• February 25, 2011
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

Gripes About U.S. Contact Centers Rise

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Calls criticizing contact centers increased by 40 percent in the past two years, from almost 550 million in 2008 to more than 770 million in 2010, reports industry analyst firm ContactBabel.

The research was part of ContactBabel’s annual U.S. Contact Center Decision-Makers’ Guide, a major study of more than 200 U.S. contact centers looking at performance, investment, technology, human resources, and strategy issues.

The report also ranked by vertical market the proportion of inbound calls received that were complaints about the contact center, rather than business processes outside the contact center. The public sector saw the highest percentage of contact center–related complaints, with 51 percent, followed by utilities (33 percent), finance (28 percent), and telecoms (23 percent). Other industries, such as travel, transportation, and retail, have far fewer contact center–related calls.

“While these figures look worrying, we should note that, on average, four out of five complaints received by a contact center are not about how the staff handled calls but rather about a failure of processes elsewhere in the organization,” says Steve Morrell, principal analyst at ContactBabel and author of the report.

“However, it’s the contact center that has to deal with the dirty work, and further failures within the complaints and resolutions procedure (or lack of it) can see customers calling into the contact center again and again, becoming more irate each time, despite the real problem lying elsewhere,” he wrote in the report.

Morrell cites two reasons for the growing number of complaints: First, most people have been negatively affected by the economic downturn during the past two years, and so they are quicker to take offense with a business. Second, because of the economy, companies have scaled back on their contact center technology and staff training investments.

“This widespread and shortsighted failure of businesses to see the contact center as part of a larger organic whole is the main reason that many people dislike using contact centers: Too often, agents are simply not given the tools they need to solve the customer’s problem,” the report concludes.

“While it looks bad for the contact center, it’s really the fault of the company,” Morrell states. “And the customer expects more and is less tolerant of mistakes now.”

In no industry is this more prevalent than in the financial services sector, where Morrell says a lot of the complaints might stem from a perception that banks and other financial firms were responsible for bursting the economic bubble and setting off the recession. Many of these calls have nothing to do with the contact center, but, “because the contact center is often the only point of contact the customer knows, they get the calls,” Morrell says.

Still, there are some calls that are contact center–related, and those have seen a rise, he adds. In some cases, it might be that a contact center agent was rude or the customer wasn’t called back when promised. That’s often the result of inexperienced agents handling too much at once. Often, though, “a lot of the complaints are with the systems in place,” Morrell argues. “The last two years have seen a significant drop in the amount of investments for technologies. Companies need to increase their investments in technologies like unified agent desktops” so that agents have the appropriate tools at their disposal.

“There is a real risk, especially within large contact centers and in those that operate offshore as well as in the U.S., that a single agent does not have the capability or responsibility to deal with the customer’s issue. It may be that various internal departments (e.g., finance, billing, provisioning, and technical support) need to work together to resolve the issue, but in many businesses, getting someone to take responsibility for sorting out the problem is a long and complex process in itself,” the report concludes.

News Editor Leonard Klie can be reached at lklie@infotoday.com.

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