Is Your Customer Part of Your Benchmark Process?

By Dr. Jodie Monger

Eventually, each contact center manager gets the question from upper management, “How does that compare to other contact centers?” If you haven’t been asked yet, you can be sure that the question is coming. Prepare yourself and use the response to your advantage by highlighting your understanding of the industry and benchmarking.

As we gauge ourselves against others in the contact center industry, we do so in an effort to effect change to our service delivery. To create a competitive advantage, benchmarking became part of the way the contact center would set goals and operating targets. We want to be as good as or better than our competition. This is the fact that needs to be demonstrated when we are asked how we compare. But one important question must be asked here – are we comparing ourselves to the right group? If the answer is “No,” or if you don’t know, the benchmarking data you are using could be completely irrelevant. Most direct competitors are not willing to share their performance metrics and if they are, you should be somewhat wary. Therefore, we need to depend on benchmarking projects that provide scores for your specific industry.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that while there are several ways to benchmark the performance of your contact center, when all is said and done and the results are in, it is your clients that have the final say if you have best practices. The benchmarking process can be divided into two parts: practices and metrics. The tendency, especially in contact centers, is to concentrate on the metrics part and forget the practices part. It is easy for managers to work with the metrics and quantitative targets to identify quickly where the contact center stands against the competition. It is important to have comparable information so you can have the confidence to say we need to make some changes, because our performance is not where it needs to be. The problem with this approach is that you cannot identify why the gap exists just by analyzing the metrics.

This is why the practices part is such a useful aspect of the benchmarking process. It allows you to identify the methods behind the metrics in order to identify why the gaps may exist. Just looking at the metrics can mislead and defeat the purpose of why you are doing benchmarking in the first place.

Another way contact centers seem to defeat the purpose of benchmarking is by chasing the performance goals of only one or two perceived leaders in contact center performance. Contact centers that do this will always be putting out fires and constantly have a new initiative that is doomed to fail because what is right for one organization is not always right for another.

So let’s say you end up going about your benchmarking project the right way. You combine metrics and practices so the numbers have life and can be understood more completely. You compare your metrics to a relevant sample of other contact centers that have similar attributes, trying to get as close to an apples-to-apples comparison as possible. Based on these assumptions, the benchmark results should allow you to make well-educated business decisions on how to become a best in class contact center.

Whoa, stop right there. You are missing the most critical piece of the puzzle – your clients and their callers. The biggest question that results from a benchmarking report is how the metrics align with caller satisfaction. The efficiency data must be overlapped with the effectiveness data. Unfortunately, this is rarely an output from benchmarking projects and it is critical to the process to address this factor.

You know what your metrics are and now you know from benchmarking what metrics are identified as best practice for your industry. Validate your performance metrics with your clients and callers to determine if there are deficiencies. If there are no gains to be had by getting to the best-of-the-best metric, why announce that as a goal and expend the energy and resources?

Without the client and their caller to validate your metrics, your decision making process is flawed. Therefore, before you set out to make big changes in your contact center because of what the benchmark results told you, take some time and find out what your customers think and whether the desired changes would even improve their service experience with your company. Your response to upper management can be to either defend your metrics or defend your case to make changes if you have these caller data points. Caller opinions of service delivery are truly the key data points and these are not generally covered in benchmarking studies; other methodologies must be used.

Should you not benchmark operational metrics anymore? That is not what I am saying. You need to take everything into account when answering the comparability question and realize who has the final decision on world class service. It is your customer, not you or me, who makes that judgment – unless of course I am your client or caller.

Jodie Monger, Ph.D., is the president of Customer Relationship Metrics, LC. For more information, contact Jim Rembach at 877-550-0223,

[From the Fall 2004 issue of AnswerStat magazine]