Are Contact Centers Maturing or Not?
October 09, 2009

Over five years ago I carried out what I can now see was the first benchmark research into the maturity of contact centers that I had seen. The whole idea was to take a look at the people, processes, information, and technology used by companies to operate their contact centers and to then classify the results into four levels of maturity: Tactical, Advanced, Strategic and Innovative.

The research results threw up a number of surprises. First of all they showed there was a higher than expected number of centers at the innovative level – 28% in fact, with 19% at strategic level, 33% at advanced and 21% at tactical. Deeper examination threw up what is the most surprising results which was that by region, centers outside North America and Europe had the highest percentage of innovative centers. Even deeper examination of the results showed this was due to one primary factor -centers outside these regions were much newer so were not hampered by bad practises and they were early adopters of new technology. Indeed what I found was that many of these centers were providing outsourced services so they had to operate on a commercial basis, they had to put in place more business oriented objectives and targets, and they had to monitor their performance much more closely so they could report against commercially enforceable service level agreements.

We also discovered that indeed size matters, especially when it comes to the adoption of new technologies. Large centers handle many thousands of calls so this has driven them to adopt innovative technologies just to make them as efficient as possible. So indeed it was centers run by telecommunication and retail finance companies that led the way in adopting new technologies.

What came across clearly in the results was that efficiency rules the day, with most centers operating under severe cost constraints. One clear example is that the primary performance measure was (and still is) average call handling time and even customer satisfaction scores come some way down the list.

Since this first benchmark I have conducted several more into the use of technology in contact centers, customer experience managementagent performance management and others, and each time I have mapped the findings using maturity models. Maybe it is because I have raised the bar but sadly if anything maturity levels have dropped since that first study. The primary reasons are that companies are not taking advantage of the innovative technologies that have come onto the market. Products such as intelligent call routing, smart agent desktops, speech and text analytics, customer feedback management, and customer analytics have seen some successes but it is still an even smaller percentage of innovative companies that have adopted them.

Another major barrier is that companies still seem to be sticking to the same performance measures they were using 5 years ago. Efficiency still rules the day and again only a small minority of innovative companies have supplemented these with more effective, or outcome measures. For example, managing agent performance has a direct correlation to customer experience (see “Contact Center Agent Performance Key for Customer Experience”).

So I ask myself, and you, along with I have written (see “When will Contact Centers Ger Smarter”) what needs to happen to once more raise maturity levels and begin delivering on some of the promises. The cry today is that the “customer is once more king” and that companies must improve the customer experience, especially when they call the contact center or use web self-service. It is as true today as it was 5 years ago that companies still have a lot of incumbent technologies and these are hampering the adoption of best practises. Maybe it will be that cloud-based solutions really will make new technologies more available and more affordable to more companies, and maybe social media sites will force companies to pay more attention to what customers are saying about them. This will lead to what very few organizations have achieved which is fulfilling on the grander vision of Customer Performance Management which I have outlined (see “Customer Performance Management”). If you have made progress on improving your maturity or have had issues in achieving it, let me know and would love to hear from you.

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Richard Snow - VP & Research Director


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