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Benchmarking… Should you bother? Peggy Carlaw

Benchmarking icon Benchmarking… Should you bother?To bench­mark or not to benchmark—is that a ques­tion you’re fac­ing? If you over­see call cen­ters or work fre­quently with met­rics, bench­mark­ing to deter­mine how you mea­sure up against best prac­tices is one of the most pop­u­lar tools used. By com­par­ing your met­rics to indus­try met­rics, you clearly see oppor­tu­ni­ties for improve­ment, and you have a stan­dard by which to set improve­ment goals.

Not every­one agrees bench­mark­ing works as it’s intended, how­ever, and in tight eco­nomic times, you may be won­der­ing whether it’s worth the cost to hire a com­pany that will com­pare your num­bers to your com­pe­ti­tion, will sell you bench­mark­ing reports, or will work with you on a con­sult­ing basis.

Bench­mark­ing is some­times cited as not con­tain­ing proper data, using too lit­tle data, not ulti­mately deliv­er­ing the busi­ness ben­e­fits touted. Addi­tion­ally, those who object to bench­mark­ing cite that what works as “best prac­tices” in one call cen­ter or indus­try may not be applic­a­ble in a sim­i­lar envi­ron­ment elsewhere.

Bench­mark­ing is an investment …

To be clear, bench­mark­ing is a time and mon­e­tary invest­ment. When you hire a com­pany, you’re pay­ing for research time, travel costs if the con­sul­tants come to you, and the final data­base costs incurred once you’ve incor­po­rated bench­mark­ing into your daily pro­ce­dures. You’ll also be given a size­able data set to sort through and imple­ment, adding to your already busy man­age­r­ial load.

Yet, you want to improve, right?

If you want to see how your com­pany com­pares to the best prac­tices in the indus­try and those of your com­peti­tors, and if you’re striv­ing to reach that world-class rep­u­ta­tion in cus­tomer ser­vice, bench­mark­ing has a place. Com­pa­nies that pro­vide bench­mark­ing ser­vices state that the prac­tice will help your company:

  • Estab­lish an objec­tive base­line of per­for­mance against your competition.
  • Deter­mine your company’s strengths and weaknesses.
  • Cre­ate an action­able plan for improvement.
  • Move for­ward in the process for Call Cen­ter Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion of Excel­lence or other cer­ti­fi­ca­tion programs.
  • Uncover bar­ri­ers to change. Just as see­ing how your cho­les­terol lev­els com­pare to oth­ers in your age/gender group can moti­vate you to work on your diet and exer­cise régime, under­stand­ing your KPI data can help you moti­vate and focus your group.
  • Put a dol­lar num­ber on per­for­mance gaps. For exam­ple, if you’re try­ing to cap­ture the management’s atten­tion, show­ing that a per­for­mance gap of 1.5 min­utes per call (com­pared to your com­pe­ti­tion) trans­lates to an addi­tional mil­lion dol­lars in yearly excess cost, you’re more likely to receive approval for your improve­ment initiatives.

Is every­one benchmarking?

You may be won­der­ing if there are bench­marks on benchmarking—so to speak. Is your com­pe­ti­tion bench­mark­ing, for exam­ple? Is it a wide­spread prac­tice that should be a focus for your orga­ni­za­tion? The 2010 Global Bench­mark­ing report sur­veyed 450 orga­ni­za­tions in 44 coun­tries and found the fol­low­ing bench­mark­ing trends:

  • Infor­mal bench­mark­ing was used by 68% of com­pa­nies surveyed.
  • Per­for­mance bench­mark­ing was used by 49%.
  • Best prac­tice bench­mark­ing was used by 39%.
  • Of the com­pa­nies that were not cur­rently bench­mark­ing at the time of the sur­vey, 60% indi­cated they were likely to in the next 3 years
  • The top main ben­e­fits of bench­mark­ing, in order of impor­tance, were:
    • Improved per­for­mance of processes.
    • Under­stand­ing what how other orga­ni­za­tions operate.
    • Address­ing major strate­gic issues.

Con­sider bench­mark­ing as one part of your metric-gathering process

Whether or not you choose to work with a bench­mark­ing com­pany will most likely be based on fac­tors includ­ing bud­get, time, goals, and the will­ing­ness of your orga­ni­za­tion to invest in the prac­tice. As with all met­rics, bench­mark­ing can be extremely use­ful when you work with a rep­utable com­pany that doesn’t sim­ply apply a blan­ket approach, but rather guides you in apply­ing the results to your prac­tices. Addi­tion­ally, con­sider bench­mark­ing as one nec­es­sary cog in the wheel of stream­lin­ing your cus­tomer ser­vice train­ing. When you see the areas you need to improve, you can be effi­cient by focus­ing your train­ing on those tar­geted areas. Just as you don’t want to only focus on one met­ric as a means to improve your oper­a­tions, you’ll have a more holis­tic pro­gram if bench­mark­ing works in con­junc­tion with mul­ti­ple met­rics and an action­able strat­egy for improve­ment based on data.

Peggy Car­law is the founder of Impact Learn­ing Sys­tems, a lead­ing train­ing com­pany spe­cial­iz­ing in improv­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions between front-line employ­ees and cus­tomers. Peggy is co-author of sev­eral books pub­lished by McGraw-Hill, includ­ing Man­ag­ing and Moti­vat­ing Con­tact Cen­ter Employ­ees and The Big Book of Cus­tomer Ser­vice Train­ing Games.
3 Benchmarking… Should you bother?
Peggy Carlaw
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