Call centres are at the front line of customer service. But many things can stand in the way of optimum service provision.
So, what are the biggest problems facing call centres today? And crucially, how can they be overcome? In a two-part series, Alex Coxon investigates.
1. Agent absenteeism
According to benchmarking firm Dimension Data, the average annual absence rate in contact centres across the globe is 11%. To the layperson, this might not seem particularly high. But the stark reality is that a 100-seat contact centre with 11% absenteeism will only have an average of 89 seats occupied at any one time.
Unsurprisingly, a shortfall of this magnitude can have a huge impact on quality of service. Because there are fewer staff available to handle customer interactions, wait queues tend to increase and agents are put under pressure to spend less time on each call. Over extended periods of time, absenteeism can impact on staff morale and may even foster similar behaviour in those left to ‘carry the can’.
2. Staff attrition
High staff turnover can, as outlined in the introduction to this article, negatively impact on call centre quality because every time a trained agent leaves, fewer are on hand to ensure an optimum level of service.
In addition to this, there are heavy costs associated with recruiting, hiring, training and developing new staff – not to mention the costs associated with the dip in productivity that is inevitable as new recruits battle to get up to speed.
3. Agent engagement
At one extreme, call centre work can be monotonous due to the highly repetitive nature of the job; at the other, it can be stressful, thanks to the seemingly impossible targets and strictures that some organisations place upon their staff.
In both instances, call centres run the risk of their agents losing enthusiasm and becoming demoralised, which in turn can lead to absenteeism and ultimately attrition.
4. Flat structures
Research from Dimension Data shows that the volume of call centres planning to up-skill their agents increases year on year. However, less than a third actually define a career development path for any of their staff.
The problem, in essence, is that call centres are inherently flat structures. Career prospects are often limited – a situation that has become more acute since the start of the recession in 2008.
The impact is clear: organisations risk losing their best people if they cannot provide adequate career opportunities. Talented staff might also become demotivated and stop working to the same high standards they achieved previously.
5. Mandatory cost-cutting
Tight budgets have been a perennial problem for call centres, thanks to the high costs associated with staffing them. However, the issue has burgeoned in recent years against a backdrop of global recession. In many cases, senior executives no longer regard call centre efficiency savings as a ‘nice to have’; instead, they are demanding them as standard.
This is particularly relevant to public sector call centres, which are often now being asked to slash their budgets by 25 per cent, in line with central government targets.
6. Poor first-call-resolution rates
First-call resolution (FCR) is widely regarded as the single most important facet for achieving customer satisfaction in the call centre. However, as today’s customers tend to ring with increasingly complex queries, it isn’t always possible to provide an immediate answer.
If callers end up having to speak to several agents regarding a single enquiry, the customer experience becomes diluted and satisfaction levels plummet.
7. Inability to improve performance levels
At some point or another, most call centres will struggle to increase their performance levels, often reaching a plateau or, worse, finding that their adherence to targets is starting to drop away.
In an in-house environment, this can lead to frustration for both managers and front-line staff. And in the outsource arena, it can cause clients to question the third party’s capabilities.
8. Poor integration
Today’s contact centres are awash with software, ranging from predictive diallers, CRM databases and workforce management tools, through to sales order processing platforms, credit card security applications and automated voice response systems.
As Ben Dale-Gough, site operations manager at insurance contact centre operator Domestic & General (D&G) puts it: “With a variety of different vendors and products, contact centre agents can be working with more than ten different software systems. Each application is designed to perform a specific task such as data capture or outbound dialling, [and] with many in use at once, the job [becomes] far more complicated. Agents often find it tricky to tackle the maze of different systems which has detrimental effects on their work.”
9. The proliferation of communication technologies
The way we communicate has changed massively over the past 20 years. Today, consumers don’t just use the phone or white mail to get their message across; they make themselves heard through email, text and infinite social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter.
Because consumers are using these mediums to communicate in their personal lives, it is inevitable that they now expect to be able to conduct their business interactions in the same way. The problem, of course, is that call centres struggle to keep up. They have difficulties identifying which channels they should focus on, and often don’t have the people resource available to manage the different channels effectively.
10. Customer churn
Customer attrition is a huge problem for British call centres, with research from Genesys-EMG, Alcatel-Lucent revealing that a massive 73 per cent of UK consumers have – at one point or another – deliberately chosen to end their relationship with a goods or service provider.
The cost of such losses can be enormous. Indeed, Genesys estimates that UK businesses lose approximately £15.3billion every year because customers have either chosen to abandon the purchase they were originally making or have defected to a competitor.
Alex Coxon is a freelance journalist and a former editor of both Call Centre Helper and Call Centre Focus.
Next week Alex Coxon investigates some possible solutions to these problems.
Do we have all of the key call centre problems captured? Do you think that there is something missing? Please leave your comments in the box below.