Call Center Balancing Act: Cost and Customer Satisfaction

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It’s not a surprise that most call centers are very cost focused and not completely customer focused. There’s an upside and a downside to this approach: on the one hand, call centers are traditionally “cost centers” – that is, they don’t provide revenue for the firm. From this perspective, it’s important that cost be contained and even reduced. On the other hand, the call center can become a differentiator in the marketplace, where customer loyalty is harder and harder to come by.

How does one balance cost and customer satisfaction in the call center?

Not All Calls Are Created Equal

Not all customer queries into the call center are created equal. Some calls have a net negative to the firm’s bottom line, while others might initially be a cost, but then transition to a potential sale and hence revenue for the company.

The challenge is in categorizing the calls and mapping them to the revenue the firm brings in. By doing this, it provides clarity on which types of calls we can afford to automate, which types of calls we should route to a live agent, and which types of calls can fall into a combination of both.

The chart below shows a possible way of mapping inbound calls into a call center:

call centers and the value of a phone call

There are other ways to categorize inbound contacts into a call center, but this is one easy way that provides clarity and ease.

How To Differentiate

But, we must be careful.


If Firm A decides that some calls should be automated, that company’s competitor might decide to make those very same type of calls route to a live agent. By doing so, the competitor firm is differentiating itself by providing a high touchpoint service agains its competitor who is routing to a live agent. And, we know, that most customers literally hate most automated channels – such an IVR, etc.

Self-Service is Self-Serving

Most self-service approaches taken by companies are an attempt at reducing cost. Let’s face it – sending a customer to the IVR or to the Web Channel is cheaper than if a live agent handled that call.

But, just because most companies are doing this doesn’t mean it’s good for the customer. In fact, it is likely that this approach is bad for the customer.

What’s needed is a way to categorize and determine the trade-off between inbound call center contacts so that the company can make wiser and more balanced decisions, instead of only cost reasons.


  1. Joseph Passi says

    Great article,

    The phrase: “A picture is worth a thousand words” goes well here. Your graph describes it within seconds.

    One example I like is that of Zappos shoes. They focus a lot on their calling center. Everything for them is about customer service. Their longest call at their call center to date is 7 hours. It was simply someone who was lonely and wanted to talk. Every employee that works at Zappos at some points works the call center. They take great pride in it.

    Call center employees are not given scripts to follow, rather just trained in ways to please the customer.

    Interesting read,



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