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July 2008 | Volume 27 / Number 2
From The Analysts Desk

Self-Service Helping to Drive Contact Center Success

By Susan J. Campbell,
Contributing Editor, Customer Interaction Solutions

Traditional call centers were both an asset and a liability to the organization as they fulfilled a need by operating as a point of contact for the customer, yet they also incurred significant cost without directly driving revenue.

Over the years, the traditional telephone-based call center has morphed into the multi-channel contact center, offering customers the ability to contact the center via phone, e-mail, Internet, SMS, chat, fax and even more.

With this increased use of these alternative channels, it is important for the contact center to understand how much of its traffic is flowing through these channels and how best to manage them for optimal performance.

According to Dimension Data, an IT solutions and services provider, the global contact center industry has seen an increase in the use of Interactive Voice Response (IVR) self-service channels with 60 percent of the world's contact centers using the channel.

SMS/Text messaging has also experienced an increase in use by 8 percent according to last year's level of 32 percent. These findings are part of Dimension Data's tenth annual Contact Center Benchmarking Report. This report includes survey responses from 300 contact centers in 36 countries across five continents.

"Ten years ago, enterprises were focused on improving service and moving away from face-to-face interactions toward a phone experience," said Grant Sainsbury, practice director, Customer Interactive Solutions, Dimension Data Americas, in a company statement.

"Today, the reality is that the choice of channel varies and is dependent on the type of transaction. High-value customers may be more than happy to use automated self-service channels to pay a bill or view their balance — they don't need a live agent for every interaction."

The increased use of self-service channels provides a significant benefit to businesses. In 1997, the first year of the Dimension Data survey, only 6 percent of calls resulted in a customer using an IVR. Today, 15.5 percent of calls are handled by this technology. Automated self-service interactions amount to 15 percent of costs of interacting with a live agent.

In fact, according to estimates from the Benchmarking Report, it is nearly five times less expensive to use telephonic self-service than agent assisted calls. The real benefit for the organization is being able to extend a core technology platform to provide a high level of customer service on a consistent basis.

In the first year of the study, human voice transactions represented more than 90 percent of a contact center's activity. Today, that number has fallen to slightly over 50 percent of total call volume. In 1999, average call duration was roughly 187 seconds, where today it is now an average of 239 seconds. And, even thought call times have lengthened, wrap-up times have risen.

While consumers as a whole continue to prefer to talk to a live agent, self-service technology demand is on the rise. The most successful organizations and contact centers have embraced this technology and are experiencing the benefits.

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