Roadmap to a Contact Center of Excellence

To improve performance you need to measure it

Those agencies that want to upgrade and improve their contact centers may first want to look at the way they measure performance in those centers. Getting an accurate picture of how well they are doing was important even when voice and, perhaps, e-mail were the only ways of doing things. These days, given the growing complexity of the contact center environment, it’s imperative.

In the short term, said Keith Dawson, contract center analyst at Ovum Research, government contact centers should focus on getting a better understanding of three aspects of their operations: process flows, call flows and customer touch points. This will provide them with insights into what customers are looking for when they first call the contact center, and it will provide a gauge of whether the center has all the necessary resources to handle those calls efficiently.

In the long term, government contact centers need to make sure they are keeping tabs on developments in the various channels through which people will be able to access contact centers.

“There are a lot of choices [agency contact centers] will have to make to meet their constituents’ demands, even with the current budget problems in government,” Dawson said. “That requires them to come up with better ways of getting customer feedback, which at least in the private sector is a constant.”

In government, however, it’s been as struggle. In a 2006 report, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) baldy stated that “There is no government wide guidance or standards for operating contact centers…..and few agencies use a full slate of recommended accuracy related oversight measures.”

Three years later, in a white paper aimed at the new Obama administration, the Government Contact Center Council (G3C) complained that there was still a lack of even minimal government-wide standards for measuring customer satisfaction and service delivery.

That might be changing, however. Individual agencies certainly are trying to improve on performance measures, while legislation now pending in the Senate would force government wide improvements. The Government Customer Service Improvement Act of 2013, a bipartisan measure in both chambers, would force agencies to adopt meaningful performance measures. The House passed it by unanimous consent at the end of July.

“For companies operating in the private sector, bad customer service means reduced profits and the risk of failure,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), a co-author of the Senate bill along with Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA). “While federal agencies don’t face that pressure, this bipartisan measure requires the development of customer service standards and performance measures at each agency.”

A fiscal 2011 survey of federal contact centers by GSA looked at a variety of key quantitative and qualitative performance indicators that centers could be using. The quantitative measures included such things as service level, average speed of answer and call abandonment rates, as well as agency busy rates, average talk time and e-mail turnaround time.

Qualitative methods included obtaining caller comments and direct feedback on customer service along with such things as call monitoring, quality assurance monitoring, a monthly review of incidents and contract performance indicators, and using the American Customer Satisfaction Index survey.

It’s important that agencies don’t just stop at customer satisfaction surveys, or even with key performance indicators, said Tonya Beres, contact center specialist at the GSA, and co-chair of the G3C. They also need to work what they find into a formal process for improvement.

“They need to look at data every time they come out and incorporate that feedback into the business process,” she said. “They need a way to take that through to the Web site, to the people who create email forms, and others. It’s up to us as contact center managers to let these other people in the organization know the value [of this data].”

The problem with contact center statistics is that they most often come after the fact, said Ron Woody, senior solution architect for Xerox Federal Services. If agencies aren’t comparing them with user demographics and using them to help improve the contact center performance, “then they’re not that useful,” said Woody.

“They need to be taking the information they are getting and use effective analytics to show them how [contact centers] are reacting day-to-day,” he said. “Then they can start using what they get from that, together with what they know about the demographics, to move forward.”