False Benchmarks

by Niels Kjellerup, editor & Senior Partner of Resource International.

False Benchmarks are the primary reason Call Centres end up in the Call Centre Scrap-heap with inadequate funding, dissatisfied staff and millions of dollars worth of second hand CTI & IVR equipment. Once a Call Centre looses the backing of its corporate benefactors, it’s destined for the Graveyard... and all this because of False Benchmarks?

The "benchmark cure all" syndrome.

The methodology of benchmarking was originally developed by IBM in the 60’ies to compare the relative performance of different computer hardware and software. It’s quite a precise scientific method to measure performances in terms of time and results of equipment. At about the same time Bell Laboratories of AT&T introduced benchmarking to test telecommunications equipment. Benchmarking for Call Centres started in America in the early 90’ies lead by Arlington Virginia (USA) based TARP, Inc.

TARP (Technical Assistance Research Programs); a company formed in the mid 70’ies to undertake the "Changes in Customer behavior"- study commissioned by the US Government and published as the TARP-report in 1979. The update study from 1986 further entrenched the fact that customers, consumer and business alike, demanded that companies care for them. A study by TARP in 1986 published by the Presidents Office for Consumer Affairs, focussed directly on Complaint handling.

The idea that Call Centres can be benchmarked originated inside the Telco’s own Call Centres (directory services, customer service). Philosophically, in the minds of a Telco, a Call Centre is a call producing machine to which the benchmarking methods are directly applicable. In the US Managers, needing to showcase their Call Centre activity, embraced the idea that their Call Centre was a call producing factory and TARP, with its well earned research credibility, ventured into Call Centre benchmarking for the private sector.

Ask yourself: "Is my Call Centre a call producing factory" ? If the answer is yes, the only revenue you’re getting credited with is the Phone bill, i.e. revenue to the phone company.

Yes, sure you need benchmarks to run your Call Centre , but what benchmarks?... that’s the question.

Is Call Centre Benchmarks studies really benchmark studies?

That the Call Centre Benchmark methodology is flawed becomes obvious, when you read the introduction to the 1994 Teleservices Benchmarking Research by TARP Inc. :

"Although TARPs 1994 Teleservice Benchmarking Research makes use of the term "Benchmarking", it is actually more academic research and comparative analysis than true benchmarking. While the findings and conclusions from this study confirm many of our beliefs about the characteristics of Best In Class Call Centres, we feel some obligation to recommend a guideline for interpreting the summary data. Specifically, we would advocate you concentrate on the key and significant findings, and exercise some caution when using the summary data for strict benchmarks since the study does encompass many different industries. The data reported in this Research Findings Manual may not have statistical significance however the key and significant findings are nonetheless compelling".

This very significant non-benchmarking disclaimer speaks highly of the TARP researchers who felt the need to include it. But tends to get ignored when Call Centre Managers want to show how their Call Centre meets Best in Class or even World Class benchmark standards.

The need for Call Centre Benchmarks?

As a manager you need to know how well your Call Centre is doing, and comparative studies (not benchmarking) will give you an idea, whereas a benchmarking process will make it crystal clear. However the first assumption is that you know what to benchmark.

If you buy into the philosophy that your Call Centre is a Call- producing factory then go ahead and accept the benchmarks used by telephony providers... number of calls, duration, Erlang distributions etc etc ... to determine viability of existing switching equipment, trunks and network installations.

No.. you say, this is not the business purpose of the Call Centre ? Then you’re in trouble because you have to develop your own benchmarking process and step by painful step decide what to benchmark. There aren't any prepackaged solutions, except to tell you that unless the benchmarks for your Call Centre tie into, and integrate with, the business purpose of your organisation, then its hard for senior management to understand what the Call Centre is doing and to evaluate and justify the costs of handling customer calls in a Call Centre environment.

The right Call Centre Benchmarks will help keep the Call Centre on track.

When you have created true relevant Benchmarks for your Call Centre and the performance reports indicate you’re doing well, then the "moronic productivity" pressures from management to handle more calls with fewer people, become a thing of the past. Such quantitative measures are the leftovers from using False Benchmarks in the belief that a call centre is Call-factory. Productivity measures in a benchmarked Call Centre will always reflect "The Improved value of customer interaction with the organisation caused by the Call Centre handling that customer".

It doesn't become easier to run a Call Centre, but at least you will feel there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Literature :

1. Benchmarking by Robert C. Camp. Published 1989 ASQC Quality Press. ISBN 0-87389-058-2

2. The Benchmarking Book by Michael J. Spendolini. Published 1992 American Management Ass. ISBN 0-8144-5077-6

3. Benchmarking the Call Centre by Jennifer Howe Senior Partner. Published 1997 by Resource International

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copyright 1998. All Rights Reserved. Resource International Pty Ltd