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Report: Staffing is biggest call center expense

More than 65% of call center spending is on the people who run them, according to a new study. Overall, call centers are costing companies twice as much today as five years ago.

Spending in the call center more than doubled between 1998 and 2003, according to a report issued Thursday by Cutting Edge Information.

Most of that spending is going into recruiting and training personnel, one of the historical sore spots for call centers, according to Elio Evangelista, author of the report and senior analyst with the Durham, N.C., research and consulting company.

"Companies are looking at building a career path [for agents] so it's not just an entry-level position with turnover every 6 months," Evangelista said. "They want employees to be able to see themselves in management positions beyond representatives and up the chain."

Increasingly, companies are trying to provide call center agents with sales skills in addition to customer service.

"That's definitely part of it," Evangelista said. "They're investing more money in training on how you can identify customer needs more quickly and accurately."

Human resources expenditures dominate call center budgets, regardless of industry, the report says. HR costs represent 65.3% of call center budgets and have been one of the most overlooked areas of the call center, according to the report. While companies spend millions of dollars on technology, they still find themselves with 30% to 40% turnover rates and low service ratings.

Much of the spending was also directed at outsourcing, Evangelista said. European call center spending grew 130% since 1998. While companies increasingly shifted operations overseas, some outsourcing money also stayed within domestic borders.

Financial services made the most significant strides in call center spending, according to the report, taking advantage of up-sell and cross-sell possibilities during a customer service call. The negative of having someone call in with a complaint can quickly turn positive if it results in a new sale, Evangelista said.

The percentage of customer interactions coming through the call center leapt from 11% in 1998 to 16% in 2001, according to the report.

Technology has gone hand in hand with this trend, as software makers have introduced functionality allowing agents real-time access to a customer's spending habits and service history.

Whether companies are getting a return on all these call center investments is a little tougher to gauge, but things have improved in recent years, Evangelista said.

"When [companies] started tracking customer service metrics it was in areas like customer satisfaction and first-call resolution rate," he said. "Those metrics didn't show an improvement in customer service. Really [companies] were tracking the wrong pieces of information."

With information about how agents are cross selling and up selling -- data that shows how they are actually increasing revenues -- management now has an easier time establishing ROI, Evangelista said.


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