Center Research Laboratory
The Call Center Research Laboratory at The University of Southern Mississippi is a research facility dedicated to working with stakeholders in the dynamic global call center industry utilizing research-based scientific discovery, technology development, and education to produce value-added products and services.
Our services are of special interest to the following call center industry segments:
Companies and corporations that run call centers
Call center vendors and technology services
Economic developers (site selection)
Call Center Managers/Directors
Turnover is the single most difficult issue ailing the call center industry. This problem is not just an issue within the United States-based call centers; it affects centers all over the world. Even though the nature of call center work can drive many employees away, effective management strategies are available that can be learned, adopted, and measured to ensure long term turnover reduction success within a call center. The CCRL has worked with call centers throughout the country with both high and low turnover rates and has distilled down key management strategies to permanently reduce turnover in a call center.
a call center strategy
Running a call center day to day is an exhaustive job. Most of a manager’s time is spend focusing on local issues within the center. However, without a strategy in place to align the call center to the overall organizational mission with appropriate tactical steps, a call center and its management can become misaligned with a parent company or organization which can lead to problems of mission and function over time. The CCRL has extensive experience in working with individual call center managers and directors to outline a strategy for their call center to ensure that it is operating at peak efficiency while at the same time it is aligned with the parent organization mission and quarterly and annual expectations.
a Return on Investment (ROI)
One of the more difficult challenges of a call center manager is to justify its annual budget to the parent company or organization. This is especially true for inbound centers which have been characterized as “cost centers.” Being able to measure a return on investment for a call center is a critical step in being able to articulate the value of a call center to an overall organization. Moreover, it is not only just important to be able to measure an ROI, but also to be able to communicate this value in the language of the company or organization-money. The CCRL has worked closely with Drs. Patti and Jack Phillips of the ROI Institute to a construct time-tested ROI measurement tool for the call center industry.
with your local economic developer
Many call center managers and directors do not know all of the economic development benefits available to them and their center. These benefits may come in the form of equipment tax credits, tax abatement, training services for employees, training reimbursement, or discounts on land and buildings. These benefits are often available not only to the new employer in town but also to an employer of a significant number of local employees every few years. The CCRL has worked with local economic developers throughout the country and catalogs the various and shifting benefits a call center manager can take advantage of within their community.
Customers are the source of revenue, directly or indirectly, for all call center revenue. Without customers, call centers, companies, and organizations will fail to exist. However, understanding customer behavior is not a simple task for these people behave in various ways that often seem contradictory. The CCRL has extensive experience in measuring (both quantitative and qualitative) customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Just as call centers are often the “face” of a company to the customer, call center employees are the voices that these customers hear and count on to solve problems and delivery services. If employee satisfaction is low this message will be broadcast to all customers. If employee satisfaction is high, the customers will know that the company or organization they are doing business with is well liked by the front line staff in the call center. The CCRL has years of experience in measuring call center employee satisfaction and bringing to the table tangible, real, and effective action items to help improve employee satisfaction within the call center and subsequently the message being broadcast to the customer.
The number and type of metrics within a call center differ from each call center and sometimes even between call centers within the same organization. The purpose of such metrics is to ensure that the call center is running effectively in a measurable way and that the employees on the phones are productive. Most of metrics available today and the fact that these metrics are often embedded and pre-programmed into the technology, there is often little room for a manager to be creative. The CCRL offers call center managers help in defining the appropriate metrics for their center, with the understanding that all call center are not the same and thus each will require unique metrics. Moreover, the CCRL can also assist the manager in creating the appropriate measurement tools to ensure the new metrics created are measured accurately and consistently over time. In this manner, the manager and their goals drives the center versus the metrics driving the center for the manager.
Because labor cost account for approximately 85% of total call center costs, having productive employees is not ideal, it is an absolute requirement. However, measuring productivity is not an easy task. The CCRL has the experience to assess an existing center and with consultation with the center manager create, test and launch appropriate employee productivity measures for a call center.
Call Center Vendors and Technology Providers
testing your products
The CCRL lab offers beta testing of products from computers and software application to desks, chairs, headsets, and other commodities that are purchased for call center operations. The CCRL offers beta testing, measurement and feedback to vendors who may not have the existing internal capacity to beta test and measure their own product’s capabilities or seeks a third-party independent evaluator of their product before alpha testing and determining product launch.
testing your products
The CCRL lab offers alpha testing of products from computers and software application to desks, chairs, headsets, and other commodities that are purchased for call center operations. The CCRL offers alpha testing, measurement and feedback to vendors who may not have the existing internal capacity to alpha test and measure their own product’s capabilities or seeks a third-party independent evaluator of their product before determining product launch.
The CCRL lab offers final evaluation of products from computers and software application to desks, chairs, and other commodities that are purchased for call center operations. The CCRL offers product testing to vendors who seek a third-party independent evaluator to measure and report the performance of a product or product(s) that are soon to go to market or those that are already on the market.
comparison testing (head to head)
Because competition is fierce in the call center industry, distinguishing one company’s product from the others is a critical step to a products succeeding in the call center industry. The CCRL offers head to head independent testing, measurement and reporting of products from computers and software application to desks, chairs, headsets and other commodities that are purchased for call center operations. This gives a company the data necessary to distinguish their product(s) from the competition and devise a strategy to market their product as a superior, better performing, lower maintenance, longer-lasting or less expensive.
