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Article : The Today and the Tomorrow of the Call Centre

Introduction to the Market Research Report

It is widely versed that it costs five times as much to attain a new customer as it does to retain an existing one. Despite this startling fact, the average U.S. corporation loses half their customers every five years, according to a Harvard Business Review* article. Therefore good customer service is of paramount importance to companies operating in today's competitive markets.

At the same time, people's lives, both personal and professional, are getting ever more hectic and therefore good, fast and effective service from suppliers is expected. As such, business has witnessed an astounding level of growth in the number of call centres across the globe, to the extent that the call centre industry in the UK currently employs over 1.5% of the UK workforce and this is predicted to rise to 2% by the year 2000, with the industry growing at 40% per annum. **

Call centres have received vast amounts of media coverage over the past two years and with more and more call centres being opened by a very broad spread of companies in diverse market sectors, this media frenzy looks set to continue. Interest is being further heightened with the entrance of a new means of communication for providing customer support - the Internet.

In light of the interest, but with little supporting documentation/statistics currently available in the marketplace, Cincom Systems set out to discover attitudes towards call centres, from the perspectives of both parties involved - the call centre agents and the customers/potential customers making/receiving calls. Also to gain their views as to the future of the call centre through the commissioning of this research. As a call centre solution provider such research and insight was perceived to be invaluable to Cincom, to assist the company in its tailoring of any future solution offerings.

Purpose of the Research

This study was commissioned and undertaken to form the first research to compare the views of the call centre agents against those on the other side - the customer or potential customer.

Within this overall objective, the purpose of the study was to discover what consumers really thought about call centres. How often were call centres actually used and what sort of call centre was accessed most frequently and for what reason? And then, when they were used, how good was the service provided by the call centre agent - what did they like about the service offered and what did they want to change about it? The survey also looked at how they preferred to communicate with a call centre and what changes they envisaged for the call centre over the next five years.

The study also investigated the professional profile of the call centre agent and what they liked most and least about their jobs, including how customers treated them. The research also questioned the technologies they used within the call centre and the methods for customers to communicate with them, both now and into the future.

This report summarises the key findings from the study.

Objectives

The objectives of the research were:
  • To ascertain how frequently consumers use call centres, which ones they call and the reasons for calling them and to determine what they like and dislike about using call centres
  • To investigate what consumers think of the service they receive from call centres
  • To uncover how consumers currently communicate and how they would prefer to communicate with call centres, whilst also ascertaining the methods of communication offered to customers by call centre agents
  • To ascertain the professional backgrounds to call centre agents and what they like most and least about their jobs
  • To discover agents' views on the future of call centres and to research the technologies used and uncover plans to implement new technologies

Methodology

100 telephone interviews were conducted among consumers, all of which were qualified as knowing exactly what a call centre was and having used one in the last month.

16% of respondents were aged between 18-30 years
57% were aged between 31 and 50 years
27% were over 50 years of age

An additional 100 interviews were carried out among call centre agents.
27% operating in the finance sector
24% operating in the telecommunications sector
11 % operating in the utilities sector
11 % operating in the travel sector
8% operating in the retail sector
the remaining 19% operating in other sectors
23% worked in call centres employing less than 100 agents
28% worked in call centres employing between 100 and 300 agents
14% worked in call centres employing between 300 and 500 agents
14% worked in call centres employing between 500 and 2000 agents

There was a fairly even split between male and female call centre agents. Many of the call centre agent respondents had been promoted to call centre managers. They were pre-qualified in order to ensure that they either handled calls or only recently had become managers and previously had been agents.

