A focus on the customer experience over the past year is probably the cause of a significant drop in customer satisfaction levels in the contact center, according to a report issued this week.
The Global Contact Center Benchmarking report found that customer satisfaction levels dropped from 82% last year to 68%. However, that might be a good thing, according to Cara Diemont, editor of the report.
"We think it's not so much because customers are not happy, but because contact centers are doing a better job of measuring satisfaction," she said. "They're more realistic and better at understanding scores. People are paying more attention to analytics, recorded calls and automated survey options. It's a positive for the industry. It shows they're focusing on the customer experience and doing things that will make a difference."
Conducted by Dimension Data plc, a Hauppauge, N.Y.-based IT services firm, the report surveyed 403 contact centers across the globe. This was the tenth year the organization issued its report and, on top of the drop in satisfaction levels, there were some other major changes from last year.
"There was a big jump, unfortunately downwards, in the rate of first-call resolution," Diemont said. "A lot of people measure first-call resolution as a whole. That takes into account all the transfers, bumping callers from one agent to another or [to another] site."
First-call resolution on an agent level -- that is having the issue resolved by the initial agent -- dropped from 87% to 70% this year.
"While people are focused on first-call resolution, there's been quite a lot of effort to look at it as a whole," Diemont said. "Perhaps the next wave is to concentrate on the once-and-done philosophy. It's important having business rules in place, identifying who the caller is, who the best agent is, and all the routing strategies."
Internet protocol (IP) continues to be a major issue for contact centers as well. More than 60% reported they have IP-based PBX/ACDs, up from 50% last year.
"The path to IP is something contact centers continue to be walking down," Diemont said. "The top reason people give is not actually cost savings, but around the flexibility of their architecture, which says a lot of things about the way they're making decisions. They're probably trying to tie in with a broader enterprise technology strategy."
According to the report, 69% chose IP because of the flexibility of its architecture. In addition, 60% of contact centers have an architecture separate from the wider enterprise.
Staffing rules spending
Yet, for all that spending and experience, staffing continues to claim the lion's share of operational budgets, ranging from a low of 64% in Africa and Asia to a high of 74% in North America.
"At the end of the day, it is your agents who deliver that customer experience, and you need to continue to invest in them," Diemont said. Technology like quality management tools and self-service doesn't account for much of contact center spending, she noted. "The other thing that's interesting about spending patterns is you would think that with staff salaries being such a high percentage of costs, there would be more done around getting the most out of that, but attrition and absenteeism continue to be real problems."
Global agent attrition is at 24%, and in the North American market, that goes as high as 31%.
"You are replacing a quarter of your agent staff every year," Diemont said. "Recruiting costs, the time it takes for a person to become competent can be costly, and that doesn't account for the challenges of customer service. Do people get poorer customer service as a result of this attrition?"
Contact centers have become better about creating career paths for their agents, however, with 51% responding that they've focused on that.
When it comes to metrics, the more strategic types of metrics are not being used, Diemont said. Given the financial metrics, the one measured most is cost per customer per channel, but only 42% say they can measure that, according to the report. Moreover, only 29% measure sales generated per lead from the contact center, and 18% measure contact center profitability.
Some other key stats
Self-service completion rates continued to rise, with 19% compound growth on last year's completion rates.
Non-phone-based interactions constitute 22% of all inbound and outbound contact center contacts. Of those, 49% are Web-based, with the remainder split among email, fax, postal and SMS communications.
Among respondents, 69% of contact centers are recording calls, and 21% are planning to upgrade recording platforms.
Voice and self-service continue to be major areas of focus, with 27% looking to upgrade their interactive voice response systems, 25% planning on installing speech recognition, 19% planning test-to-speech applications, and 13% planning to implement voice authentication/verification applications.