Benchmarking for Improved Performance

You can't manage what you can't measure. Many organizations today simply don't understand how their business processes are performing in relation to their overall business strategy and therefore suffer great inefficiencies. This is especially true in the contact center industry, where despite recent changes, organizational performance and efficiency is still well below the ideal. The problem stems from a lack of baseline metrics from which to measure performance. One of the first steps to managing operational performance and creating efficiencies is through the use of benchmarking.

Benchmarking is used to identify, quantify, and prioritize improvement opportunities within an organization. It enables executives to drive new levels of productivity across the enterprise by objectively and rapidly assessing how well processes are performing relative to their overall business strategy. It also allows organizations to compare their performance to industry standards for productivity, utilization, customer service, claims, cost per transaction, first contact resolution, and more. Once defined, companies can use benchmark data as a launching point for process changes and performance analytics that combine to deliver overall improvements. When analyzed within the context of a particular company, benchmark data helps to quantify potential performance improvement.

One of the most effective benchmarks in and across operating units within an organization is productivity, or the percentage of the day spent working. The average agent is 69 percent productive, according to a recent study. (Productivity is usually defined as percentage of time spent working on primary work activities further augmented by other assigned tasks, such as projects, meetings, and training.) The best measure of productivity for a contact center is resolution time. However, true productivity must be measured against task complexity, the most important insight for optimizing efficiency. To get a true measure of productivity, it must be separated from calls or transactions per hour. Translating work units into work hours based on task complexity provides a more precise universal metric for productivity.

Another metric that has become popular, especially within services businesses, is the average speed of answer (ASA) or the speed at which calls are answered once they are in the queue. This metric is measured in seconds and indicates the average wait time for each caller attempting to reach a customer service agent. Its importance has risen for two reasons. First is the value of the metric in representing true customer service across all calls, which communicates call responsiveness within a time frame of 80 percent to 90 percent of calls. It means companies can manage service levels beyond the threshold. For example, if a service level represented that 90 percent of the calls were answered in 30 seconds or less, what happened to the other 10 percent? Second, ASA has new value when correlations are made between it and service levels. In addition to the upsurge in using this metric, there has been a trend toward targeting a higher ASA. Historically the goal for ASA was 20 seconds (representing 3 ring cycles). Recent benchmark reports reveal that the industry is shifting towards an answer speed target of 27 to 35 seconds in order to reduce costs.

These metrics represent just a small sample of what can be identified through the benchmarking process. What they reveal is that organizations are not as efficient as they can be. In the past, most changes have been more a matter of treating the symptom--higher costs in particular--rather than getting down to the root cause.

To make real, lasting improvements in the organization look below the surface and see how work actually gets done. This is where operational performance management (OPM) comes in. OPM combines hands-on study of the operational aspects of the organization with technology to create a more efficient way of working that can be easily measured, evaluated, and improved.

One of the key goals of benchmarking and performance improvement is to increase operational efficiency and customer effectiveness. Together, they provide a clearer picture of how to optimize enterprise service performance and improve competitiveness. With the appropriate benchmarks in place, operational performance management can help organizations create real, long-lasting improvements to their contact center--and the entire enterprise.

About the Author
Wendy Lauther is vice president of Verint Opus Solutions. Please visit www.verint.com

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