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Contact center benchmarking study finds emphasis on profits, processes

Despite the economic downturn, contact centers are working toward providing profit and streamlining their business processes, an annual call center benchmarking study has found.

Despite the recession, more and more contact centers are evolving into profit centers for their organization, an annual benchmarking study has found.

"We were expecting to see a great deal of focus on cost management, cost control and cost optimization," said Martin Dove, global managing director for customer interactive solutions at Dimension Data. "One of the things we were surprised to see was how much more focus there was on revenue generation, specifically as it relates to customer retention."

Dimension Data publishes an annual benchmarking study of contact centers across the globe. The 2009 report, released last week, surveyed 550 contact centers in 36 countries at the beginning of the year.

"We were expecting [the results] to be much more of a theme around cost than value," Dove said of the study.

Among the survey results showing this focus on profit was the number of contact centers that had processes in place to identify sales opportunities. That grew from 50% of respondents last year to 60%.

In keeping with the focus on value was the increased importance of lifetime customer value. In last year's report, respondents said it ranked sixth as a trend or metric that affected them, but that leapt to the third most important trend in this year's results. More than 20% said customer retention was the No. 1 trend affecting their contact centers.

"Contact centers are being asked to play a more significant role in the creation of customer value and revenue," Dove said. "We asked a question about process engineering and process optimization, looking to understand if contact centers are operating in isolation or actually achieving greater collaboration and coordination with organizations outside of the contact center."

They are. This year, nearly 10% more contact centers (almost 70%) said they are focused on streamlining and simplifying processes to better serve their customers.

One factor that may be helping contact centers shift to profit and process improvement is a long history of falling prey to the budget axe.

"My interpretation is that the global economic crisis has acted as a catalyst," Dove said. "One factor is organizations saying, 'We're in this situation, but how much more cost can we drive out? Is there more to squeeze out?' That's hasn't gone away, but there appears to be a maturing recognition that the contact center is one of the primary points of interest an organization has with its customers. Customer retention and lifetime value have reared their head -- where can we make it real?"

Despite the focus on bringing in profits and improving processes, cost reduction was still a core priority, with 66% of respondents saying they have a strategy in place to cut customer service costs. That’s nearly 10% more than last year.

In addition, contact centers continue to face a rapidly evolving customer base.

"Now's the first time that younger consumers are spending more time on the Internet than watching TV," Dove said. "We're asking contact centers to report on that, but they don't necessarily have a view on what happens on the Web because they don't have a view of that channel. We're starting to see a recognition that they can't manage channels in isolation either from a channel perspective or a customer perspective."

According to the survey, only 34% of contact centers have a view of customers across channels.

Yet there's a disconnect between what contact centers see as significant and what they're able to measure. Customer lifetime value was one of the most significant trends identified by respondents, but only 10% of contact centers said they have the ability to use and measure the metrics.

There was some good news to go with the shift in approaches. Overall, contact centers are improving. Dimension Data measures seven fundamental key performance indicators: customer satisfaction, service resolution, attrition, absenteeism, average handle time, average time to answer, and call abandonment.

"This was the first year in 12 years that every one of those metrics has had positive improvement," Dove said.

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