• February 17, 2005
  • By Coreen Bailor, (former) Associate Editor, CRM Magazine

Agent Training Is Not a Priority in Contact Centers

Contact center agents for most organizations are their best set of tools for influencing customer decisions and shaping their opinions of a company because of agents' frequent customer interactions. According to a report from IT solutions and services company Dimension Data, however, most companies are designating their contact center's main purpose as a cost-reduction initiative, and as a result are seeing their customers grow increasingly impatient with service delivery. The report, "Merchants Global Contact Center Benchmarking Report," is based on data collected from 166 contact centers in 24 countries. According to the report, while 57 percent of global contact centers plan to expand their functional capacity over the next two years, nearly half--48 percent--reported cost reduction and increasing efficiency as their main commercial driver. For those companies putting cost reduction over service delivery, customers are responding: Results reveal that customers will wait up to an average of 65 seconds once connected to an agent queue before hanging up, a 6 second plunge from 2003's 71 seconds. Consequently, this year's call-abandonment rate ballooned 8 percent, from last year's 5 percent level. "There are some companies that are paying attention to service, and so customers know what it feels like to get good service," says Karen Geerkens, director of services and solution development of customer interactive solutions (CIS) for Dimension Data. "Consumers are definitely getting a lot more impatient, and that should be a wake-up call to contact centers to look at their abandonment rates and really put some initiatives in place." Part of these contact centers' inability to effectively handle customer inquiries may stem from their inadequate training and lack of quantifiable targets. While 58 percent of contact centers are experiencing call volume growth of at least 20 percent each year, just 60 percent of contact centers actually have measurable goals and targets for all their contact center staff in place, and only 60 percent of contact centers set targets for their trainers. Nearly three fourths of contact centers--74 percent--designate team leaders to assume full training responsibility, while just 16 percent have a dedicated coach. Training woes are trickled down into the introductory training period an agent receives. The length of initial agent training slid from 36 days in 2003 to a mere 21 days, despite a staggering coaches-to-agents ratio of 1:46. Possibly most disturbing, however, nearly one fourth--24 percent--of contact centers do not specifically measure customer satisfaction against their service, and of the centers that do measure satisfaction, just 41 percent are equipped to segment at an individual level. "Those contact centers probably doesn't have the proper KPIs for their agents," Geerkens says. "If the staff aren't trained to be productive, you're never going to get the cost efficiencies that you need. You need to make sure that they are managed properly, that they have the proper goals, and that you can measure how they are doing against those goals. Unfortunately contact centers are not putting enough effort into those areas." Training and target setting aren't the only missteps that contact centers are making when it comes to their staff. Despite allocating 69 percent of their budgets to staff, just half of contact centers surveyed currently have a staff-retention strategy. Annual turnover also increased from 19 percent in 2003, to 23 percent. More of an effort needs to be centered around creating a career path for agents, says Ed Bosak, national practice director of CIS solutions for Dimension Data North America: "The training is a snowball effect. You put a lot of training into people and you have high attrition. Then they start reducing the training to get the agents out there quicker and the end result is [poorly trained agents]." Additional report findings include:
  • 20 percent of all inbound calls were handled by an IVR solution, and of those 20 percent, 76 percent of the calls met the customer's satisfaction level.
  • 69.4 percent of contact center strategies depend on its service strategy, while just 21.2 percent include their sales strategy.
  • Only 44 percent of contact centers can present an end-to-end view of the status of customer inquiries, and only 55 percent have an integrated view of the customer.
  • The average inbound-call time is four minutes and postcall wrap-up time is on average 6 minutes. Related articles: 6 Ways to Maximize Contact Center Profitability Are You a Winning Coach? The World Wide Wait A new study finds customers around the globe are waiting 25 percent longer to get to call center agents.
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