Editor Review of the TARP 1997 Teleservice Benchmarking Studies.

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

When the Information Age Customer appeared on the marketing radar screens of Corporate America in the late 70's, documented in what has become known as the TARP-studies, it signalled the birth of the Call Centre Industry. Customer Care & the proliferation of Customer Service Call Centres became a strategic issue, when TARP published The 1985 TARP- Update study. No other single research project has had a more profound influence on the rise of the Phone Channel as a Distribution Channel. However the lack of Call Centre Know How in the form of Academic research and formalised education left the Call Centre field wide open and the Industry has for the last 10 years primarily been technology driven with little or no regard for the Outcomes of Call Centre activity. The disappointing 1994 Tarp Call Centre Benchmark study was conducted primarily based on the premises set by the Call Centre Industry - and made no attempt to tie in Call Centre Operations with the businesses Outcomes - it reinforced the idea that primary Call Centre benchmarks were all tied into Technology, i.e. Number of Calls, Length of Calls.

This NEW, and it is completely new, TARP 1997 Benchmark Study revamps the notion of what to benchmark in a Call Centre. In fact the painstaking work done by TARP to establish a set of new Call Centre Benchmarks focussed on outcomes will become another Milestone in the development of Call Centre Strategies. Most Call Centre Managers will have to rethink and rework the entire strategic foundation of their Call Centre to integrate with the business purpose of the rest of the Company. It's poetic justice that this study has been funded primarily by TelCo's who via their Call Centre Consulting activities have been instrumental in the past of feeding the ill-conceived Call Centre benchmarks to their corporate Call Centre clients.

The TARP 1997 Benchmarking Reports will over time have the same profound influence on How-we-go-to-market strategies as the TARP-studies which started it all.

The biggest surprise to come out of TARP 1997 is documentation that Australia is way behind in Call Centre Customer Service compared with the US, Canada, New Zealand and the UK. Not only is Australian companies less likely to measure Customer Satisfaction, when it is measured, Australia comes out at the bottom of the list.

(Note BIC = Best in Class).

Why ? Probably the TARP 1985 Update study never got the audience in Australia it had in rest of the Western World. Two reports seem to have gone unnoticed in Australia - "Consumer Complaint Handling in America" & "Increasing Customer Satisfaction through Effective Corporate Complaint Handling" both published by the United States Office of Consumer Affairs in 1985, based on the Tarp Update Study. In these reports a compelling case is presented why Customer Care is not an expense but rather a worthwhile investment which takes cost out of selling and marketing. Maybe it also explains the trend in Australia to outsource such activities, not to improve customer satisfaction, but reduce the cost of Customer Care ( recent examples that come to mind is the Victoria Ambulance Services, Airline Frequent flyer fulfilment, The Fly Buys program, American Express Loyalty Program, not to mention the current stampede by State Governments to outsource all Phone Channel interaction with its citizens). A move in the opposite direction is the current roll-out of "The Agency" by the Federal Department of Social Security attempting to give "customers" one contact point to all of its services. Unless the cost of Customer Care is viewed as a strategic investment to reduce the Sales & Marketing costs of an organisation we will probably continue to see a decline in Australian Customer Satisfaction and an increase in marketing efforts luring new customers based on low-prices (according to the TARP Update study such customers are less profitable because they are less loyal).

It's noteworthy that the Tarp1997 Study highlights that Australian (& NZ) Call Centres are less willing to actually measure Customer Satisfaction and internally employee satisfaction.

The four reports that make up the TARP 1997 Teleservice Benchmarking Studies are filled with insights, facts and figures which will allow most Call Centre Managers to rework and rethink own Benchmarks. Some of the reports findings are rather trivial... of course the Best in Class do things better, by definition I would have thought. But in my view this study will help Call Centres redefine their role and make the transition into the 21'st Century to become the Customer Contact Centre handling all customer interaction made possible by the Information Age Technology.

Niels Kjellerup, editor

Ashgrove, July 27 1997.

The Call Centre Managers Forum , all rights reserved 1997.

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