CRM in the contact center sees little progress

A review of contact center priorities and performance 10 years ago and today finds that CRM initiatives like customer lifetime value have taken a backseat to finding efficiencies.

For the past 10 years, Dimension Data plc has been benchmarking contact center performance across hundreds of performance

metrics at contact centers around the world.

The release of its latest Contact Center Benchmarking Report gave the Hauppauge, N.Y.-based IT services firm the opportunity to reflect on the progress contact centers have made over the years, and when it comes to CRM, the results are less than encouraging.

"If you look at the benchmarking, the 10-year comparisons of the single view of the customer has decreased by 15%," said Stephen Loring, business development manager for customer interactive solutions at Dimension Data Americas. "Long-term CRM did not take off due to enterprises' emphasis on cost cutting and short-term results."

Consider some of the solutions CRM systems were supposed to provide, and contact centers are worse off today than they were 10 years ago. According to the report, for example, the percentage of contact centers that have a single view of the customer across all channels decreased from 40% to 34%, contact centers that are able to measure and use customer profitability decreased from 25% to 18%, and contact centers that can measure and use customer lifetime value decreased from 14% to less than 10%.

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"Contact centers have gotten better at being multi-functional -- integrating sales and marketing to upsell to clients -- but as far as measuring the long-term value of the client, we see that decreasing," Loring said. "In essence, the CRM model has probably fallen in favor of overall performance in the contact center and trying to keep people -- both on the agent side and client side -- happier."

Whereas contact centers in 1997 were viewed as a key driver of CRM initiatives, integrating sales and service, for example, and adopting a customer-oriented approach, today the focus has shifted back to increasing efficiency. That's reflected in the increased focus on workforce optimization and self-service, Loring said.

Those efficiencies are paying off in some ways. Ten years ago, 6% of calls were handled by an interactive voice response (IVR) system. Today, more than 15% of calls go through an IVR. In fact, live voice interactions accounted for 90% of customer contacts in 1997 and have since fallen to 50%.

"The fact that clients have adopted the use of these self-service channels has been an enormous benefit to the businesses," Loring said.

However, the move toward self-service has made existing interactions more complex and customers more fickle.

  • Call-abandon rates increased almost 127% from 6% of calls in 1997 to nearly 14% of calls last year.
  • Average time-to-answer jumped from 23 seconds to 39 seconds.
  • Callers now abandon calls after waiting an average of 45 seconds, compared with 53 seconds in 1997.
  • Average call duration is now 237 seconds, a 30% increase from 187 seconds 10 years ago.

The most widely used key performance indicators, according to the report, are customer satisfaction, measured by 87% of contact centers, and customer complaints, measured by 80%.

Retaining skilled agents and supervisors continues to be a challenge for contact centers. Respondents reported that attrition reached 27% in 2007, and absenteeism rose to 11% last year. That's led to an increase in outsourcing. In the past 10 years, outsourcing has increased 220%, from 5% of agent seats to 16%.

For all the talk of "voice of the customer" initiatives and organizations' making their customer service a competitive differentiator, few seem to be doing it.

"They don't seem to be doing what they're preaching," Loring said. "If you look at the customer lifetime value issue, that's a big component, and they're not measuring it."

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