May 14, 2002, 12:00 AM

Call center response to online queries falls short of shopper expectations

A Hackett Best Practices survey finds 78% of call centers take more than 12 hours to respond to e-mail inquiries—and 22% take more than three days.


Call center response to online customer queries isn’t keeping up with customers’ expectations about service levels and channel choices, according to a new study by Hackett Best Practices, a division of research firm Answerthink Inc. In a survey of call center practices that included several major retailers as well as other industry sectors, Hackett found that 78% of call centers with online channels average response times of more than 12 hours -- a disincentive for consumers to use that lowest-cost channel. 22% of this group averaged three or more days for online responses.

In addition, only 38% of typical call centers have a complete history of customer contacts available to representatives online. By contrast, what Hackett terms “world-class” call centers have systems that provide agents with the customer data necessary to personalize service to individual callers

And the problems aren’t just on the customer-facing side. Within their own walls, only 62% of the firms surveyed have a process in place to adequately measure their call center’s contribution to customer loyalty and product and brand image. The survey also found that at top call centers, an average 20% of staff time is devoted to decision-support processes such as training, performance management and strategic planning. Though such activities aren’t always implemented at lower-cost operations, they are worth the investment: the survey found that top call centers which invest the time are able to deliver higher levels of service at an average 17% lower cost per contact than other call centers.

Technology such as a platform that prioritizes calls or automatically passes more complex inquiries off to more skilled agents can help improve call center performance, but that’s only part of the answer, according to Hackett managing director Richard Roth. “Achieving excellence requires a commitment not just to best practices in technology deployment, but to best practices in organization and processes as well,” he says.


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