Key findings

Consumers

  • 29% of respondents claimed to use a call centre more often than once every 2 weeks, with as many as 7% claiming to call a call centre daily, translating to over 6.3 million calls placed every day, on average.
  • The bank call centre is accessed most frequently, with 53% claiming to call it frequently and 72% of these claiming to call it at least monthly, and a further 50% at least once a fortnight. The bank call centre is followed by telecoms and then utilities.
  • 59% call a call centre to get general information and 43% use them for buying or placing an order. Requesting financial details took third place with 40%.
  • 62% of callers rate the service they receive as either good or excellent, leaving 38% believing service is average or below, meaning more than one in three individuals are not impressed with the service they receive.
  • The catalogue call centre was ranked the most helpful, followed by bank and then telecoms.
  • 37% like using call centres as they are easy to use, 32% because they save time and 31 % due to the convenience of the one-stop-shop
  • 63% of respondents stated they had dislikes about using modern call centres. 29% dislike interactive voice response (IVR), 22% took exception to waiting times and 8% disliked not speaking to a real person
  • Posed with the question what would they change about call centres, one in five would like to se an improvement to waiting times and a reduction in IVR and 15% would like to speak to a real person.
  • 23% claim to have to wait for over 2 minutes to be connected to an agent. Only 20% state calls are answered within 30 seconds. 51 % found their average waiting time to be acceptable.
  • 32% state that the cost of the call does affect their decision to call a call centre or not. That said, only one in ten recognised 0845 as the pre-fix for a b-call, demonstrating that education needs to be undertaken by the call centres on this subject.
  • 99% access call centres by telephone, 8% communicate via letter and/or fax, 4% communicate via email and 2% via the web. 96% believed telephone provided the best service.
  • 91 % were less than very confident about the prospect of submitting requests to call centres by either fax, post, email or web and 22% were not at all confident
  • 90% believe there will be more on-line access over the next five years and 88% believe call centres will be more automated.
  • 66% of those with a preference, prefer to speak to females. 37% of those who had an opinion disliked the Scottish accent most, followed by 23% who were opposed to the Liverpudlian accent.

Agents

  • One in three call centre agents have less than one years experience
  • 64% of agents cover calls coming from both the UK and outside, but
  • 72% of agents which take calls from outside of the UK state they cannot speak any foreign languages.
  • 65% do not have qualifications relevant to the job. Time on the job does not affect this, as 61 % of those with more than two year's experience, still had no relevant qualifications.
  • 32% of call centres are open 24 hours a day and 78% of agents claim to work in excess of a 35 hour working week. Only 9% work less than 24 hours per week.
  • 44% think speaking to lots of people is the best aspect of the job, 37% like solving people's problems best, 20% liked the atmosphere and the variety of the calls.
  • 25% state their main dislike being abuse from callers and 12% state the stress of the job.
  • 17% receive complaints from callers about being kept waiting too long, at least once each day and an additional 19% receive this complaint several times each week.
  • 44% receive thanks from callers as frequently as ten times per day.
  • 56% switch between in-bound and out-bound calls. 73% of these prefer handling inbound calls. 55% of these are capable of switching themselves from their screens
  • 82% of agents offer customers fax access, 74% offer email/post access and 49% web access. Only 75% of agents felt these means to be as effective as telephone service
  • 90% believe there will be more on-line access over the next five years.
  • 82% of agents offer customers fax access, 74% offer email/post access and 49% web access. Only 75% of agents felt these means to be as effective as telephone service
  • 90% believe there will be more on-line access over the next five years.
  • Looking at technology usage, 75% use call routing, 60% use Caller Line Identification, 41 % use workflow and 39% provide remote access/teleworking facilities.
  • 49% can view a document at the same time as speaking to the customer on the phone. 90% of those unable to do so, would like to be able to do so.
  • Only 32% were familiar with the term CRM. 16% believe it's just more jargon.
  • 71% believe there will be more agents working from home in the next five years and 96% envisaged an increase in the number of call centres and 55% believed call centres would become less people based. 87% believed calls would be dealt with more electronically.

*Harvard Business Review, March-April, 1996, Frederick F Reichheld **A report by the Call Centre Association and the Oxford Group, 1998

Benchmark Research is an independent research company.

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Published: Monday, April 21, 2003

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