Though call center performance in banks declined in the first half of 2000, banks outperformed retailers for the second year in a row, according to a benchmarking survey released last week.

O'Connor & Associates' industry benchmark report, issued twice a year, said that performance of both retailer and bank call centers either dropped or stayed the same in all seven categories surveyed, compared with the year earlier. Cross-selling capability, generally the lowest score for both sectors, dropped most noticeably.

At banks, the average cross-selling score fell from 22% last year to 16%. Retailers' score plummeted even more sharply, from 15% to 6%.

O'Connor & Associates' 25 service quality evaluators gave each call center in the survey 100 calls during 30 days from February to March. Each call was scored on a pass-fail basis for each of the seven attributes.

Anthony Viggiano, vice president of sales and marketing at O'Connor, said the declining performance could be a quirk. The survey "is a snapshot in time, and a particular call center can be in a bad spot in terms of turnover so it is not performing to its potential," he said.

The 15 commercial banking and thrift call centers in the survey outperformed the five retailer call centers in six of seven attributes, most notably product knowledge, where banks' call centers averaged 83%, compared with \retailers' 77%.

In their ability to identify the needs of callers, banks averaged 63% against the retail group's 57%. In giving customers a warm reception, banks came out on top with an average of 82%, to the retailers' 77%, but this was down slightly from the year earlier. The banks also established better customer rapport than the retailer call centers, 71% to 69%.

The groups scored similarly in terms of leaving a positive final impression on their customers. Banking call centers scored 55%; retailers, 54%.

The only attribute in which retailers topped banks was professionalism, in which retailers scored 97% to bankers' 95%.

A core group of 10 banks has participated in the survey since its was begun in 1996. They are Chase Manhattan Corp., Citigroup Inc., Wells Fargo & Co., Bank of America Corp., Bank One Corp., Wachovia Corp., FleetBoston Financial Corp., PNC Financial Services Group Inc., KeyCorp, and First Union Corp.

This year, Bank of New York Co., Riggs National Corp., U.S. Bancorp, CB&T, and M&T Bancorp were added.

Retail companies in the survey were Dell Computer, Merrill Lynch & Co., L.L. Bean, Amazon.com, and Lands End.

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