The size of contact centres

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Greetings! In this week's Customer Contact Bulletin I would like to focus on the size of contact centres.

In the Bulletin last week I highlighted the differing size of contact centres in Europe and the US. US larger, European smaller. There are many factors that influence contact centre size:

- The big issue is the availability of skilled resource close at hand. As contact centres use rather more skilled individuals the number who can be recruited locally is rather low.

- Increasing shift complexity, in order to build good quality of service figures economically, means that call centres want short travel times for their CSRs/agents. (Also helps in using call staff to help with surges in demand)

Short travel times and large recruitment areas lead to more, smaller centres. At the same time the ability to link call centres at the telecoms network level has become better and better, so that Erlang efficiencies can still be gained.

There is also the maturity of the business structure as well. To start with, when a large organisation is considering setting up a call centre there were often large political pressures for each region to have its own, under local control. It was held by many that local accent and local knowledge was important. We now know this to not be the case at all with national, and indeed international centres now being the norm.

Accent only occasionally comes into play, and I am not sure then that it is accent but cultural outlook that may be significant. The cultural separation between a laid-back south Mississippi farmer and an up-market up-town New Yorker may make meaningful dialog hard, not least because of the relative speed of delivery.

The size of the market is a big driver as well. A country like Belgium with a relatively small population is inevitably going to produce smaller call centres than larger countries such as Germany.

It is ironic perhaps that D.K Erlang was from Denmark, not a country associated with very large call centres, though in my experience typically with rather sophisticated data technology.

Erlang of course, says that bigger is better, and even with the fashionable amendments to his formulae this is, in pure
productivity terms, true. However the levelling off that occurs above 100 or so seats does not make it a really big issue. Anyway, the use of Intelligent Networks (IN) (aka ICR) means that we only need to consider virtual rather than physical size.

Economies of technology scale are very important as well. Implementing, running and controlling a number of LANs is far harder than just one, and support costs can increase costs even more.

The very rate of change in business practice and technology adoption has had a major impact. Changing what 1,000 people do in one place is harder than changing what 50 people do in 20 places. Maybe I really mean that if you have 20 sites of 50 you can try a new approach and get it to work before rolling this out to the other sites. The sheer culture of a large centre and the number of people involved slows down innovation.

Watch out though - the management challenges of running a call centre network are quite different to the challenges of running a single site. Sites can compete, have contracts to deliver specific service with the centre, and there are many other models; however the key issue is "Who is responsible for the overall service?". In a network it can be very easy for each site to expect the others to take the load while they slope off.

Taking all these into consideration we come down really to fundamental constraints. If the population in your locality is too expensive, or has the wrong skills, then you have no choice but to network, otherwise spin off just one or two specific incubation sites to trial ideas and keep the big centres efficient.

That's it for this week. Next issue I hope to look at CTI and its place in modern contact centres.

If you have any comments or feedback, you can add them to this article - or simply email me at: sberesford@crm-forum.com

Best regards,

Simon Beresford

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