A new benchmarking report finds that customer satisfaction, quality/process improvement and technology strategy are the top three priorities for contact centers in 2006.
According to Dimension Data’s eighth annual “Contact Center Benchmarking Report,” 75% of contact centers reported a focus aimed at increasing customer satisfaction and value. Among the top issues being addressed are shortening hold times, transferring customer data to agents more quickly, and efficiently handling complaints.
It’s not just the contact centers that are focused on creating and improving customer value but C-level and director level executives as well. According to the study, the majority of contact centers report directly to the CEO (25%) or into a director level (45%). This reporting structure indicates a greater opportunity to influence business direction and customer service.
In addition, contact centers and their strategies are slowly maturing with 51% of participants in the study aligning their contact center development strategy with the corporate strategy. However, less than half are able to measure the key financial indicators (customer retention, customer lifetime value, etc.) needed to understand the cost and value of services.
North American contact centers will need to address some key aspects of service to deliver on their strategies to improve customer satisfaction:
- Assess satisfaction. Only 69% of North American contact centers regularly survey their customers to measure their satisfaction — one of the lowest rates in the world. Asia-Pacific leads the group with 84% of centers measuring customer satisfaction. The North American contact centers that do measure customer satisfaction reported an 84% customer satisfaction rate, tied with Asia-Pacific for the highest in the world.
- Address caller impatience. North American contact centers report the highest call abandonment rate at 15%. Nearly a third of these calls are abandoned by customers while they’re on hold to speak with an agent. This is possibly due to the extended hold times experienced in North American contact centers. The report indicates North American centers have the longest average agent queue wait times in the world at 37 seconds.
- Faster email response. Email accounts for 15% of all interactions in North American contact centers, the highest percentage in the world. In fact, North American centers handle 150% more email interactions than the other regions combined. While North American contact centers have the lowest average email response time at 11 hours (compared with the global average of 23 hours), the report says they need to focus on reducing this turnaround time in order to further increase customer satisfaction.
- Increase in bilingual support. In North America. 53% of responding contact centers support Spanish-speaking customers, the highest level of support for a second language across all geographic regions. Spanish is the second most common language spoken in North America after English, and contact centers in this region will find it difficult to operate without Spanish support.
On a global level, the report says there is additional evidence that illustrates the importance of improving customer satisfaction:
- Improving caller wait time. Thirty-nine percent of contact centers ranked an improvement in caller wait time in their top three priorities to positively affect customer satisfaction.
- Faster time to answer. This year’s report showed an average speed to answer incoming calls of 22 seconds, compared to 28 seconds last year. Contact centers recognize caller wait times as the biggest source of customer dissatisfaction and are already taking steps to improve it.
- First call resolution. Over 30% of the sample ranked first call resolution as one of the most important factors in impacting customer satisfaction. Call resolution rates have improved, with 82% of calls being resolved the first time — an improvement from last year’s 71%.
In reviewing the 2006 findings, the report says, it is evident that technology will play an important role in improving customer satisfaction.
“An increasing number of organizations are developing strategies to better use Voice-over-IP (VoIP), Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) and other productivity-enhancing technologies to meet increasing customer expectations,” said Grant Sainsbury, practice manager of customer interactive solutions at Dimension Data and co-author of the report.
Key technology findings include:
- Increasing use of self-service (the top trend, cited by 39% of respondents), process optimization (cited by 37% of respondents) and voice and data convergence (cited by 19% of respondents).
- Increased use of voice-over-IP. Almost half of the responding contact centers indicated that they have hybrid or pure IP PBX and ACD switches. All the centers that are planning to install an ACD (10%) indicated that it would be a pure IP solution.
- Lower-than-expected use of Caller-Entered Digits (touchtone) in their Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system to collect information about their callers, and an even lower proportion of IVR applications (24%) are integrated to Computer Telephony Integration (CTI), which explains why customers often have to repeat information, such as account numbers, once they are connected with an agent. This is a known frustration and contributes to low customer satisfaction ratings. Although CTI has become a relatively straightforward technology to implement and drive value from, the report demonstrates that many contact centers are not aware of the business functions that can be enabled by CTI.
- Increased use of speech recognition. Nearly a third of contact centers (31%) use speech recognition technology and a further 17% plan to install it in the next year. If contact centers implement these plans, almost a half will be using speech recognition within a year. North America and Asia-Pacific are currently the highest users of touchtone/PIN and speech recognition systems for customer authentication at 19%.
- Increased use of customer relationship management. Over two-thirds of centers have some means of identifying their customer during an interaction using a customer database. Additionally, a large proportion (46%) of the respondents use some sort of CRM application. Nearly 40% of North American contact centers reported use of a CRM application.
- Hosted technology. There has been a significant increase in the renting and hosting of contact center infrastructure. A quarter of centers chose to rent technology (compared to 4% last year), 15% buy hosted technology (5% last year) and 31% purchase hosted technology from their telecom provider (3% last year).
The study was based on data collected from 363 contact centers in 38 countries. Dimension Data is selling the complete results at https://www.ccbenchmarking.com/Benchmarks/2006PreOrderSpecialOffer.htm.