Call centers becoming less client-driven?

update Contact centers have, in the past decade, made "minimal progress" in being customer-focused, a new global study reveals.

update Not much has changed over the last decade in efforts by contact centers globally to enhance customer management and experience, a new study has found.

One telling statistic: the proportion of contact centers that possess the capability to obtain a single view of the customer.

According to the 2008 Datacraft/Dimension Data Global Contact Centre Benchmarking Report, only 34 percent of respondents from 300 contact centers in 36 countries worldwide indicated they have established this. In contrast, in 1997, 39 percent of call centers had a single view, while another 45 percent indicated they planned to do so within two years.

Call centers are also relying on more basic efficiency metrics as opposed to more advanced customer-oriented KPIs (key performance indicators) such as customer lifetime value and profitability. Less than 10 percent have the capability to measure lifetime value of customers, while 18 percent have adopted profitability as a metric.

Eleven percent of contact centers are not measuring customer satisfaction, said Datacraft.

Asia fares well

According to Karina Majid, Datacraft Asia’s general manager for customer interactive solutions, contact centers in the region appear to be playing a stronger role in their organization's CRM strategy.

Call centers in Asia scored above the global average in the ability to deliver personalized or segmented services most of the time, and also reported higher customer satisfaction scores.

In addition, Asian set-ups are spending a higher proportion (9.6 percent) of their operating expenditure on technology infrastructure and support, compared with peers from other regions (7.6 percent). This augured well, as organizations that do not have a clear CRM or customer strategy play would be less forthcoming to further invest in technology to improve the efficiency and delivery of service to their customers, she explained in an e-mail Tuesday.

Separately, Oracle reported Tuesday that there has been significant growth from the contact center market across the region, particularly in markets such as China, India and the Philippines.

Will Bosma, Oracle's vice president for specialty sales in the Asia-Pacific region, said in an e-mail: "[Contact centers] are seeking a solution that enables routing, queuing and distribution of phone calls, e-mail, chat, fax and Web communications to agents anywhere in the enterprise--in a contact center or remote location. Interactive voice response, preview and predictive dialing, and call recording…are also in high demand."

In addition, only about one in five contact centers engage in customer management activity such as initiating an outbound customer contact as a result of an inbound call. The report noted that less priority is being placed on increasing customer value through integrated sales and service or CRM (customer relationship management) initiatives.

Contact centers have made "minimal progress" in adopting a more CRM-based approach, Karina Majid, Datacraft Asia’s general manager for customer interactive solutions, pointed out in a company statement Monday.

"These findings indicate that the development of a more holistic and sophisticated approach to customer management is less of a priority than it was 10 years ago, "said Majid. "There is a back-to-basics trend with contact centers focusing more on basic performance efficiencies and cost reduction."

Furthermore, contact centers are increasingly becoming less driven by creating direct customer relationships, marking a "major shift away from the tenets of CRM over the last decade", she noted. The number of organizations that placed creating direct customer relationships among the top three commercial drivers fell from over 50 percent in 2007, to 16 percent today.

Despite the statistics, Datacraft reported that it was clear that organizations increasingly view and position contact centers as central to fulfilling service or CRM strategies. To be able to do that, however, the IT services company said better measurement was needed.

To better cope with changing customer and business demands, contact centers need to put in place a well-defined products and technology roadmap, according to Datacraft.

"The modern contact center in 2008 needs to leave manual processes behind and the true measure of success should be the basic requirement of resolving calls first time and meeting customer needs," said the report. "Businesses and contact centers that understand how future technologies can help them cut costs and give them flexibility will see a real benefit for themselves and their customers."

Globally, the global contact center market is worth about US$130 billion a year, according to Datacraft estimates. Additionally, consulting firm Frost and Sullivan recently indicated that call centers in the Asia-Pacific raked in US$665.4 million in 2007.

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