• March 20, 2007
  • By Coreen Bailor, (former) Associate Editor, CRM Magazine

Hold the Phone

Callers in North America wait roughly twice as long to have their calls picked up by an agent than customers in other parts of the world, according to Dimension Data's ninth annual Global Contact Center Benchmarking Report. While contact centers globally are experiencing lengthier average wait times before connecting with a rep--up 41 percent from 22 seconds in 2005 to 31 seconds in 2006--North American contact centers are hitting customers with an average hold time tallying 64 seconds. That represents a year-over-year increase of 73 percent from 2005. The report is based on the IT solutions and services provider's survey of 403 contact centers in 42 countries spanning Africa and the Middle East, Asia-Pacific, Europe, and North America. North American contact centers are also lagging behind their counterparts in other locations of world when it comes to areas like establishing service level agreements (SLAs) and crafting business continuity plans. Although 21.4 percent of centers globally have no SLAs in place, 32.7 percent of North American centers lack an enforceable system of measurement to ensure quality of service when transferring inquiries within a contact center or to other business areas, according to the report. Additionally, only 49 percent of global contact centers have a plan in place for disaster recovery planning/business system continuity and test it, only 38 percent of North American contact centers do. Kurt Mey, business development manager with Dimension Data's customer interactive solutions practice, attributes some of the performance differences between North American and global centers to age. "Contact centers have been around the longest in the U.S. than any place else so with that you have a lot of legacy and history associated with the contact center, not only from a people perspective, but also from a process and a technology perspective," he says. "A lot of the places outside of the U.S. are starting with a green-field approach of capabilities so that gives them a huge advantage from a performance standpoint." While survey results point toward some discrepancies between North American and global contact centers, it remains true that agent churn vexes most contact centers regardless of location. The report contends that the annual turnover rate among agents is 24 percent, a 14 percent year-over-year jump, but still markedly lower than some of the other industry reports' findings. Labor "is the largest financial investment any contact center has globally across the board," Mey says. "So, churn has a very significant impact on the financials, training, and customer satisfaction--in many cases having enough people to answer the calls and meet service levels. It will always be the prevalent issue by and large." Additional reporting findings include:
  • 87.3 percent of respondents rated customer satisfaction as part of development strategies, followed by quality and process improvements (80.7 percent), and staff satisfaction (70.2 percent). Just 46.5 percent noted cost reduction as part of their development strategies.
  • 36 percent of organizations have a single view of the customer across the channels they offer, 50.8 percent across products and services, 48.2 percent across customer data, and 46 percent across transaction history.
  • 53.4 percent use online self-service systems and 12.5 percent plan to deploy them.
  • 26.7 percent of contact centers are looking to upgrade their IVR platforms, 24.7 percent plan to implement speech recognition, and 18.6 percent plan to implement text-to-speech solutions.
  • More than 60 percent of contact centers use IP-based or hybrid PBX/ACDs. "Contact centers should strive to keep agents abreast of key developments and to make their career paths more exciting," Cara Diemont, editor of the report, said in a written statement. "Having top-notch, productive agents who are better equipped to deal with and anticipate customer needs translates into having more satisfied customers." Related articles: Centering Operations on the Customer Agent Training Is Not a Priority in Contact Centers Don't Keep U.S. Waiting
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