Inbound Call Center Strategies - Benchmarking Results


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Benchmark study of inbound call center performance.

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Inbound Call Center Strategies - Benchmarking Results

  1. 1. Call Center Strategies 2009 Improving Service Delivery Assembling the right mix of resources to ensure high-quality, cost-effective customer care is a constantly evolving challenge. Selecting, training, managing, and motivating a large pool of employees requires creativity, enthusiasm, and perseverance. Determining the right combination of technology and personal touch is also a moving target as customer needs and expectations evolve. Many companies that have hit the mark have found it’s even more challenging to stay on top. With this in mind, the Ascent Group conducted its third annual call center benchmarking study to better understand how companies are managing inbound customer care. We asked companies to share their experiences to help us identify the practices that make or break a customer contact center. We also asked companies to provide performance benchmarks so we could identify “best performers”—companies providing the best service at the best cost. The results of this research are contained in our report, Call Center Strategies 2009. This is the Ascent Group’s third annual benchmarking study of inbound call centers. Research topics included: Call Center Benchmarking Comparisons by Industry • First Call Resolution Performance • Frontline Training Practices • Supervisory Training • Reward Recognition Approaches • Monitoring Call Quality • IVR Performance • Call Center Benchmark Performance We asked companies to report call center operational data so we could calculate several performance benchmarks. The following benchmark metrics were collected and calculated, based on participant feedback: Unit cost (cost per call – Operational Maintenance costs only – direct labor, • contractor costs, overtime, and non-labor OM; no capital costs or overheads) % Abandoned calls (total calls handled versus total calls offered) • % Call resolved on first contact (of total calls handled) • Calls handled per FTE (per month) • % Agent availability (time on phone or available to take calls) • Service Level conformance (percent of days service level goals achieved) • ©2009 The Ascent Group, Inc. 1
  2. 2. Average Speed of Answer (Time delay between the first ring heard by the caller and • when the call is answered by an agent or automated system (IVR or VRU). If the caller waits in a queue prior to being handled by the agent, include all time spent in the queue in the ASA.) Once we identified the “best performers” for each industry-—above average companies that deliver low cost, high productivity, and high service—we calculated a “best performer” average for these high performing companies. The following two charts depict the Unit Cost and Abandonment Rate for our study group compared to our “best performer” average. More benchmark performance comparisons are presented in the published research report, Call Center Strategies 2009. What Did We Learn? “Best Performing” contact centers are more likely to: Use behavioral-based screening to select the best candidates, • Empower employees to make decisions, • Actively reward and praise employees for superior performance, • Commit resources to consistently monitor call quality and provide feedback, • Offer periodic refresher training, • Actively measure and monitor performance, and • Use performance results to drive continual improvement. • ©2009 The Ascent Group, Inc. 2
  3. 3. Hire the right people. The best foundation for service excellence is your frontline, however many companies have struggled finding the right people due to out-dated recruitment and hiring practices. Our research shows that most companies rely on age-old interviewing techniques to identify qualified candidates rather than behavior-based interviewing techniques or even basic customer service skills testing. As a result, companies struggle to deliver consistent customer-oriented service. Best-in-Class companies look for motivated and enthusiastic people who demonstrate a propensity to serve. It is easier to teach proficiency than it is to change attitudes. Hire for attitude and train the technical; emphasize potential over experience. Best-in-Class companies have turned hiring into an art form, not only the process but also the identification of the right type of employee. Use behavioral-based assessment tools and interviewing techniques to pick the candidates with the personality and attitudes for the job. In a service business, the employees are the company and hiring is critical. Work to strengthen your recruitment process so you start with the right people. Use a series of interviews, peer interviews, group interviews, phone interviews, role-playing and simulation to better understand how candidates react and perform under different scenarios and pressure. Do as much as you can to determine if the candidate is a good fit for the job, the work group, and the organization, before you make the offer. At the same time, it is important to adequately communicate job expectations to candidates as well as better understand candidate expectations. The more a candidate understands about the job, the work environment, performance expectations, and culture, the better the fit. Use job shadowing, peer interviews, or simulation to relay culture and expectations. Rewrite job ads so the appropriate expectations are conveyed. Survey new hires to better understand how to continually refine the process and minimize new-hire surprise. Emphasize the Importance of the Customer Experience in the recruiting process—make sure that candidates know up front about your organizational commitment to customer service. Stress the importance of customer service and customer satisfaction in the job advertisements, on your hiring web pages, and during interviews. Rewrite job descriptions to emphasize customers’ service expectations. Recruit for the Position and the Schedule—Your organization may use a combination of part- time, temporary, and full-time labor. Be sure to recruit for each type of labor separately as the schedule might dictate a different pool of interested candidates. For instance, companies relying predominantly on part-time labor have found a ready pool of qualified candidates in retirees, stay-at-home moms, and college students, who prefer a part-time schedule. Be sure your recruitment efforts target each group differently, using the most appropriate means for that ©2009 The Ascent Group, Inc. 3
