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Benchmarks and Standards Cannot Replace Sound Decisions

Are you establishing strategic and operational objectives for your contact center? Step out in front of the crowd!

Contact center directors and managers desperately want good information. They want to know where they stand; what customers expect; what they must do to deliver great service; and which changes are cost-effective and will best meet customer needs. They want facts upon which to base sound decisions.

But could it be that too many contact center professionals are over-emphasizing the value of finding out what everyone else is doing, rather than in developing and working towards the objectives best for their own organizations?

If so (and I’ll let you be the judge) it’s not hard to understand why. An ever-changing economic and regulatory environment—along with dramatic developments in social, mobile and other new forms of access—has led to shifts in strategy and operational objectives at many organizations. The changes have quickly rendered industry surveys obsolete and left managers without a sufficient "gut" sense.

During seasons of significant change in our industry, we can become obsessed with mass comparison. What are others doing? Most inquiries I get about industry benchmarks or standards are really a way of asking about the objectives that should be set. (Typical questions include, what is the norm for first call resolution? channels offered? cost per contact? average handling time? service level? turnover?) But an industry benchmark tells you what others, on average, are doing. In a season when channels are proliferating, mobile and social are changing expectations, and customer sentiment is mixed at best, we need to raise the bar—not lock it where the public perceives it to be now.

Marketing guru Seth Godin wonders, “Why is it so hard for organizations to understand what Tony [Hsieh] did with customer service at Zappos? ... He insisted that the operators be trained and rewarded to take their time and actually be human, to connect and make a difference instead of merely processing the incoming. People hear this, see the billion dollars in goodwill that was created, nod their heads and then go back to running an ‘efficient’ call center.” (Seth Godin blog, June 11, 2013).

There's no alternative to your team thinking through your organization’s unique brand and approach, both to identify the right questions and the answers that work. That effort inherently puts renewed importance on contact center dynamics, and how they work. For example:

  • Maybe your first call resolution rate is lower than what similar organizations say they are achieving. You may be among the minority of centers measuring the rate rigorously enough for it to be meaningful. Similarly, your service level objective may be lower than those for comparable organizations. But if you are diligent about measuring and achieving it every increment—including Monday mornings—you may be ahead of the pack.
  • Your center's average handling time (AHT) may be higher than the usual. But if you are using that time to prevent repeat calls, streamline processes and capture information that can improve R&D on products and services, your call load (AHT x number of calls), associated costs and innovation may be better than the norm.
  • Your span of control may be different than the common 10 or 12 agents per supervisor. But if you have a team-oriented environment, experienced agents and low turnover, a higher span of control (more agents per supervisor) may make sense. Alternatively, if you have a new or highly complex environment, and the need to provide more ongoing monitoring and coaching, a lower ratio may be best.

The examples can go on, for virtually any strategic and operational objective. The point: Arriving at sound decisions must win out over trying to emulate industry norms. Don't mistake so-called standards for easy answers to your organization’s most important questions.

An important lesson that has emerged from our work with contact centers of all shapes and sizes over the years is that outstanding centers—those making the most significant contributions to their organizations' success—did not achieve exemplary levels of performance by acquiring benchmark reports and imitating what they found. More often than not, they bucked the trend.

By all means, do your homework. And, yes, that can and should include staying in the know on what’s happening across our profession. But go much further. Think about your organization’s brand promise and what that means to the services you provide. Learn all you can about the process of establishing contact center objectives, and how variables are interrelated. Develop a solid customer access strategy and tie it in with your organization’s overall strategic objectives. Set supporting objectives that make sense for you. Then, be bold and step out of the crowd! 

This is a time of change and development in our profession, and we need leadership, not just mass comparison and imitation. That's what will elevate the role of customer interaction, and earn contact centers the support and strategic roles they should have.

Please drop me a note with your stories, comments, feedback… I’d love to hear from you.

More Resources

Webinar: Don’t Hang Up on Me! Leveraging Outbound to Improve Agent Efficiency & Increase Customer Loyalty
Whitepaper: Big Data? Better Data! The Value of Data in Today's Contact Center
Research: A WOW CUSTOMER JOURNEY! Actionable Data in Today’s Multichannel Contact Center
Training: ICMI OnDemand All-Access Training Pass