The CCRL, because of its connection with a research university, offers services to work with existing vendors in improving existing products or product lines and/or assistance in creating new products. Companies often do not have the internal research capacity to develop new products due to the concentration of many companies on sales and existing services. The CCRL is dedicated to being a company’s new and existing product research and development arm.
Find the right site for your call center is critical since it helps set the tone of the center and its potential success or failure. Because call center are a labor intensive industry, it is critical that the correct data collection tools are used in evaluating the local labor pool a potential center can draw from. The CCRL has identified specific key characteristics that pertain to call center successful operations and have worked backwards from this research on successful operations into key variables related to site selection. The CCRL utilizes these variables while working with a company or organization to find the correct site(s) and fit for the company.
center operations portfolio
The choices for a company or organization that operates call centers are numerous. These can include in house operations, domestic outsourcing, outsourcing offshore, inbound operations, outbound operations or blending inbound and outbound. There is no one simple solution for all organization or companies on how to structure a companies total call center portfolio. The CCRL draws upon unique data on industry trends, experience with other organizations, and an alignment with a company’s quarterly and annual goals and benchmarks to help them create and launch the right mix of call center operations and locations to achieve the set goals.
Labor input is the single most expensive variable of all call center operations. If efficiency can be found to decrease the cost of labor and/or improve labor performance, the return to the company or organization will be larger than most other improvements in a center that could be made. The CCRL has years of experience analyzing labor in call centers and deriving solutions for labor productivity.
economic development incentives analysis
Each state within the US, and each community within each state, has a set of economic development incentives that are offered to various companies that bring jobs to the area and/or maintain jobs over a set period of time. Because of the various levels of bureaucracy within local government and the desire of a business to begin operations immediately, many companies miss opportunities associated with economic development incentives. The CCRL tracks economic development incentives at the state level throughout the US and offers guidance in securing the benefits available to new and existing call center operations to ensure that companies earn the maximum benefits possible for the jobs they provide a community.
Customers are the source of revenue for companies and organizations. However, customers are neither simple nor always predictable. A company’s call center operations are often the only interaction a customer will have with a company and its products. Because of this disconnect between the product and the company, knowing what the customer desires, what price they are willing to pay, and how they desire that product or service to be delivered is critical. The CCRL has a wide range of experience on customer satisfaction research as well as research to help determine the pricing of call center customer service operations embedded within a particular product or service.
Employees in call center operations account for approximately 85% of total recurring operational costs. Because call centers are labor, not capital, intensive industries, they have some unique characteristics. The CCRL knows the importance of labor productivity and efficiency within a company’s call center operations as well as the impact labor productivity has on the overall bottom line. The CCRL offers a variety of evaluation tools to evaluate and improve employee productivity with a company’s call center operations. Just a few cents saved per call or a few minutes saved per employee can add up to large economic savings in a labor intensive call center operation.
Call centers are labor intensive, not capital intensive, industries. Because of this, call centers have unique site selection requirements very unlike a traditional manufacturing industry. The CCRL has extensive experience in working with state and local economic development organizations to determine which site(s) within a community are most suited for call center development thus making their recruitment and retention of call centers more successful.
market analysis for the unique call center industry
Call centers, as labor intensive IT based industries, require specific labor groups. Most labor measures do not accurately measure for call center success or failure within a community. The CCRL has many years of experience working with and measuring the labor demand of call centers and working backwards from this demand to measure a community’s ability to successfully recruit and retain a call center with its existing labor.
plan to help recruit call centers
Call center have very specific and sometimes unique requirements. The states and communities that have realized this and marketing their state and community to this industry have succeeded in attracting and retaining call centers. The CCRL has worked with many states and communities to develop strategic marketing plans helping a state and/or community address industry needs directly through marketing to this specific audience.
plan to help maintain the call centers already in your community
All states within the United States have call centers. However, with recent increases in offshore outsourcing many communities are concerned that their call centers and associated employment may go overseas. This trend of offshore outsourcing is not a predetermined outcome. The call center industry is growing both within the United States and overseas. Therefore, a community can take specific actions to help keep its existing call centers within the community and reduce the chances of the call centers going overseas. The CCRL has established specific models and tools local economic developers can utilize to help maintain, and possibly grow, the call center employment in their service area.
One way to measure the current success or potential success of a community in the call center industry is to benchmark your community or state with other communities and states. The CCRL has ongoing data collection projects throughout the US which allows ongoing benchmarking of states and communities with regards to the call center industry. From these benchmarks, states and communities can choose to alter their strategic plan to ensure long term success of their community with call center employment.
with your call center managers
Most economic developers have not worked in a call center environment and so are removed from day to day operations of call centers and the relationship of a call center to its parent company. It behooves an economic developer to know as much about the call center industry and call center trends if the goal is to retain and/or grow the call center segment in the local economy. The CCRL has years of experience in briefing economic developers on the workings of a call center and what economic developers can do to assist call center mangers succeed in their job. A positive relationship between the economic developer and the call center managers helps cement the call center and jobs to the community decreasing the chances of the call center being relocated overseas.