The World Wide Wait

Customers are waiting up to 25 percent longer before having their calls answered by call center agents, according to a new report from Dimension Data, which surveyed more than 200 contact centers across the world for the report. The Merchants Global Contact Center Benchmarking Report revealed that the average caller waits 29 seconds to have a call answered, compared to 24 seconds four years ago. "There has been significant pressure to reduce costs, and many companies look at the contact center as a cost center," says Michel Robert, solutions group director at Dimension Data. "One of the results of these cuts is a reduced capacity to handle customer contacts." Another impact to the quality and speed of service is the staff turnover, according to Robert. "The survey reveals that the contact center industry was still experiencing a global agent-turnover rate of 19 percent. Findings from the report indicate that one reason for the attrition rate and absenteeism is that not enough emphasis is being placed on career development and staff retention. Only 50 percent of centers have specific policies for career development, which represents a drop from 57 percent in 2001." The report also notes that just as the wait time to get to an agent has increased, so has the amount of time before a customer abandons a call. Abandonment rates average 71 seconds, but in the telecommunications sectors the average wait is 91 seconds before frustrated customers hang up. Tolerance levels are much lower in industries where customers have a wider choice of providers. The tolerance level for the transport sector is only 31 seconds, with customers choosing a different channel or company once this threshold is reached, the report says. The number of calls answered within 10 seconds by an agent has also decreased. Fewer than 60 percent of contact centers achieved this speed-to-answer standard in 2003, a decrease from over 70 percent in 1999. U.S.-based customers fare the worst, with only 43 percent of calls being answered within 10 seconds, compared to 70 percent in Europe, 59 percent in Africa, and 58 percent in Asia-Pacific, the report says. "The U.S. has been specifically hit hard by the economic downturn and has reacted accordingly," Robert says. "This has resulted in fewer people to answer the phone." Long waits are not confined to phone calls. Customers who choose to contact a company via email face an even longer wait. The report reveals that the average time a business takes to respond to an email enquiry is 22.2 hours, compared to a 9-hour wait for a call back to a voicemail message. This prioritization of telephone communications does not bode well for those multichannel centers that aim to encourage customers to use less expensive email channels.
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