Academic journal article SA Journal of Human Resource Management

The Efficiency and Quality Dilemma: What Drives South African Call Centre Management Performance Indicators?

Academic journal article SA Journal of Human Resource Management

The Efficiency and Quality Dilemma: What Drives South African Call Centre Management Performance Indicators?

Article excerpt

Introduction

The strategic role of call centres is changing. It has become the primary way of delivering services and the main source of contact for customers. Companies attempt to achieve customer satisfaction by offering their customers easy access to their services and products whilst lowering their costs through a consolidated approach. This approach has its problems and managers struggle to balance the efficiency and quality imperatives of their businesses. This research focuses on these conflicting objectives and investigates the performance indicators that drive management practices in the South African call centre industry.

An array of easily accessible measures, which call centre technology offers, enables efficiency. These measures focus on call quantities and performance targets and offer data like:

* the number of calls waiting

* the proportion of calls answered

* the average call duration

* the customer waiting time.

Neely, Bourne and Kennerley (2003) suggested that there is too much measuring. Radnor and McGuire (2004) found that the role of call centre managers is administrative rather than managerial.

Managers focus on efficiency measures rather than on managing the quality of the customer experience - the courtesy, friendliness, and enthusiasm of call centre agents (CCAs). Call centre managers have to decide on practices that will meet the companies' expectations of rationalised operations whilst ensuring employee wellbeing and customer satisfaction.

Numerous researchers have investigated the conflicting nature of these call centre objectives well (Bain & Taylor, 2000; Batt, 1999; Houlihan, 2002; Kinnie, Hutchinson & Purcell, 2000; Taylor & Bain, 1999; Wallace, Eagleson & Waldersee, 2000). These studies suggest that the two objectives - efficiency and quality - are contradictory. Dean and Rainnie (2009, p. 326) captured the discrepancy in their reference to the call centre as 'a unique and contradictory service environment'.

There is an increased interest in the South African call centre industry as a way of creating jobs and foreign investment. This has given the industry a high level of visibility. Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies stated, at the 2009 launch of the Department of Trade and Industry investment call centre in Soweto, that 'the call centre is an apex government priority in terms of the Cabinet Plan of Action of 2007' (Department of Trade and Industry 2009a, para.2). Nimrod Zalk, deputy director-general of the Industrial Development Division, supported this. At the Business Process Outsourcing Week, held in November 2009, Zalk suggested that the government has prioritised and committed itself to the off-shoring industry (Department of Trade and Industry, 2009b).

This study contributes to the research on call centres in three ways:

* There have been relatively few empirical studies on the local call centre industry. The South African government's interest in call centres makes this industry important. Therefore, the study aimed to add to the body of research.

* In an overview of the current literature on call centres, Robinson and Morley (2007) and Russel (2008) concluded that research has concentrated on the labour processes call centres use and the experiences of CCAs. This study intended to use information from call centre managers to establish what drives call centre management practices in South Africa and how these relate to the dilemma between efficiency and quality.

* The third addresses Burgess and Connel's (2004) suggestion that most call centre literature comes from case studies. This is evident in the empirical studies on the call centre industry in South Africa. They suggested that surveys should supplement the current research. This study used a survey that elicited responses from more than 44 different businesses representing nine industry sectors. This provided a broad foundation on which to base conclusions. …

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