in technology deployment but also to best practices in the organisation and its processes.
Other key findings from the study include:
- Only 62% of companies have a process in place to recognise and measure the call centre's strategic contribution to customer loyalty, product and brand image.
- At world-class call centres, 20% of staff time is devoted to staffing and decision-support processes such as hiring, training, forecasting, quality control, performance management and strategic planning. Although many of these staff activities are not typically associated with low-cost operations, world-class call centres manage to deliver higher levels of service at a 17% lower cost per contact (US$4.28, compared to US$5.16 per contact at average call centres).
- Developing advanced contact-routing capability based on specific criteria such as representative skills leads to 11% higher first-call resolution rates on average.
Participants in the study include all Dow Jones Industrials, 90% of the Fortune 100 companies and 84% of the Dow Jones Global Titans index, along with global participants AT&T, Citigroup, Dell, Delta Airlines, Dow Corning, EDS, Hewlett-Packard, ExxonMobil, General Electric, Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin.