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FCR & Call Center Outsourcing: Clichéd? Yes. Significant? You Betcha!

Brian Cantor

Thanks to a consistent professional aspiration for innovation, topics like first call resolution and contact center outsourcing come across as unappealingly dated within customer management communities. You know—"out with the old, in with the new!"

Though many organizations rely on first call resolution as a metric, it is not a cutting-edge metric identified in conjunction with today’s multi-channel contact center and therefore strikes many as an antiquated relic of customer management’s past.

Outsourcing, meanwhile, is one of the most clichêd topics in all of business—you either love it for its efficiency benefits or hate it for its politics, but you do not anticipate any ground to be broken in its discourse.

But if everything in business had to be "exciting" or "cutting-edge," the major consumer goods and packaging companies would be looking at extinction rather than hundreds of billion dollars in revenue.

No, first call resolution is not one of the ultra-creative, ultra-subjective measures that thrives in a qualitative, social media-driven era of customer management. Outsourcing is not a thrilling new means of managing scale issues in the customer support process. But damn if they are not still immensely important topics within call center strategy.

CFI Group’s new whitepaper (available for free at CMIQ), which discusses the results of the "Call Center Satisfaction Index 2011," reveals just how relevant these supposedly tired, played-out issues are to customers. And in an era of increased reliance on customer experience delivery as a brand management tool and greater business driver, those who do not pay attention are the ones who are truly out of touch.

The first satisfied are the most satisfied

The correlation between first call resolution and customer satisfaction is staggering enough to justify calling any organization not relentlessly committed to the metric insane. The satisfaction rate for customers who have their issue resolved by a single agent on the first call is 83% (80% if a transfer is made). When a second call is required, the satisfaction rate dips to 73% (and 69%), while the need for three or more calls dips satisfaction levels to 49% (and 47%).

With online, self-service and social channels best equipped for handling "transactional" customer support issues, the door is theoretically open for call centers to handle "strategic" and relationship-driven calls, the bulk of which will require in-depth, engaging conversations between agent and customer. As a result, "old world" metrics like average handle time feel outdated; in the case of a strategic call, maximizing the engagement and delivering the most complete resolution will often supersede rapidity on the importance ladder.

Lumping first call resolution into this category is not, however, a wise course of action. Customers might be more tolerant—if not more demanding—of deeper responses to their strategic call center inquiries, but they still expect the organization to do everything in its power to resolve the issue on that initial call. First call resolution might be an "old world" call center metric, but it is certainly not an outdated one.

Given that reality, it is troubling that a large percentage of call center inquiries go unresolved on the initial contact. According to the CCSI, only 63% of calls garner FCR. Worse, 20% require three or more calls to locate their resolution.

For all that is changing about customer interactions amid the rise of multi-channel, the importance of attaining a desired brand outcome early in the engagement process is going nowhere. Instead of looking solely for new ways to measure contact center success, organizations should be paying at least some mind to determining how best to guarantee the value of first call resolution lives at every customer touch point.

Send customer support elsewhere, Send customers elsewhere

The abundance of dialogue in favor of insourcing call center operations and kickstarting at-home or virtual agent initiatives often comes across like vendor-driven demand generation. Businesses exist to make money, and if a clear opportunity to do so exists in the exploitation of stereotypes associated with offshoring, expect vendor after vendor to pursue it.

But that does not mean the dialogue in opposition to offshoring rings hollow. Customers, at least based on their sense of perception, strongly prefer domestic contact centers to those they believe are located overseas. And given the correlation between that preference and customer satisfaction outcomes, there is indeed merit to considering non-offshore means of boosting scale and efficiency.

The whitepaper confirms a 78% call center satisfaction index score for US-based call centers, as compared to just 60% for foreign ones. That is a staggering disparity, and one which has to weigh on the mind of customer management professionals and C-level executives who recognize the role customer experience plays in achieving a competitive advantage.

A key driver behind the satisfaction disparity is an across-the-board weakness in execution at offshore call centers. Those call centers perceived to be foreign more typically transfer customers to additional agents (40% to 24%) and require multiple calls to achieve resolution (66% to 34%). They are also 7% less likely (87% to 94%) to ever achieve overall resolution.

Other statistically-significant weaknesses are noted on categories like "representative knowledge," "representative demeanor," "ease of understanding," "policies and procedures" and "contact process."

Offshoring remains an inevitability—or at least an accepted fixture—in many industries, but it clearly is having a detrimental effect on customer satisfaction. Those who are competing on the customer experience need to strongly consider either revamping their outsourcing practices or turning attention to developing alternatives.

The full whitepaper, available for free at Call Center IQ, reveals more details on satisfaction and other findings on issues like multi-channel, social media and call strategy, with various industry-specific breakdowns. Check out the free Call Center Satisfaction Index 2011 now!