  4. 4. group. Also consider generational differences. For instance, to attract Generation Y candidates, consider advertising at Internet cafes, public libraries, skateboard parks, and the Internet. Just make sure your targeting the right audience with the right message using the right channel. Employee referrals are an excellent source of qualified and potentially loyal candidates. By tapping into them as a source for open positions, organizations achieve greater loyalty, lower turnover, improved productivity and profits. Rewarding successful referrals can further stimulate employees to use word-of-mouth advertising to attract qualified candidates. People Matter. Engaged employees are the key to excellent customer service. Engaged employees are employees that feel as though they are truly valued at work; that their efforts directly contribute towards the mission and success of the company. Engaged employees are more productive and less likely to look outside of the company for employment. The best approach for a call center depends upon its unique composition. A lot depends upon the demographics of the group—generational, cultural, and individual differences. Call centers with college-age employees have different priorities from ones made up primarily of mothers with school-age children. In more competitive environments, paying bonuses for perfect attendance may be more successful than increasing the base salary. You have to evaluate your own unique environment to find out what will work best. We’ve seen a growth in more interactive, hands-on training opportunities for new hires—role- playing, simulation, and peer mentoring. Hands-on experiences help internalize learning, incorporate more “learning by doing” opportunities into your new-hire program. Hands-on learning can also be used to drive assessment so that trainers can measure both factual knowledge and comprehension. Additionally, training comprehension is increased through individualized training—training tailored to each students individual learning style. Smaller class sizes, modular training, and self-paced activities help students learn at their own pace. The more a new employee understands about the job, the work environment, performance expectations, and culture, the quicker they will be able to achieve standard. Use job shadowing, peer mentoring, or simulation to relay culture and expectations. Revise training content so the appropriate expectations are conveyed. Survey new students to better understand how to continually refine the process and minimize new-hire surprise. In this age of changing technologies, industry restructuring, and competitive markets, call center training is one of the call center manager’s most vital resources. As customer service, more specifically the call center, becomes a strategic weapon in the competitive marketplace, management must be sure that their front-line is prepared to deliver the most effective and responsive level of service possible. Invest in your front-line—provide them with the tools, authority, and training to get the job done right the first time. Help them view service from the customer perspective so they can determine how best to serve the customer. Often times, low first call resolution performance is a result of under-trained or unsupported agents—they don’t have the skills or information they need to resolve the request or problem. ©2009 The Ascent Group, Inc. 4
  5. 5. Recognize the right behaviors and communicate such that the employee’s behavior becomes a model within the work group. Sharing information on expected behaviors and rewards will establish trust. Employees will be able to understand what they need to do to be similarly recognized. Reward these behaviors so other employees are inclined to follow suit. Rewards are a better reinforcement of learning and risk-taking than punishment is for failure. Recognition is about acknowledgement and appreciation for a contribution, improvement, innovation, or excellence—a message to employees that they are valued. The act of recognizing an employee affirms the values and spirit underlying the achievement. It’s also about reinforcing desired behaviors and increasing their occurrence. Attitude and performance are closely linked; the appropriate recognition at the appropriate moment will create a positive attitude that, in turn, will lead to improved performance. Do your homework. Talk to employees at all levels, in all job categories, to understand expectations and drivers of performance. Identify meaningful rewards for each employee. Focus on the Customer Experience. Find out what your customers expect from your company and your employees. Conduct regular customer research to understand expectations and measure customer satisfaction routinely, and if possible, tie customer satisfaction feedback to individual employees. This will hold your front-line employees accountable for their service delivery. Measure Customer Satisfaction with your services and service delivery. Only 45 percent of our panel routinely measures customer satisfaction. Companies that do not measure customer satisfaction and customer expectations are missing out on business-essential feedback. Emphasize the importance of Customer Service in the performance management process—Make sure that front-line employees, supervisors, and managers know about your organizational commitment to customer service. Stress the importance of customer service and customer satisfaction throughout the new hire training program and supplement with ongoing refresher training. Do as much as possible to integrate the “Customer Experience” into daily operations—so employees understand customer expectations and appreciate the customer perspective. Structure incentives, rewards, and recognition initiatives around metrics that approximate the correct customer experience. Research from prior Ascent Group IVR Benchmarking studies confirmed that “best-in- class” companies conduct extensive customer research in conjunction with any IVR design changes or additions. Best performers use customer focus groups and other research methods to establish customer expectations and the demand for self-service options—to test design prototypes, validate scripting and prompts, and confirm menu options. Not just once, but over ©2009 The Ascent Group, Inc. 5
