sealPurdue News

April 1999

Call centers open line to customer satisfaction, loyalty

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- More and more businesses are offering the equivalent of "open-mike night," sometimes for 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"Consumers have an open mike for making their complaints and compliments known when they contact a business call center," says Richard Feinberg, professor of consumer sciences and retailing and director of the Purdue University Center for Customer-Driven Quality.

There are approximately 50,000 call centers in the United States. Banks, manufacturers, retailers, catalogers, department stores and utilities are among the growing number of companies operating some kind of a toll-free customer-service telephone number or Internet site to handle customer questions or complaints.

The emergence of call centers as a strategic business investment has grown geometrically in the past decade. In the past year, businesses increased their call center budgets on average by more than 18 percent, according to the 1999 Call Center Benchmark Report. The annual report by the Center for Customer-Driven Quality is fast becoming the industry's standard for evaluating call center operations.

"Today's customers want greater access, and they don't want to waste time," says Jon Anton, a Purdue researcher who wrote the report. "According to research at Purdue, more than 50 percent of all customer interactions will occur through call centers and the Internet by the year 2000."

A good call center can increase customer loyalty. For example, if a customer receives a defective product, a call-center contact could turn that potential minus into a plus. "Our research shows that a dissatisfied customer who calls a call center and is satisfied with the resolution to a problem or who gets an answer to a question is actually more loyal to the brand or company than a customer who never calls and is simply satisfied," Feinberg says.

Often times, customers unhappy with a product or service simply do nothing. Fewer than 10 percent of consumers regularly let businesses know how they are doing.

Feinberg says call centers are effective because companies find that keeping customers by solving their problems is cheaper than trying to attract new customers. "Indeed, our studies have shown that consumers are surprised at the lengths to which companies will go to satisfy them," he says.

The 1999 Call Center Benchmark Report was sponsored by Ernst and Young and Ameritech and is available only to members of the Center for Customer-Driven Quality. The center has more than 75 business members who are interested in understanding how to better listen to and satisfy the customer. For more information on becoming a business member, contact the center at (765) 494-9933.

The center's goal is to bridge the gap between academia and business. It provides research, student education and professional experience, and executive education.

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: A summary of the 1999 Call Center Benchmark Report is available to journalists from the Center for Customer-Driven Quality at (765) 494-9933.

Sources: Richard Feinberg, (765) 494-8303;

Jon Anton, (765) 494-8357;

Writer: Beth Forbes, (765) 494-9723

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

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