The Purdue Page. Ask Dr. Jon -

The Purdue Page. Ask Dr. Jon

The Purdue Page

We are now six months into our government call center benchmark study, and already we have some very interesting results. Overall, we are pleasantly surprised at the performance of government call centers at the federal, state and local municipality levels. As you can see from the chart on the left, the majority of agents in government call centers are full-time employees as compared to outside contractors (temps). From the chart on the right, it is interesting to note that agents working in federal call centers spend almost 20% of their time handling e-mail. Our public sector research is sponsored by American Management Systems, and an interim report is now available. The study will be completed this June.

The Purdue benchmark research has been conducted since 1995. Purdue currently holds data for more than 3,000 call centers. To learn about how to participate in some of Purdue University's new benchmark research, please visit

Ask Dr. Jon

Q. I am interested in learning the average agent population of in-house call centers in the US, and the same for outsourced call centers (mainly doing telemarketing and customer support). – Ritesh Srivastava

A. Ritesh, the average number of workstations for an in-house call center in the US is 78. The average for outsourced centers in the US is 250. There are about 100,000 call centers in the US if you include inbound plus outbound centers and internal help desks.

Q. We are a utility company with a 24×7 call center. I have 90 agents and four (non-supervisory) team leaders, who currently have from 20 to 25 agents on their teams. In addition, I have three supervisors. I believe we need another lead. The span is far too wide for the leads to effectively field questions, take escalated calls, mentor, coach and track attendance and availability. My boss thinks I am creating a bureaucracy.- Kate Tallmadge

A. Our benchmark research indicates that the typical team leader would mentor between 15 and 20 people at most. You're definitely much too lean. The best way to convince your boss that you are not creating a bureaucracy is to benchmark all of your performance metrics with other utilities of the same size (peer group). If you are performing substantially below average compared to your peer group of utilities, you may find it much easier to justify more team leaders.

Q. We have a call center that processes about 750,000 calls per year and a Web site that receives about 900,000 hits per month. We are thinking of adding a very visible “CONTACT US BUTTON” to the Web site. The question at hand is how do we determine how many e-mails we would receive a month. Do you have any information about what has happened at other companies? – Robert Hankin

A. Americans love e-mail. From our studies, I would forecast you will receive one email for every 200 NEW visitors to the website. The definition of Web site “hits” is too vague, and often far exceeds the number of new visitors.

Q. I am currently proposing that my call center implement a structured behavioral interview. Do you know of any research that shows how much this can reduce turnover in a call center? – Liz Vermeil

A. We have studied the impact of the following pre-employment screening techniques for reducing turnover: 1. Aptitude testing can result in turnover reductions of about 10%, 2. Realistic job previews can result in turnover reductions of about 8%, and, 3. Structured behavioral interviews can result in turnover reductions of about 3%.

Q. I am interested in learning how much time a call center supervisor spends on average monitoring, providing feedback and coaching their agents. Do you offer any statistics or information regarding how much time should be dedicated to monitoring in general? – Natalie Cook

A. From our database, supervisors are monitoring and coaching 58% of their time on average. This varies considerably by industry and in particular by the function of the call center.

Q. Thank you for providing your “Ask Dr. Jon” resource. We are in the health care industry. Would you happen to know the percentage of abandoned callers that call back, and how many times they try to call back? Also what is the average time before abandoning? – Denise Henderson

A. In the health care industry, the average time before abandoning is 128 seconds. On average 90% of the callers will call back, and if they do not get through, they will try at least 3 additional times to reach you.

Q. I'm doing some research relating to the economics surrounding call centers. One number that would be of interest to me is the cost of handling an inbound call for a large call center, namely one with 100 seats. I also want to know the average number of seats in a commercial call center for a Fortune 500 company. – Terry Mayfield

A. The cost of handling an inbound call for a 100-seat call center varies greatly by industry and the type of call being handled. Two extremes would be $7.01 for financial services agents handling transactions, to $17.78 for technology products where agents “fix” complex problems over the telephone. On average across industries, Fortune 500 companies have 36 call centers with an average of 128 agents in each.

Q. What have you found to be true for most companies who have classroom training for their agents? Are the trainers management people, non-exempt administrative “specialist/trainers,” or “outside” trainers, including consultants? – Michael Wadsworth

A. Our data shows that 10% or less of classroom training is typically conducted by internal management people, 50% to 80% by in-house specialist/trainers, and 10% to 20% by outside training professionals.

Q. I'm trying to figure out an appropriate percentage of my budget to allocate to overtime expenses to handle calls during peak times rather than staff up for the peaks. – Matt O'Beirne

A. Matt, I am not aware of a specific article that addresses overtime issues in call centers. However, from our work in benchmarking call centers, I would suggest an average budget allotment of 10 – 15% for overtime. Almost all centers encourage overtime for handling unanticipated peak call volumes. Too much overtime may be detrimental causing burnout and increased turnover.

Q. I recently saw a survey of consumer electronics customers. More than half of the respondents cited automated systems as their number one irritant. I want to know exactly what solutions the industry is devising to deal with this issue. Since none of us has a money tree for unlimited personalized support, ensuring our customers can accept and use our technology without losing their loyalty is a critical issue. – Melanie Stensrud

A. Melanie, Americans love self-service when properly designed and implemented. The interactive voice response (IVR) approach has been a marginally acceptable solution for many callers, as was once more proven by the study that you site in your question. In the last couple of years, the technology of voice recognition has been seamlessly integrated with the IVR, allowing callers to actually “talk” with the IVR and conduct extensive self-service without any hassle. Our studies show that this new technology is a welcomed channel for self-service for customers. Person-to-person service is not critical in building loyalty. From our studies, the best customer service strategy is to implement every possible channel through which customers can “help themselves.” For example, the ATM, salad bar, self-serve gas stations, and thousands of similar applications of self service are successful because Americans are by nature “do-it-yourself” kind of people.

Have a question for Dr. Jon? Send him an e-mail at . Those selected for publication on this page will be awarded a copy of one of Purdue's World Class Call Center Tour CDs.

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