|A View From The Outside: Defining External Call Center
By Penny Reynolds, The Call Center School
The long-term success of any organization, and particularly a service
organization such as a call center, depends upon continuous improvement.
Most call centers have numerous measures of individual, team and overall
call center performance. However, continuous improvement also involves
listening to customers to learn how effective the organization is meeting
Understanding customer perceptions of your organization's performance
can only be accomplished through a systematic customer surveying process.
It is important for the call center to perform its own surveys in order to
understand the customers' perceptions, related specifically to call
center transactions. Many organizations perform regular customer
satisfaction surveys, but these surveys focus on products, pricing and a
variety of other concerns, the call center experience sometimes buried in
the overall questions and scope of the survey. It is crucial to do
customer surveys solely focused on the call center experience to truly
evaluate how effectively the call center is serving customers and
representing the organization.
Types Of Surveys
There are several different types of surveys that an organization might
do. These three types of surveys are:
Specific purpose surveys. These surveys may be conducted to ask
a specific question about call center operations. For example, the
organization may wish to query customers about the adequacy of operation
hours or to test out a new pricing structure. These surveys are limited to
very few questions around a single topic of interest.
Periodic surveys. These surveys are used to gauge perceptions
around issues of the overall relationship between the customer and the
organization or department. These surveys are related to no specific
transaction. Rather, they ascertain how well the organization is doing in
the customer's eyes with respect to ease of doing business, value
delivered, areas needing change and importance attached to certain service
Transaction surveys. These surveys are performed conjunctionally
with a specific event or transaction to gauge the customer's perception
of that particular transaction. These surveys are event-driven and
typically happen soon after the event to be evaluated.
Customer Survey Steps
Project planning. Every call center survey should start with a
statement of purpose. This statement should outline the motivation for the
survey, the target audience, the needed results and what actions will be
taken with the results. The statement of purpose should be simple but
detailed enough to serve as a 'beacon' to keep the project focused and
A budget for the project will also be developed during this planning
phase. The budget should include these items: staff salaries; computer
hardware/software; postal or telephone fees for survey implementation;
training; incentives for participants; and, perhaps, survey software
A project schedule should be defined to outline how long each phase of
the project will take and what milestones depend on other tasks being
completed first. The phases outlined in the schedule should include
project planning, questionnaire design and development, questionnaire
review, survey administration, data analysis and reporting.
Instrument development. In developing the actual survey
instrument or questionnaire, it is important to start with an idea of what
information is needed in the final report and work backwards. Designing
the questionnaire will be an iterative process, and ample time should be
allowed to get it right so customers will not only take the time to
complete the survey, but will be able to complete it correctly.
Each survey instrument should include an introduction that explains who
should complete the survey, how much time it should take, how to respond
to questions, what to do when finished and what the deadline is for
participation. Critical terminology should be defined at the beginning,
and sequencing instructions should be given, whether given verbally in a
telephone interview or displayed legibly in a written survey.
Another crucial design element is the type of data used. Some questions
may be unstructured and require a textual response, while other questions
may be structured in a multiple-choice format or in a rating scale of some
Survey administration. There are various ways to administer a customer
satisfaction survey. Traditional paper-based mail surveys have declined in
popularity in recent years due to their low response rates and
availability now of faster means of communications. A high percentage of
call centers utilize telephone surveys, conducted either by in-house staff
or by a third-party specialist.
Electronic surveys via e-mail and the Web are also growing in number.
Another key decision in the survey administration process will be the
sampling procedure. The organization should consider its customer
population and determine whether a census is needed or if a representative
sample will be used. If a sample is to be used, correct sampling
procedures should be employed in order to arrive at a precise and accurate
conclusion. The sample size will depend upon the number of responses
needed as well as the expected response rate from the participants.
Once the sample size and sampling procedure have been determined, a
pre-survey notification should go out, either via traditional letter or by
e-mail. This notification should explain why the survey is being done, how
the survey will benefit the participant, how results will be communicated
and what, if any, incentives are provided for participation. Upon
conclusion of this notification, the actual survey is distributed.
Data analysis. Once the survey has been distributed and the responses
gathered, the next step in the survey process is to analyze the results.
Analysis will vary depending on if the questions were purely statistical
in nature, or where unstructured textual responses will be received. The
data will typically be analyzed to determine averages or other means of
central tendency. The data will also be analyzed to determine how the
responses are distributed. It is important to not only look at the average
responses or scores, but also to look at the dispersion of results from
low to high. Statistical analysis (beyond the scope of this article)
should be employed to arrive at meaningful conclusions from all the data
gathered in the survey process.
Reporting and action. The purpose of doing a customer survey is to
determine how effectively customer needs are being met. Once the data have
been analyzed, the next step is to report the survey results to relevant
parties, next acting on results of the study to improve the service
process and to strengthen relationships with customers. Actions might
include follow-up research or root-cause analysis, immediate service
actions or continuous process improvement initiatives.
Want to learn more about the process of doing customer surveys? We highly
recommend Customer Surveying by Dr. Fred Van Bennekom and the Survey
Research Handbook by Pamela Alrech and Robert Settle. Both provide
excellent, step-by-step instructions on how to develop, implement and
fine-tune customer surveys for your business improvement process.
Penny Reynolds is a founding partner of The Call Center School, a
Tennessee-based consulting and education company. The company provides a
wide range of educational offerings for call center professionals,
including traditional classroom courses, Web-based seminars, self-paced
e-learning programs and call center management books. For more
information, e-mail Penny at [email protected]
or call at 615-812-8410.
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