Even though many are increasingly turning to the Internet and other avenues to get problems solved, one study finds people are still calling into contact centers and depending on agents to help fix issues -- and satisfaction continues to slowly rise. Findings from Ann Arbor, Mich.-based CFI Group's second annual Contact Center Satisfaction Index (CCSI) show a slight increase from 70 to 72 (out of 100) on the University of Michigan's American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI).
The study incorporates the ACSI methodology -- invented by CFI Group -- comprising customer evaluations of the quality of products and services available to household consumers in the United States on a 100-point scale. CFI Group reports that the CCSI research involved online surveys of more than 22,000 participants. "Qualified respondents" were defined as ones who had reached out to a contact center within the previous month and who had interacted with a contact center agent. Respondents then evaluated their most recent contact center experience through answers to 20 questions.
Sheri Teodoru, chief executive officer of CFI Group North America and author of the study, says that the study indicates contact centers are still critical for industries and firms. "If you mess up that interaction, people are far more likely to leave," she adds, citing the 65 percent of unhappy customers who said they might defect to a competitor.
This isn't to say that customers are relying solely on the contact center for help -- in fact, compared to the previous survey, more respondents report trying to find answers on company Web sites before having to use channels such as email, chat, or phone. Consequently, Teodoru says that it's important for businesses to make sure the correct information is readily available on their Web sites -- otherwise, they risk provoking a rising number of angry calls. The CCSI found those who tried another channel before contacting a live agent pegged their satisfaction at 64 (on the 100-point scale), 15 percent lower than those who called the contact center directly (75). "Firms need to make sure the contact center and Web site know what the other is doing," Teodoru insists.
The CCSI also measures contact center satisfaction and performance by industry. In descending order, those scores include:
- Cellphone Service.....72
- Personal Computer....69
- Cable/Satellite TV......66
Teodoru says that the biggest surprise among the industries was in the government sector, where the CCSI score of 70 is just two points lower than the aggregate of all the industries in the commercial sector (72). "It's an interesting finding because people tend to think government service isn't that great," she says. "Call centers are a bright spot for government." By comparison, she adds, the banking industry's score of 71 -- a six-point drop from 2007 -- is hardly surprising. "[The decline] is driven by both increased offshoring and the mortgage crisis -- a perfect storm," Teodoru reports.
Overall, offshore contact centers still lag far behind onshore ones in terms of satisfaction (with CCSI scores of 59 and 75, respectively), but Teodoru is quick to point out that the gap is closing. Last year, the satisfaction score for offshore centers was just 49. The improvement comes amid perceptions about American companies that outsource contact centers to foreign countries. Fifty-two percent of those surveyed said the location of the contact center affects their likelihood to do business with the company in the future, compared to just 48 percent last year. Blame the economy, Teodoru says. "If you know a family member or neighbor who has lost a job, especially one that could have been done in this country, then it becomes an issue," she explains. "There is more resentment toward offshoring this year than there used to be."
The shift, she argues, may have more than a little to do with the slowing domestic economy -- and any further slowdown could affect whether the satisfaction gap shrinks or grows between offshore and onshore contact centers. "I think that truly does depend to some extent on the economy at the time," Teodoru points out. "Clearly there's improvement opportunity available."