  6. 6. and over—every time a change or enhancement is considered. IVR applications are fluid systems and customer expectations are ever changing. Make sure you have the ability to continually monitor customer needs so you can meet expectations. Measurement techniques must also be reflective of customers’ values and expectations. Try to view first call resolution from the customer perspective. Know what your customers’ expect and respond accordingly. Do everything you can to make sure your customers’ questions and concerns are resolved promptly and accurately. Conduct focus groups, customer needs assessments, and other surveys to gather the feedback necessary to understand expectations and performance. Do not assume you know what your customers want. Make Time. Many companies have a difficult time balancing the day-to-day needs of the business and the need to train and develop frontline employees. Make the time to adequately train and prepare your frontline customer service resources. Make sure they are equipped and trained to handle all situations. Refresh training periodically to keep employees in top performance and up-to- date on customer service and technical skills. Commit the resources to adequately monitor, evaluation, and discuss results. Effective call monitoring is all about commitment of resources. If providing regular, fair, and timely feedback is a challenge for your organization or if your supervisors are always pressed for time, consider setting up an in-house quality assurance group. There are also outsourcing options available— companies that specialize in agent behavior analysis. Contracted monitoring services can be provided on-site or remotely, based on your specifications and standards. Recognize behavior and reward results in a timely manner so that employees know exactly why they are being recognized. Be specific, clear, and communicate so that others will take notice. Consistency is Key. Organizations reporting more highly engaged workers actively promote a culture of engagement by ensuring that organizational leaders, including immediate supervisors, are skilled in the area of engagement improvement. After all, having a good relationship between employees and immediate supervisors is a top driver of employee engagement. Yet, many frontline supervisors are lacking in basic supervisory skills, much less tactics for engaging employees. Many customer service organizations have not taken the time to establish a formal supervisory (coach) training program. As a result, employee development, performance and morale suffers. Our research shows that 60 percent of participants expressed no process for training coaches or supervisors. Of those reporting a coach or supervisor training process, ©2009 The Ascent Group, Inc. 6
  7. 7. most rely on internal training resources to provide formal coaching or leadership training. Others rely on management-led training, peer training, webinars, or outside training. Call monitoring is inarguably one of the best methods of improving call quality and service delivery. While companies can measure customer satisfaction through customer focus groups, customer contact follow-up telephone surveys, and written satisfaction surveys, the results are often not timely enough or detailed enough to help individual agents understand their impact or contribution. A call monitoring session on the other hand, if done correctly, can instantly deliver a wealth of customer satisfaction information, gauge individual agent performance and reveal a lot about your business processes and policies. However, only half of our participants monitor call quality, and monitoring quality of email, letters, faxes, video, and chat is much less practiced. Only 26 percent of participants monitor email quality and 11 percent monitor correspondence quality. Call quality calibration is essential to ensure consistency and build confidence in call monitoring results. However our research shows that many contact center organizations are not calibrating on a regular basis or calibrating at all. The best way to gain consensus on a call is to design the proper review criteria and then test it over and over. These new systems facilitate this process by streamlining the selection, capture, and presentation of calls and data. Group discussions comparing and discussing results help to focus and clarify the not so easy task of judging performance, and they also build confidence and consistency. To ensure successful continuous improvement, encourage your training group to work closely with your quality assurance and operational excellence groups. This will encourage the link between learning and performance—making sure the training group is equipping employees to successfully perform as well as making sure any operational changes are reflected in training. At the same time, underperforming employees can receive targeted training. ©2009 The Ascent Group, Inc. 7
