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

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The efficiency and quality dilemma: What drives South African call centre management performance indicators?

Diane Banks

Gert Roodt*

Department of Industrial Psychology and People Management

University of Johannesburg

* corresponding author

ABSTRACT

Orientation: Call centres have become principal customer communication channels and companies attempt to simultaneously reduce costs and improve the quality of their customer interactions. These objectives are often conflicting and call centre managers struggle to balance the efficiency and quality imperatives of the business. Research purpose: This study explores the key performance indicators that drive management practices in the South African call centre industry within the context of the efficiency and quality dilemma. Motivation for the study: The South African government has identified call centres as a source of job creation and foreign investment. Management practices impact the centre’s performance and an understanding of these practices will aid the realization of these aims. Research design: A web based questionnaire was used in a survey that was conducted with South African call centre managers from more than forty four different organisations representing nine industry sectors. Main findings: This study indicated that the quality and quantity dilemma is prevalent in South African call centres and that quantitative key performance indicators drive the management practices. Practical/Managerial implications: The reported inconsistencies necessitate South African organisations to assess the alignment between the organisational vision, the strategic intent of the call centre and the performance measures allocated to the role of call centre manager. Contribution and value add: This study adds to the relatively small base of empirical research available on the South African call centre industry and contributes to this industry’s attempt to position itself favourably for both local and international outsourcing opportunities.

Key Words: Key performance indicators, call centre manager, qualitative measures, quantitative measures, South African call centres INTRODUCTION
The strategic role of call centres is changing and it has become the primary way of delivering service and the main source of contact for customers. Companies attempt to achieve customer satisfaction by offering their customers easy access to the services and products whilst lowering the cost to the company with a consolidated approach. This approach is not void of problems and managers struggle to balance the efficiency and quality imperatives of the business. This research focuses on these conflicting objectives and investigates the performance indicators that drive management practices in the South African call centre industry.

Efficiency is enabled by an array of easily accessible measures offered by call centre technology. Neely, Bourne and Kennerley (2003) suggested that too much measuring is happening and Radnor and McGuire (2004) found that the role of call centre managers is more administrative than managerial – managers focus on accumulating measurements, rather than managing people’s output. Call centre managers are faced with the challenge to decide on practices that will meet the company’s expectation of rationalised operations whilst still ensuring employee wellbeing and customer satisfaction. The conflicting nature of these call centre objectives has been well researched (Bain & Taylor, 2000; Batt, 1999; Houlihan, 2002; Kinnie, Hutchinson & Purcell, 2000; Taylor & Bain, 1999; Wallace, Eagleson & Waldersee, 2000) and these studies suggest that the two objectives – efficiency and quality - are fundamentally contradictory. Dean and Rainnie (2009, p. 326) captured the suggested discrepancy in their reference to the call centre as “a unique and contradictory service environment”.

There has been an increased interest in the...
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