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Contact Center Performance Thriving in the Recession
A new CFI Group study find customer satisfaction statistics improving despite the economic downturn.
Posted Jun 29, 2009
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Conventional thought would dictate that key performance metrics (KPI) measuring contact center performance would drop during the economic recession due to more stressed-out, grumpier individuals. According to a new study from CFI Group, the opposite rang true -- as it found the Contact Center Satisfaction Index (CCSI) climbed three percent to 74 (based on a 100-point scale).

Sheri Teodoru, chief executive officer of CFI Group, admits she was surprised at first by the increase. Once she dug deeper, though, she realized that it shouldn't have been so shocking after all. A telling statistic from the study found satisfaction with customer service representatives (CSR) climbed 4 percent overall to 80. "The CSRs really drove this growth in the overall satisfaction," she says. "In this poor climate, retention is higher because people are less likely to quit their jobs. Also, you can attract people with broader skill sets who may not have considered contact center work before."

This, Teodoru argues, is a double-edged sword. She explains that as the economy starts to improve, it will be difficult to keep agents in the seats. "Rather than hope for folks to stick around, contact centers must have a Plan B," she says. "Identify the things that agents are doing really well, and make sure that those best practices are transferred to other agents in preparation for that exodus -- if or when it comes."

That isn't to say contact centers shouldn't attempt to keep their star agents. Teodoru says that ensuring that basic contact center technologies -- including interactive voice response systems  -- are optimized and working properly, in addition to ensuring the CSRs role is challenging, can help stem the tide. "Obviously also flexibility is a real plus that some contact centers can offer," she says, "especially when it comes to having agents work from home. That is definitely attractive to folks."

As in past years, CFI Group also measured the CCSI for specific industry verticals. Some of the more telling changes in the past year included:

  • Banking ... increasing 11 percent to 79;
  • Cable/Satellite TV ... jumping 8 percent to 71; and
  • Government ... dropping 8 percent to 64.

Teodoru explains that the financial services segment was carried by regional banks picking up the slack after many of the bigger institutions faltered late last year. "When the world economy started tanking, people didn't know what was going to happen and banks weren't prepared," she says. "Now, banks are prepared for the questions customers ask, and customers are not as afraid -- it's still scary, though -- because they know more what's going on."

General confusion may have dissipated in the banking sector, but it has now spread to government. Teodoru attributes the drop in satisfaction in that segment to people being puzzled over the particulars of the stimulus packages set forth by both former President George W. Bush and current President Barack Obama. Many large agencies, Teodoru says, just weren't ready to properly -- and effectively -- scale for the influx of calls. "Hopefully government will listen and plan accordingly in the future," she adds.

A negative trend that once again reared its head over the course of the past year was the gap between U.S.-based and offshore contact center performance. This year the satisfaction for U.S.-based centers jumped 4 percent to 78, while its offshore counterparts saw a 5 percent drop to 56. Teodoru attributes the step back to a combination of U.S. sentiment over unemployment and basic agent skills. "Look at it from the customer perspective ... did they get their questions answered in the right way," she says. "The gap had closed a bit [in the last study], but it had gone from extremely wide to very wide. There's still a tremendous gap."

Overall, Teodoru says she hopes the contact center industry looks at the study and utilizes it for self-reflection and benchmarking. "There is no one-size-fits-all answer, as each firm must monitor its quality," she says. "But, hopefully, we will continue to see the overall increase in satisfaction with customer service representatives."

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. You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" at the top; to contact the editors, please email editor@destinationCRM.com.

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