How does your call center measure up?

By Charles E. Day CMC, FIMC, Charles E. Day & Associates

Dec. 3, 2002 — It’s always something… right? Well, as important as it is for teleservices organizations to use more advanced telephone call center technologies, it is even more critical to get the right blend and complement of systems, measurements and other procedure-oriented practices.

For this reason, and because of the healthy investment required, make sure to use the best measurement devices available.

Industry Standards for Call Center Benchmarking

Industry measurements and standards are based around callers’ tolerance for time spent per call and callers’ needs to receive service in a timely manner. To determine if a call center measures up, consider these key standards:

1. Average Speed of Answer (ASA). The amount of time a caller waits on hold prior to speaking with a live agent. This is the most universal industry measurement and service level index. A common goal is to answer at least 80 percent of all calls received within 20 seconds. The 20 seconds begins from the time the call is answered by the system and placed on hold.

2. Talk Time. Typically averages four minutes for utility customer service operations.

3. After Call Work Time (ACW). Time spent after a call should be minimal – no more than 30 seconds.

4. Occupancy. The amount of time a CSR is on a call or awaiting a call. It should average 75 percent for any given shift.

5. Calls Per Hour. The number of calls answered by agents on a peak day (with the profile of metrics above) should average 10 per hour.

6. Incomplete Calls. The number of calls that receive busy signals should be less than five percent on a peak day.

7. Abandoned Calls. Once placed on hold, the number of callers who hang up before being answered should be less than two percent.

In addition to knowing these benchmarks, it’s also important to set and follow ground rules when using these metrics for CSR performance evaluation. For example, remember to:

“- Measure individual performance relative to the group.

“- Adjust goals based on recent performance.

“- Use Occupancy as a principal metric over ‘Talk Time’ and ‘Number of Calls Received.’

“- Monitor agents for positive and corrective feedback.

“- Make sure individual statistics are readily available for agents so they can observe and modify their own behaviors.

“- Tie incentives to the group’s performance.

“- Track cost per call,

Areas Often Overlooked

A major oversight comes from failing to examine why customers are calling. Companies that conduct call analyses can help eliminate the causes for the calls in the first place. For example, if field services are missing appointments and no one at the utility is calling ahead to advise the customer to reschedule, the customer will make a complaint call.

Also, the importance of good management in a call center cannot be overstated. CSRs should not be the last to hear about new policies and procedures during periods when customers are likely to count on them for explanations. Also, the wrong incentives for CSRs can backfire, lowering overall service effectiveness and performance. If the number of calls is the key measurement, expect quick disconnects (actually hanging up quickly without speaking to the customer). The use of “forced call handling,” (where CSRs do not determine the number of rings before answering a call), can improve productivity.

Lessons Learned Pay Handsome Dividends

Utilities are among the business sectors that typically receive a high level of contacts with a fairly fixed based of customers. Customer contact is far more frequently handled remotely and over the telephone and, to a lesser extent, the Internet. Accordingly, metrics and measurements are a way of life for teleservices operations. Setting the right mix of metrics with clarity and consistency is essential to producing the desired level of service and operating efficiency in today’s utility teleservices operating environment.

Utilities that acquire the business practices and skills to measure teleservice operations effectively will win out in areas of customer satisfaction and cost effectiveness. By implementing benchmarks and enhancing skill sets, management will be more able to accurately answer the question, “How Does Your Call Center Measure Up?”

About the Author

Charles E. Day, CMC, FIMC (Certified Management Consultant and Fellow) is president of Charles E. Day & Associates in Alexandria, Virginia. His practice management focuses on customer service, business process reviews, technology transfer and leadership development. Day holds a B.S. degree in Mathematics and Physics as well as a Master of Science degree in Administration-Computer Science from George Washington University. Day is also the author of the recently published book, Call Center Operations, Profiting from Teleservices. For more information, please call (703) 684-4891.

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