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RE: Compliance Technologies & Solutions
August  2004

A View From The Outside: Defining External Call Center Performance Metrics

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 their needs.

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 attributes.

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 moving forward.

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 tools.

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 sort.
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.

More Information
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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