• September 11, 2003
  • By David Myron, Editorial Director, CRM and Speech Technology magazines and SmartCustomerService.com

Call Center Spending Soars

A study released today maintains U.S. call center spending in the financial services industry between 1998 and 2003 has steadily increased, roughly 118 percent. The study, "Managing Financial Services Call Centers," by business intelligence firm Cutting Edge Information, states European call center spending among financial services organizations grew 130 percent since 1998. But a large chunk of that came from companies moving operations overseas and outsourcing back-office operations. Analysts predict slow growth for the U.S. call center market overall going forward. Brian Huff, lead analyst at Datamonitor, expects the entire U.S. contact center outsourcing market to see a mere 1 percent compounded annual growth rate from 2001 to 2007. This sluggish growth, analysts say, is due not only to market saturation, but also to the high price of labor gnawing away at profits. In fact, published reports state that salaries alone represent 60 percent to 70 percent of all U.S. call center costs. For this reason Elio Evangelista, senior analyst at Cutting Edge Information, says companies are slowly shifting operations offshore, to places like India and Australia. The 116-page report includes more than 200 call center-investment and staffing metrics, career path-development strategies and operational tactics from at least 45 financial services companies such as Merrill Lynch, Fidelity Investments, Citigroup, Capital One, Allstate, Wachovia, and MetLife. Participating companies were asked to measure various metrics like average speed-to-answer, average talk time, average after-call work time, average abandoned call rate, first call-resolution rate, cost per call, average revenue per seat per CSR, call center HR costs, cost of bringing on a new agent, length of new agent training, new agent training costs, sales and service agent salaries, and hourly wages by industry. According to the report, the top-two hourly wages go to software and financial service agents who average $19.60 and $18.48 per hour, respectively. The two lowest hourly wages go to credit card and catalog agents, who average $9.50 and $8.00 per hour, respectively. Yet, more organizations, the report states, are building in compensation plans for cross-selling and upselling. Evangelista says the report marks a significant change in the way managers view their call center employees. A lot of call center managers, according to Evangelista, are beginning to look at a broad array of customer service oriented metrics, going beyond merely tracking metrics such as first call resolution and average talk time. Doing so, he adds, has encouraged organizations to invest more in human resource offerings to create more defined career paths and productivity incentives for call center agents.
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