Call Centers Invest in Magical Thinking
The how-can-I-help-you's are largely falling short of the implied promise of the inquiry, according to a new report from the Aberdeen group. "Shoring Up the Front Lines of Product Service: The Call Center," found that although 79 percent of companies believe that the call center plays a very or extremely important role in customer problem diagnosis or resolution, more than half (51 percent) are less than satisfied with their companies' call centers' abilities to deal with these problems. Only 12 percent reported that they were very or extremely satisfied with their call centers' capabilities. The report indicates that providing back up, better staff training, and investing in appropriate call center technologies are key steps in answering this need for better service.
"It is very clear that companies sees the call center as being an extremely important first step," says Michael Israel, senior analyst and research director at Aberdeen Group and author of the report. However, he says, the report indicates that the interest in and the actual level of service in the centers do not match up. "I think the reason they are dissatisfied is because they haven't done enough yet to deploy technology to do a better job and to make sure that these technologies are integrated." Israel provides the classic example of being asked to enter a product code or phone number into one's touch-tone phone from the automated call center system and then being asked for this information again if you are transferred to a live agent as proof of this lag in integration.
Aberdeen research indicates that companies can save up to $4 million a year on by optimizing best practices in their call centers. The average cost of deploying a technician is $209, according to the report, and if inquiries can be resolved consistently within the time of the call, this amount can be saved over and over again. For this reason it makes sense for companies to spend money on implementing call center solutions and on better training for service representatives, as these investments can easily pay for themselves.
According to the report, the biggest challenge facing call centers is a shortage of knowledge on the side of the customer representative. Inadequate information about problems gathered at the time calls are logged was the most highly reported challenge (72 percent). This challenge was followed by insufficient call center agent skills (59 percent) and limited availability or use of technology (45 percent). Other concerns included an absence of call routing capabilities, no set process to direct calls when higher support is needed, and an increasingly lower level of staff skills due to turn over.
The report indicates that these challenges can be successfully combated by smart technology investments. Best-in-class companies use some form of KM technologies as well as automated call routing technologies. Additionally, these companies have established KPIs to most effectively monitor service levels and follow-through, according to the report. Israel says investing in call center technology can be quite lucrative, but that many companies are still hesitant to do so. However, he says, "I believe this is beginning to change, because many realize that products are basically commodities. Companies are beginning to realize that if they're going to differentiate themselves, it's going to be through service."
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