It's Been a Gloomy Decade for Contact Centers

Contact centers are seemingly in place to help provide quality service to customers. After all, it's one of the first places consumers go when they need to inquire about a product or service. In the past 10 years, however, recent study results indicate that contact centers as a whole are moving entirely in the wrong direction. Technology services and solutions provider Dimension Data recently published the 10th edition of its Contact Center Benchmarking report, which measures and analyzes performance levels of contact centers worldwide. Many of the results lead Stephen Loring, business development manager for Dimension Data Americas, to believe contact centers have not been making the expected advances. "Minimal progress has been made in adopting a more customer-oriented, CRM-based approach," he says. To back up that statement, Loring points to the percentage of contact centers possessing a single view of their customers across all channels. This number has dropped by 15 percent from 1997 to 2007, with only 34 percent of contact centers now having this comprehensive look at its consumers. This is markedly different from what survey respondents told Loring back in '97. He says that 10 years ago, while 40 percent of contact centers reported having this capability, an additional 45 percent planned to implement a single view "within the next two years." This lack of follow-through, he believes, is one of the most important takeaways from the study results. The study also found that good, steady help in the contact center is becoming increasingly harder to capture and hold onto. According to Loring, the most disconcerting statistics for contact centers are in the agent-attrition and -absenteeism rates. Critical statistics illustrating this trend in the past decade include:
  • a 93 percent increase in the annual agent-attrition rate;
  • a 120 percent increase in the absenteeism rate; and
  • a 220 percent increase in outsourcing.
Loring says contact centers are now looking to workforce optimization (WFO) solutions to try and counteract these statistics. "If you look at key technology and strategies from the CRM [perspective] now, a focus in 2007 [was] on WFO in looking at how we can get more out of our workforce without them leaving us," he explains, adding that prompt and targeted feedback for everyone in the company, from the supervisor to the agent, can also help with these issues. The problems in the contact center do not end with agent-employment issues, though. Several key performance indicators (KPIs) paint a harrowing picture of the contact center from 1997 to 2007, including:
  • call-abandon rates increased approximately 127 percent , from 6 percent of calls to nearly 14 percent;
  • average time to answer a call rose from 23 seconds to 39 seconds, a 70 percent increase; and
  • the percentage of calls answered within 10 seconds dropped nearly 12 percent.
Two reasons why these numbers have gotten worse over time, according to Loring: the rapid adoption of the Internet by consumers and consequently the more-complex issues facing the contact center. With more people utilizing the Internet and company Web sites to try and get information for their specific issue, "the last place many go now is the customer service center to try and get things answered," he adds. As a result, the questions are more complicated, and Loring suggests that these would require "a second or third tier of customer service representatives versus the first tier." In order to handle these increasingly difficult problems in a timely fashion for a population that's becoming increasingly insistent on immediate gratification, Loring explains contact centers need to implement more Web self-service capabilities and make it a point of emphasis to "get [customer] feedback into the repository where people can actively utilize it." While he talks about technological solutions and tools that are necessary to fix the problems in contact centers, Loring is quick to point out that training agents and supervisors to correctly use these products is essential. "I think it's a combination of additional WFO that needs to be learned and taught properly based on the feedback that they're getting within that client base -- and proactively adhering to that," he says. Despite the many disappointing statistics about the lack of progess in the past decade, Loring explains that even though the issues facing contact centers will only continue to grow more complex, the problems are not incurable. "I think the hope is, with properly implemented technology solutions, we can more proactively handle the clients," he concludes.

Related articles: Feature: Checking the Pulse of the Contact Center Contact center performance management provides a holistic view of agent performance; use that data to spur desirable behaviors that will help reps beat center and corporate goals. Customer Centricity: 2008 Contact Center Challenges Before managers can tackle primary goals, obstacles must be overcome. Access Your Contact Center Data Anywhere, Anytime In response to customer demand, Autonomy etalk's Intelligent Contact Center solutions suite introduces Qfiniti Web Access, turning any Internet-connected computer into a customer-service station. Insight: Labor Disputes Reach the Contact Center Pending lawsuits filed against AT&T and other companies over unpaid contact center wages could change the traditional value model. Contact Centers Can't Keep Up with KPIs The findings in a recent Aberdeen study on contact center consolidation reveal a harrowing pattern of companies failing to measure key performance indicators.
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