  8. 8. Get it Right the First Time. First Call Resolution is perhaps the most powerful call center metric. A focus and improvement in FCR brings the best of both worlds—an improvement in efficiency and effectiveness. You don’t have to worry that you are sacrificing quality because you are reducing costs, or vice versa. When you improve FCR you’re improving quality, reducing costs, and improving customer satisfaction, all at the same time. Less than a third of our panel measures FCR performance. Institute a program to measure, track, and manage FCR performance. It’s a key driver of continuous improvement and a key determinant of customer satisfaction. If you don’t measure it you can’t improve! Our research identified four primary ways of measuring First Call Resolution—customer surveying and three other approaches that deliver internal approximations of First Call Resolution. While each approach has its uses, ultimately, the customer’s evaluation of issue or contact resolution is what matters most. Make sure you ask your customers how well their issues and concerns were resolved. Measure Your Performance. A family of these measures should be selected to accurately measure performance. Establish goals and objectives for your organization based on defined missions, end products, and activities. Identify key result areas where results must be achieved if goals are to be obtained (Critical Success Factors). In most organizations there are usually three to six factors that determine success. Consider outcome as well as output. The key to any good performance measurement system is how well it represents the service objectives (CSFs) and how well those objectives have been defined. Do as much as possible to relay performance expectations to employees. The more an employee understands about the job, the work environment, performance expectations, and ©2009 The Ascent Group, Inc. 8
  9. 9. culture, the better they will be able to achieve or exceed standard. Revise training content so the appropriate expectations are conveyed. Communicate performance routinely and look for ways to make your performance results more accessible to employees and supervisors. Online performance measurement tools and dashboards improve communications of performance results to front-line employees. It also can make this information accessible when supervisors are unavailable. Online, browser-based graphical comparisons make it easy for employees, supervisors, and management to gauge performance. Make sure your performance metric framework is balanced—considers efficiency and effectiveness—and accurately measures the customer experience. If possible, include agent FCR and Call Quality performance as a component in the annual review process—as a basis for compensation and rewards. Surprisingly, only 75 percent of participants have factored call quality monitoring results into agent performance. Be careful to balance with other measures to make sure all around good performance is delivered and service isn’t compromised—that agents know when to escalate a call or assign it to further investigation. Also make sure your evaluation criteria are flexible enough that agents can make the right decisions for each caller. Create a performance measurement framework so you can measure the impact of your reward and recognition program. Track the performance metrics that form the basis of your reward structure and conduct surveys to gain qualitative feedback from employees and supervisors. Build your IVR applications so that it’s easy to dissect applications and track call flow, errors, voluntary and involuntary opt-outs and opt-out points, hang-ups, and success rates. Make sure that you can track the caller’s outcome—measure performance from the customer’s perspective—how it impacted what he or she was trying to accomplish. Take advantage of a service or tool to actively test and monitor your IVR applications. These services can point out application, network, and system inefficiencies and failures that you may not recognize or hear about from customers. These tools can also track transactions, system availability, and system reliability, and even test your applications under varying degrees of stress and at varying times of the day, week, month, and year. Comparing your company’s call center performance against a representative peer group can provide tremendous benefits. Not only can you learn more about how your peers approach similar work tasks, you often learn more about your own organization simply by participating in the measurement process. You may confirm what management already knows as well as confirm the belief that there really is a need to change. It may provide the “proof” that management has been struggling to uncover. When conducted properly, employees actively participate in the process and become part of the solution. ©2009 The Ascent Group, Inc. 9
  10. 10. About The Ascent Group, Inc. The Ascent Group, Inc. is a management-consulting firm that specializes in customer service operations and improvement, performance benchmarking, competitive benchmarking, work management, and industry research. Research reports published by the Ascent Group include: • Call Quality Practices • Credit Collection Practices • Achieving First Call Resolution • IVR Improvement Strategies • Reward Recognition Program Profiles Best Practices • Improving Frontline People Processes: Recruitment, Training Performance • Billing and Payment Profiles Best Practices • Meter Reading Profiles Best Practices • Call Center Strategies • Improving Field Services These research reports can be purchased online, through our secure order form at or by phone at (888) 749-0001. The Ascent Group offers many opportunities for your company to participate in benchmarking and best practice discovery through its online benchmarking services: Call Center Operations • First Call Resolution • Call Quality Monitoring • IVR Technology • Field Services • Credit Collection • Billing Payment Services • Remittance Processing • Field Services • Meter Reading • Frontline Recruitment, Training • Reward Recognition Program • The Ascent Group is currently researching First Call Resolution. If you are interested in participating in our research, please contact Christine Kozlosky at or (888) 749-0001. The Ascent Group, Inc. 120 River Oak Way Athens, GA 30605 (888) 749-0001 ©2009 The Ascent Group, Inc. 10