Budget blues extend call centre hang ups

Savage cost cuts in recent years has had a devastating impact on call centre performance reducing agent responsiveness and customer satisfaction.

Good service is the differentiator for call centres, but according to Merchants Global Contact Centre Benchmarking (GCCB) Report 2003, which canvassed managers from 202 contact centres worldwide, enterprises still see call centres as cost centres.

In the face of a global economic slowdown, the contact centre industry has had a budget freeze and, to meet the constraints, has consolidated operations with relocations to cheaper locations like India.

The report covered operations from the financial services, ICT, transport, manufacturing and public sectors. Of the respondents 24 per cent were from Asia-Pacific, 22 per cent from North America and Africa, 17 per cent from the UK and 14 per cent from Europe.

In all regions, the pressure to do more with less has downgraded service quality and the performance of call centres, according to the GCCB report.

Performance-wise, customer calls answered within 10 seconds have fallen from 72 per cent in 1999 to 59 per cent this year.

And customers are waiting longer than ever for an agent to answer their call. Queue times before abandonment jumped from 40 seconds in 1999 to 71 seconds this year.

This year there was a slight increase in the abandonment rate from 4.5 per cent of calls in 2001 to 5.1 per cent this year, the report said.

The IT industry was singled out as the poorest performer on responsiveness, with an abandonment rate of 8.6 per cent.

On the ability to resolve customer enquiries during the first call, the IT sector faired the worst. All industries hit an 80 per cent resolution rate, except IT with a 67 per cent rate. w

Lagging response rates were not only problematic on the telephone, but also with e-mail. Phone messages are responded to within nine hours, while responses to emails happened 22 hours later, the report said.

Around one third (30 per cent) of businesses do not measure customer satisfaction within their call centre.

Dimension Data's manager for Customer Interactive Solutions, Robert Allman, said many call centre operations struggle to get a valid statistical sample for measuring customer satisfaction because they don't know how or what to measure.

He said the success of contact centres depends on the effort organisations invest in managing their people, processes and technology.

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