A New Equation for Contact Centers
Research from Aberdeen Group indicates customer satisfaction can only take place if agents meet an unmet consumer need in addition to resolving issues.
Posted Jul 25, 2008
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In an industry that can be largely defined -- at times -- by myriad key performance indicators and other metrics, a recent study from Aberdeen Group gives a new equation for contact center success: customer satisfaction = issue resolution + unmet need.

According to Steve Lawrence, research associate with Aberdeen's customer management group and author of the study, "unmet need" means cross-selling and upselling. Evolving from a cost to a profit center, in his view, is a result of the transformation of the contact center itself. "It continues to become the hub of customer interaction," Lawrence says. "People are more comfortable than ever calling in to get problems resolved and questions answered. The contact center is now a place where customer unmet needs can be fulfilled."

The study, "Cross-Selling and Up-Selling in the Contact Center: Transforming the Contact Center into a Profit Center," examines how Best-in-Class (BIC) companies are outperforming their competitors, as well as the key pressures driving all respondents to incorporate sales into their customer service repertoires. For the purposes of this study, Aberdeen identifies BICs as the top 20 percent of all respondents, with Industry Average the next 50 percent, and Laggards at 30 percent based on predetermined performance indicators. Companies were assessed on three criteria:

  • additional sales;
  • customer retention; and
  • cost per contact.

According to the study, 86 percent of the BICs achieved additional sales of greater than $20, while none of their Industry Average and Laggard counterparts reported any additional sales more than $20.

The drive for all companies to provide cross-selling and upselling opportunities in the contact center is not just for additional revenue, either. Of all respondents, 62 percent said the top pressure is the need to establish customer service as a competitive differentiator. "Revenue and profit" and "balancing customer satisfaction with revenue and profit" came in second and third, respectively.

Lawrence says this leaves an interesting issue for contact centers: How should agents be incentivized to make sales while at the same time continue to solve customer issues? The majority of respondents reportedly still haven't figured that out, as study results show it as the top challenge to cross-selling and upselling at 57 percent. "All companies really need to pay attention to setting up the right incentive system balancing [issue resolution] with the opportunity for sales," he says. 

The next two challenges, according to respondents, are "agents focused more on customer service than selling" and "agents not understanding what products/services to sell customers," both at 47 percent. Lawrence says not only informal training, but also knowledge management (KM) solutions, can help ease those problems. He explains that KM technology gives agents access to information they need for both solving customer issues and knowing how, when, or what to sell. "That's if you look at it from a traditional perspective," he says. "Also, if agents are more sales focused because of the incentive system, they may not always remember answers to customer issues. A [KM] solution can help them find the right answer quickly."

The study finds that currently 57 percent of BICs and 44 percent of Industry Average and Laggards are using KM in their contact centers -- but Lawrence says the fact that 39 percent of non-BIC companies plan to incorporate KM is very promising. "It's a good sign that more agents will have access to all the information they need," he says.

One point where all companies need to improve is unified communications (UC) solutions. In the study, Lawrence writes, UC architecture allows the agent "to interact with the customer and expert resources via email, chat, text, video conferencing, and phone (both landline and mobile)." There is low adoption right now, Lawrence says, as only 25 percent of BICs and 23 percent of other companies have implemented UC. However, 65 percent of BICs say they plan to implement it moving forward, which is critical. "UC is an important technology that can help improve the ability to cross-sell and upsell," he says.

Lawrence says organizations that do not take the necessary steps to transform their customer service hubs into profit centers risk missing the boat. "Companies that have not already realized that the contact center is much more than a cost center really need to change their thinking," he declares. "It provides the opportunity to go well beyond resolving issues to fulfilling unmet needs, providing more of an opportunity to improve customer service."     

News relevant to the customer relationship management industry is posted several times a day on destinationCRM.com, in addition to the news section Insight that appears every month in the pages of CRM magazine. To contact the editors, please email editor@destinationCRM.com.

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