Benchmark for a Better Call Center

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The term benchmarking may be most associated with the stock market. When investors want to know how their stocks or mutual funds are performing relative to the market, they consult popular benchmarks like Standard & Poor's 500 or the Dow Jones Industrial Average to see how they stack up.


In the business world, the standard is not so clear-cut. There are no universal benchmarks that a company can consult to see how its products, services or personnel are performing against the competition. Benchmarking in business is more specialized, and it's difficult to find information that is close to your company's size and standards.


Benchmarking provides clarity for how an organization fares against its competition by documenting performance and identifying and quantifying the effect of performance gaps. Basically, it's a tool that gives businesses information that lets them develop plans to improve their processes.


In the contact center industry, businesses seek out benchmarking when they want to do more with less revenue or they think the competition may be offering better service. Companies also will implement a benchmarking study to maintain a competitive advantage and to understand how they are beating their competitors in key performance areas. It's the optimum way to identify the best contact centers. But it's also a cost-effective way to learn whether a company is running efficiently.


The best benchmarking programs give a range of solutions to help make effective decisions. The results can offer cost-saving alternatives. For example, a benchmarking assessment may show that there is no need for high-cost technology investments. Also, the results can be used as a sales tool to market the superiority of a company's customer service relative to the competition.


When undertaking a benchmarking study, it is helpful to work with a consulting firm that specializes in assisting businesses with their benchmarking efforts. A consultant can evaluate and offer recommendations that reflect the attributes of a specific contact center such as industry, location, culture and operational processes.


Benchmarking assessments provide a best-of-class comparison, which helps companies understand the gaps that when filled would make their contact center a first-class operation. The key is to compare actual results to the benchmark and then develop a plan to bring the critical operational processes to optimal levels.


Here's how it works: A company gathers data on various key performance indicators including performance results, customer satisfaction ratings, contact center costs and staffing metrics. It is imperative to spend as much time on preparation and data collection as on analyzing the results. This will ensure the project launches smoothly and problems are avoided during implementation.


The next step is to identify a peer group of similar contact centers and compare the peer group average and best-in-class results with the center being benchmarked. Upon analysis of the information collected, performance gaps and solutions can be identified.


For example, developing an effective work-force scheduling process or implementing software to provide automated service are two solutions for the issue of having customers on hold too long. Benchmarking can help validate your decision and identify what solution offers the largest effect and quickest return on investment.


This all sounds like a straightforward improvement initiative designed to benefit call centers and companies as a whole, but often there are issues and challenges that must be resolved before developing a benchmarking program.


For example, managers often think benchmarking will tell them only what is broken. Understandably, they are reluctant to provide support for the project. But a successful benchmarking study will highlight areas where the call center is performing well. In addition, it is perceived that solutions will be expensive and time-consuming. However, many results are achieved by minor operational adjustments.


To circumvent issues before they arise, create a tight synergy with the operations staff and the project sponsor so those involved are clear on the focus and goal of the project. Assign clear roles to project participants and timelines for data collection to avoid missed deadlines and miscommunication.


Another factor in designing a benchmarking program is identifying what processes should be benchmarked. Companies must decide based on the industry they are in and the information they seek. Should you choose to work with a consultant, be sure that person has taken the time to get to know your organization.


Another element that must be overseen closely are the metrics that will be benchmarked. Examples include talk time, single call resolution, abandonment and average speed of answer.


A good source for benchmarking best practices for call centers is Benchmark Portal. This database of more than 6,000 contact centers can be found at www.benchmarkportal.com. This site developed through research done by Purdue University and provides data to call center managers via a series of unique, actionable reports.


With these reports, managers can compare their performance against an appropriate peer group of call centers and make optimal, quick decisions regarding capital investment, personnel, operational procedures and other areas. Through its reports, Benchmark Portal aims to contribute to the continuous improvement of individual call centers and, ultimately, to improve the performance of this sector as a whole.


However, do not use the results or comparisons to build a service goal or change standards without taking the time to ensure they are in line with the center. A best practice is good only if it meets the need.


Companies can use the benchmarking results to identify performance gaps and changes that need to be made. Once the comparison to the peer group is complete, a company can make the decision to be more aggressive in gaining market share and making the needed improvements. Benchmarking gives companies the tools to take stock of their operations and processes, whether in the contact center or any other part of their business.


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