The business software vendor teams up with its user group to develop meaningful metrics for call centers; other benchmarking tests are on the way.
Posted Jul 21, 2006
Call center managers are consumed with the question, How well are we performing? With this thought in mind, the Americas' SAP Users' Group (ASUG), in conjunction with SAP, has launched an initiative to develop benchmarking tests so companies can compare their performance with those that are considered the best in the industry.
The benchmarking is based on input that 900 members (the total membership is 1,700) have submitted and is flexible enough to compare corporations of varying sizes in different industries. "The idea for the benchmarking came from our CIO/CTO executive committee, which was looking for additional ways to monitor the impact of IT investments," says Rod Masney, ASUG president and global infrastructure and technical architect at O-I. Consequently, the group's initial focus centered on two areas: total cost of ownership (TCO) and human capital management. Recently, software suppliers have been making their products more modular, more standards-based, and simpler to maintain. These changes, along with rapidly falling hardware pricing, have reduced CRM TCO, so the technology has migrated from large companies to medium and small enterprises.
Human capital management has typically been an expensive element in call center operations. Outsourcing and movement to offshore facilities are a few steps companies have taken to reduce this expense. But even as corporations move in these directions, other factors have pushed agent costs up. "Companies no longer want individuals to simply answer questions; they want them to up sell and provide the firm with additional revenue streams," says Dick Bucci, an associate consultant at The Pelorus Group. Such requirements add time to each call and that leads to companies need to add more agents to meet their service level goals.
In addition to the benchmarking, members are able to compare their business processes to industry best practices. This can be illuminating because corporations have been expanding the reach of their call centers and tying call center performance into a firm's daily operation, a change that makes its easier to cost justify their deployments. Improved call center performance can produce a number of benefits: for example, a manufacturing company can reduce its order error rate; a distribution firm may cut the time it takes to get new salespeople fully productive; and a financial services group could increase the number of leads generated each day.
SAP is not the first firm to help companies monitor call center performance. Benchmark Portal has been offering such services for years, and includes among its clients BestBuy, eBay, Pottery Barn, and Time Warner Cable. The benchmarking firm provides data to call center managers via a series of reports that help call center managers compare their performance against appropriate peer groups, and make decisions regarding capital investments, personnel, and procedures. Convergys also has a benchmarking system, called Customer Experience Benchmark, which focuses on customer satisfaction with call center responses.
Because companies are looking at IT in a more strategic fashion, the TCO and human capital management initiatives are the first in a series from ASUG. The user group is already putting together benchmarking tests for other pressing issues, such as finance, supplier relationship management, and procurement and supply chain planning. Additional work is under consideration in areas like Sarbanes-Oxley compliance, IT governance strategies, best practices with analytics, systems consolidation, and distribution and transportation.
Benchmarking does require that a company expend time and energy entering and evaluation its results. ASUG estimates that corporations spend three to five days just gathering the needed information for the test, plus additional time to determine which tests they want to take and interpreting the results once they are complete. The results can be beneficial, Masney says. "If a company determines that its spending is more or less than industry averages, then it can make the necessary adjustments."
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