Does a contact centre really need to be world class?


Look at any major organisation’s vision and mission statements and you will almost certainly find the term ‘world class’ buried somewhere within these shining beacons of staff and client motivation.

When you look at the aspirations of customer contact centres within these organisations, ‘world class’ is also frequently on the check-list; yet so often the reality falls woefully short of the dream.  The question is, does this need to be an aspiration at all?

Before setting aside two-thirds of your annual turnover to turn your three-person telesales team into a global phone-based marketing operation, there is one crucial question that needs to be asked.  “Do we really need to be world class?”

The reality is that, for most organisations running a call centre or customer contact operation, the answer is no.  However, an aspiration to be best in sector is always a positive target.

The aim for a consistently high level of service

For the majority of organisations, where their business or customer service is not directly predicated on call centre activities, the aim should be for a consistently high level of service.

Businesses which are predicated on phone-based operation such as a call centre outsourcer which is selling its own operations to other companies and handling ten or more customer contact centres simultaneously, have a requirement for world-class performance.  However, for others, the call centre is generally only one part of their overall customer contact strategy. In these businesses, call centres need to service their customers at least as well as their competitors and provide a consistent quality of service across all their channels.

The decision regarding which performance level is right for the business should be made by the Head of Call Centre in conjunction with the Head of Sales and Marketing and/or the CEO.

Taking the long view will also help with determining the level of operation required.  Look at where the whole organisation is going over the next three to four years and the impact this direction will have on call centre operations.  This needs to be a joined-up approach between business, customer and channel strategies.

It is not always about expansion either.  Sometimes organisations identify an opportunity to reduce call centre activity because a transactional, online business model has been developed requiring a smaller, more focused call centre with more highly skilled agents able to handle more complex customer transactions.

Key strategic indicators – first contact resolution and customer satisfaction

Often businesses are dreadful at measuring performance.  I have seen many examples of organisations measuring what is easy and accessible but missing out on the key strategic indicators such as first contact resolution and customer satisfaction.

These are generally more difficult to assess and are viewed as “softer” numbers.  However, there needs to be a balanced scorecard approach – strategic, financial, people and performance – to provide effective Management Information (MI).

Whatever the level, the critical measures are cost per call (efficiency), customer satisfaction, business value and people management.  It is also vital that, even before the call centre is established, there is a clear understanding of what needs to be achieved from customer contact.  Once established, this requires constant review as the business and call centre matures.

Cost per call is a good indicator of current performance levels

Cost per call doesn’t directly change call centre standards, but is a good indicator of current performance levels.  It measures output and can highlight symptoms of poor function within the centre.  Generally, the higher the cost, the poorer the performance; although there may be mitigating circumstances if, for example, the type of calls handled require lengthy conversations or are particularly complex but the customer retention value is high for every call.

Business value is often missed because it is the most difficult to measure, but without it, call centres will always be viewed as a cost centre to the business. This measure recognises the position and importance of the call centre within the context of the overall business.  A call centre has to meet customer needs the majority of the time.  In other words, it has to be ‘just good enough’ all of the time, which is generally a comfortable place to be operating at.  The CEO may believe the centre has to be ‘world class’, but does it?

A strong relationship between the call centre and marketing

A strong relationship between the call centre and sales and marketing teams is also important in reducing tensions within the business and for co-ordinating resources.  I witnessed a recent example of an organisation running an online promotion in the US without restricting the access to US-only ISP addresses.  The result was that their UK call centre was inundated with calls for a promotion that could not be fulfilled.

Too many internal measures

Most call centre operations measure against some comparative data, but in my experience they spend 99% of the time focusing on internal measures and just 1% looking outside at the market place.  Where they do look outside, it is often at the ‘world class’ operators – such as First Direct or the RBS brands.

It is surprising how few organisations seem to use comparator models for their industry sector.  In many cases call centre managers will simply react to whatever internal measures are deemed important by the FD, CEO, or whoever is pulling the internal levers.

So what does all this mean?  In essence, any call centre operation needs a clear direction, good organisation, and positive, well-trained managers and agents. Management Information, processes and technology underpin this and while location is dependent on the nature of the business, no one is going to perform well sitting in a cold, dingy ‘sweatshop’.

The call centre level that is optimal for your business

The goal should be to maintain the call centre level that is optimal for your business, but with managers having time to talk; agents having clear career paths; an encouraging and empowering environment and with meaningful, transparent measures in place.
Does this mean ‘world class’?  Not necessarily. Is the goal ‘best in class’?  Every time.

Paul Gardner

Paul Gardner

Paul Gardner is an Associate Director at Xantus Consulting –

Author: Jo Robinson

Published On: 7th Apr 2010 - Last modified: 2nd Nov 2017
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  • Hi Paul,

    I read your article with great interest and challenge you on what you have to say. All the aforementioned in your article is dead on and I am 100% aligned. However, I see these as the “must haves” or “price of entry” when running a customer contact centre. You have to have great service, respond in a reasonable time with qualified individuals, manage your costs and stay focused; it’s our job to do so! These are not aspirations; if they are you have set a very low bar.

    At my company we do have Vision and it is:

    “We will be a World Class Sales and Service Organization in three Years.”

    It is based on four strategic pillars:

    1. Employee Engagement
    2. Client focus
    3. Repeatable and Predictable Results
    4. Effective Resource Management

    When we launched and communicated this we have delivered the following results:

    1. Attrition down 25%
    2. Absenteeism down 32%
    3. Employee Engagement up 34%
    4. Certified Contact Centre Employer of Choice
    5. Exceeded all of our results

    We took a different approach and focused on the people side and got our organization focused on being proud of where they work. We are not perfect and still require improvement; however we have made some great strides by defining our vision to be “world Class.” We live our vision day in day out. It is part of our culture; it is how we define ourselves.

    Thanks for giving us all something to think about.

    David Bradshaw

    David Bradshaw 8 Apr at 12:22
  • Is the customer always Right? Not always. It is a 100% guarantee that you will run into situations that require you to tell the customer that the product, service or their interpretation of the contract are not accurate or their level of service does not allow you to give them what they are asking for.

    Although a customer is an important aspect of any business, it can be a diverse and difficult animal to tame. Customers are people and can have varied opinions, backgrounds and personalities. Establishing a rapport with each person on the phone is a skill you will learn as you develop and become more experienced. Unfortunately, some people feel that if they have purchased a company product or service, they are entitled to certain things that may or may not be available to them.

    Sincerity is key to successfully getting them to understand that nature of your position. treating them with respect and dignity will go a long way in making them feel you are on their side but the solution may be out of your control or not available at all.

    Customer Sales and Service roles are not always easy to perform, but can be a valuable asset to keep the customer happy. Outstanding customer service is easier if you are in sincere in respecting the customer and their needs.

    Gravity Gardener 12 Apr at 01:50
  • Paul

    Your veiw on world class is a little behind the times, leading class is world class, so it is how you state your vision and values that counts, but world class is leading class, would you then say that Zappos is an on line shoe retailer or a world class customer service operation for me the later everytime.

    Dave Wheeler

    David Wheeler 6 Jul at 13:01