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July 2008 | Volume 27 / Number 2
High Priorty

Ten Years of Contact Center History

By Rich Tehrani

Back in the early 1980’s, TMC decided to launch Customer Interaction Solutions and — as some of you may remember — in 1982 when it debuted it was called Telemarketing magazine. The terms call center, contact center, etc. did not exist at that time. Instead, we used inbound and outbound telemarketing. I should mention that state-of-the-art technology in the early days was a Rolodex or index cards with customer names on them.

While it is always fun to compare how things are today versus decades ago, it is almost as exciting to go back just a decade ago to see the evolution.

This is the exactly the opportunity I had recently as I read an executive summary of a research report from Dimension Data titled Global Contact Center Benchmarking Report, 2008: A Decade of Insight.

There is lots of data in the document and it is a good read.

Here are some of the trends with my thoughts:

Core call center equipment grew at 46% this year, growth in IP recording hit 75% and IP-based IVR ranked at 82%. Much of the spending in contact center equipment was in the IP space and this is no surprise as it saves money and as over 30% of call centers surveyed mentioned, they moved to IP to meet a specific business need.

In a sign that contact centers are now routinely looking at the latest technologies, it seems that the number of contact centers looking to install online self-service systems has increased from 50% over last year.

The telephone still has the highest service level for resolution at 70% of calls answered in 20 seconds while e-mail service is still measured in days. To me this is a sad state of affairs as society is becoming e-mail addicted, they want faster answers to their questions and they prefer to have their e-mails answered immediately in my opinion.

Organizations providing a single customer service number has increased from to 70% and this is a big increase from 2006 where it was 51%.

Another interesting statistic is that the average customer service call was 187 seconds in duration in 1999 and it is now 239 seconds. The thought here is that self service solutions have taken the brunt of the easily answered calls.

The average self service transaction costs a company $4 while a human interaction costs $34. Dimension Data thinks that this disparity should encourage companies to in turn incentivize their customers to use self-service.

Dimension Data is also not happy with the fact that most companies view their call centers as cost centers and not profit centers. I agree.

Perhaps the worst news from this report is the fact that customer satisfaction is going the wrong way. Overall satisfaction has dropped from 82% in 2006 to 80.4% in 2008. Staff attrition is also up over the last two years and the answer rate is down. The good news is that abandoned rates are down from last year – 13.6% versus 13.7% but this is still worse than the 12% from two years back.

My take on this research is that it shows how IP communications is changing the contact center market and more importantly is shows our industry is going the wrong way in terms of service levels. Yes, self-service should be emphasized more but these systems need to also be designed so they are easy to use. IVR trees need to work better. Web systems need to be more intuitive and companies need to keep investing in call center technology, training and analysis to ensure they maximize customer relationships which in turn will maximize profits. CiS

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