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Report: Call Center Improvements Needed in North America

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March 29, 2007

Report: Call Center Improvements Needed in North America

By Richard Grigonis, Executive Editor, IP Communications Group


Customers worldwide continue to use contact centers on an increasing scale, even though North American callers often face a lack of service level agreements (SLAs) and no assurance that they’ll be remembered next time, according to the ninth annual “Global Contact Center Benchmarking Report” by Dimension Data (www.dimensiondata.com), a $3.1 billion IT solutions and services provider.

 
First published in the UK in 1997 by Merchants, Dimension Data’s specialist contact center outsourcing and operations division, this year’s edition, edited by Cara Diemont, balances global and industry representation from 403 contact centers located across 42 countries and five continents. The report provides managers with a set of best practice standards and benchmarks, including staffing and training, performance metrics, technology usage, budgets and development plans.
 
“The report examines the call center scene worldwide, but there are sections on specific areas, such as North America,” said Grant Sainsbury, practice manager for Dimension Data. “There are some interesting overall trends that emerge from the report and you can see some things revealed by the report that are cause for some concern.”
 
Sainsbury continued: “In terms of IP adoption rates, 60 percent of contact centers have some sort of IP in their architecture. That’s a combination of pure IP and hybrid environments. The numbers are up from last year’s figure of 50 percent. This is consistent with what one would expect in terms of what’s happening with the technology in the market.”
 
Elaborating further, Sainsbury said: “There has also been a big increase in the use of ACDs [Automatic Call Distributors] with respect to contact centers. That figure has increased from 20 percent last year to 60 percent this year. That’s fairly consistent with the use of hybrid architectures and companies installing IP solutions alongside their existing architectures, thus creating a networked ACD environment. What I think we’ll see is an increase in what we report on as ‘routing in the cloud’ or ‘virtual routing’. As the adoption of IP-only architectures increases in popularity so will that value, and that was 28 percent over the past year [2006-2007].”
 
Unified communications, too, is playing a role, according to Sainsbury: “Unified communications is an umbrella term of which IP telephony is a component as are IP-based contact center systems and some of the productivity and mobility applications. We’ve reported a fairly significant increase in the use of the universal queue, which provides more consistent levels of service across the channels. It essentially means that more non-telephony channels are entering the contact center. In the past year (2006-2007) a little over 1-in-5 transactions completed in contact centers worldwide were not telephony-based. The exact number was 22 percent. These other interactions can include email, faxes and so forth. It all feeds into one of the report’s key trends, which concerns how customer service is at the core of what contact centers are focused on. That may sound obvious, but it competes with things such as delivering a service cost-effectively and other kinds of metrics.”
 
Sainsbury added: “We’re seeing the increasing use of customer segmentation — which is the division of a customer base into groups based on criteria that are relevant to the business — and more alignment of customer segmentation strategies. More contact centers have adopted broader organizational segmentation strategies than previously to improve interactions with customers.”
 
According to the report, the percentage of organizations worldwide delivering personalized and segmented service has jumped to 42.8 percent from 28.3 percent last year. With the contact center being a key point of contact for many customers, it should have easy access to customer information owned by other parts of the organization. In many cases, this information flow is now relatively unobstructed, with information about customers and their spending patterns integrated into various business divisions.
 
Also according to the report, 34.4 percent of contact centers use the same segmentation as their broader organization, up 10 percent over last year’s results. These contact centers are using customer segmentation to raise service levels, tie in customer loyalty and secure greater spend within their market.
 
“Contact centers are using segmentation strategies inside the enterprise and they also focus on providing personalized services,” said Sainsbury. “There’s also a revitalized interest in the adoption and CRM and associated technologies. Outsourcing is still a point of focus, which is interesting.”
 
The report said that contact centers in North America can immediately identify callers using caller line ID (CLID). North American contact centers also rely on email contact so than contact centers elsewhere in the world. Even so, there is no guarantee that callers or details of their interactions will be remembered if they need to call back. This example and others indicates where contact centers have some room for improvement, particularly in North America. The figures are as follows:
 
• 22 percent of North American contact centers do not have a documented set of processes across service delivery channels to ensure consistent service.
• North American contact centers lag behind the rest of world, with 32.7 percent neglecting to adopt an enforceable system of measurement to ensure quality of service when transferring inquiries within a contact center or to other business areas. Globally, only 21.4 percent report having no SLAs in place.
• With the increasing focus on disaster recovery planning and ensuring business system continuity in times of crisis, just 49 percent of global contact centers report that they have a plan in place and test it, with North America falling behind the rest of the world at 38 percent.
• In North America, customers wait an average of 64 seconds before an agent picks up — a 73 percent increase from last year’s 37 seconds. Globally, contact centers posted a less dramatic increase — average wait times are up 41 percent, from 22 seconds last year to a current 31 seconds.
 
“The overall transaction times between customers and agents are shortening,” said Sainsbury. “So, once you get to a contact center agent, the total time to execute or complete your transaction is reduced, even though the time-to-answer, the time you spend in the queue, has actually increasing.”
 
Sainsbury added: “Even so, physical resolution has fallen as have customer satisfaction levels. It’s a prime focus even though the levels have fallen off. This could be simply because the industry is starting to be more honest with itself, is doing a better job reporting figures on itself, and now understands that this is perhaps where things have actually been for some time, as opposed to something that has occurred over the past year.”
 
With contact center volumes increasing across channels — including email, Interactive Voice Response (IVR) self-service and online self-service — the reports presumes that the issue of SLAs and lack of procedures to ensure long-term documentation will continue to grow.
 
The public has become accustomed to automated systems such as IVR (Interactive Voice Response) and speech recognition, and callers have increasingly abandoned agent-assisted telephone calls, with one notable exception: One would expect that more mature markets are more likely to adopt different channels, but that logic does not hold true in North American contact centers, where the adoption of agent-assisted telephony is 19 percent above the global average, and adoption of the three next most popular channels is far below the global average: email (33.7 percent below), IVR self-service (53.3 percent below) and online self service (41.2 percent below).
 
The report suggests that customers in North Americans have a) tried other channels, but still prefer to use the telephone to speak to agents, b) not yet tried other channels because speaking with agents works well enough for them, or c) not yet been offered alternative channels to try.
 
According to Cara Diemont, editor of the report: “It is likely that all three of these possibilities contribute to the counterintuitive fact that 81.4 percent of contact center transactions are agent-assisted in this region. Another explanation would be that a large portion of contact centers in North America do not have a mandate to use multiple channels.”
 
So it appears that North American contact centers need to deploy more intelligent automation technology that’s friendly enough to wean customers away from more expensive human-assisted interactions.
 
For more information about the Report, go to www.ccbenchmarking.com.
 
Richard Grigonis is an internationally-known technology editor and writer. Prior to joining TMC (News - Alert), he was the Editor-in-Chief of VON Magazine from its founding in 2003 to August 2006. He also served as the Chief Technical Editor of CMP Media’s Computer Telephony magazine (later called Communications Convergence (News - Alert) from its first year of operation in 1994 until 2003. In addition, he has written five books on computers and telecom (including the Computer Telephony Encyclopedia and Dictionary of IP Communications). To see more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.


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