Speak to virtually any company executive during these trying economic times, and they'll stress the absolute importance of keeping current customers happy in the hopes of retaining them. And yet, amazingly, one in three contact centers still do not measure customer satisfaction, according to the latest findings from the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI).
ICMI's "2008 Contact Center Operations Report" covers recruitment, training, staff development, monitoring and coaching, employee retention, disaster recovery, staffing, metrics, and budgeting. Unfortunately, for an unsettling number of organizations, quality monitoring (QM) seems to be the final step toward delivering customer satisfaction, according to Greg Levin, creative projects coordinator for ICMI. Levin says he's astounded that, given the marketplace's current focus on high-quality service, companies still don't measure satisfaction. "Many centers rely too heavily on QM results," he says. "Managers assume that [if] QM scores are good, customers are happy and that their needs are being met."
This, Levin says, is misguided. He goes on to explain that QM typically measures just how a customer service representative (CSR) performed from the perspective of the contact center, rather than that of the customer. "Often, an agent may do all that is asked of him by contact center management, but for whatever reason the customer is not fully satisfied," he says. "It's critical that centers implement formal customer satisfaction measurement processes -- using timely postcontact surveys -- to more accurately gauge what the [consumer] is experiencing and would like to see improved."
The overreliance on QM tools has continued to plague contact centers for two reasons, according to Levin: misinformation and lack of resources. What's needed, he says, is an increased effort to teach and apply best practices. "Better communication to upper management [will] help secure the budget and resources needed so the center doesn't misuse its QM systems and solutions," he adds.
Layne Holley, managing editor at ICMI, explains that budgets remain a sticking point between contact centers and upper management. Two in three respondents reported that the growth rate of the contact center budget is tied specifically to the expected growth rate of contact volumes, and not to broader initiatives regarding customer service. Additionally, only 60 percent of those surveyed believe upper management gives the budget and support the contact center needs to "provide quality service for customers and a good working environment for staff."
The problem, Holley says, is that there's no set answer for whether a particular contact center would benefit from a fixed or variable budget. The report, however, lays out four steps that any contact center can follow to develop a clear picture around staff planning:
- incorporate all workload;
- adjust for planned service levels and the resulting occupancy;
- provide for monthly variation in time spent off the phones; and
- demonstrate how changes to the workload or staffing will affect the customer.
Other results from the study focus on CSRs themselves, including:
- only 40 percent of contact centers measure agent satisfaction;
- only 40 percent provide potential CSRs with a formal preview of the job (the absence of which can result in a position filled by an agent who doesn't have a clear understanding of the challenges and nature of the job); and
- less than half of the centers surveyed have a leadership-development program in place to help prepare agents for promotions and new roles.
"Basically, agents still get the shaft because in many organizations the contact center itself still gets the shaft," Levin says. "Upper management simply doesn't understand the tremendous impact that people on the front line have on customer satisfaction, retention, and revenue generation. Thus, [they] do not provide managers and supervisors with the budget and resources they need to properly pay, develop, and reward agents."
Although Levin says that "it's a top-down phenomenon in most cases," he's quick to point out that not all of the blame resides in the boardroom. "Sometimes, managers and supervisors are to blame because they don't clearly communicate to executives the impact that the contact center has on customer acquisition and retention...[or] its value to the rest of the organization."
That, Holley says, is one of the important potential benefits of ICMI's report: Its insights can help bring clarity to the true value of the contact center. "We intend for this to give contact center professionals a couple of ways to benchmark their operations against best practices," she says. "It also gives you a chance to really formulate your case to upper management."
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