Seven Metrics to Watch for Call Center Success
| Published: February 16, 2011 | Comments (3)
We live in an information-intensive world, making it hard, at times, to cut through the wealth of data to get at what actually matters. The most successful contact centers have winnowed out the distracting facts and figures – won’t actually call that information, since it doesn’t always truly inform – to get to the real heart of what should be measured to mark success around and continuously improve the customer experience. It’s really a balancing act: Basing an entire service strategy on the number of calls handled per hour or on average handle time will inevitably damage contact quality; but quality metrics that aren't balanced quantitative and efficiency measurements can have an adverse effect on the customer experience – and the call center’s cost.
Here are the seven key metrics ICMI has identified – with the help of top-performing centers and expert industry stakeholders.
1. FIRST-CALL RESOLUTION
Recent research suggests that no single KPI has a bigger impact on customer satisfaction than does first-call resolution (FCR). Customer contact research and consulting firm Service Quality Measurement (SQM) Group finds that for every 1% improvement in FCR, you get a 1% improvement in customer satisfaction. In a study of more than 150 contact centers, SQM found that centers that achieved “world class” customer satisfaction ratings had a FCR average of 86%, while centers that were not among the elite in customer satisfaction had a FCR average of only 67%.
Increased customer satisfaction isn't the only big benefit realized by contact centers that achieve high FCR. These centers typically also enjoy:
- Lower operating costs. A low FCR rate breeds a high number of repeat callers – reducing the cost burden of callbacks, especially in high-volume contact centers.
- Reduced revenue at risk. SQM research shows that if the customer's issue is resolved on the first call, only 3% of those customers are at risk of defecting to your competitors -- compared to a whopping 38% of customers at risk of doing so if their issue isn't resolved on the first contact.
- Higher employee satisfaction. The strain on agents who must contend with frequent callbacks from often-frustrated customers is significant and invariably leads to low morale, poor customer service and high agent turnover. However, when agents are given the tools and training they need to achieve high FCR, they feel empowered and confident on calls. Invariably, customers take notice.
While FCR has been identified as a critical KPI for contact centers, there is some question about what exactly constitutes a "resolved call." Some centers consider a call resolved if the agent didn't need to transfer it. Others deem a call resolved if there is no follow-up work to complete after it.
Aiming for calls that require neither transfers nor follow-up work is a sound approach to high quality service, but it is incomplete from an FCR measurement standpoint, say experts, because it fails to take into account something essential -- the customer's perspective. It’s important to let the customer tell you if their issue has been resolved, whether through real-time or near-real-time customer feedback channels, such as post-call IVR surveys, online surveys, live surveys or immediate email-based surveys.
2. SERVICE LEVEL/RESPONSE TIME
Service level and response time are classic metrics, and they’re fundamental to effective management of the contact center and the customer experience. These metrics tell you how accessible the center is to customers, how many agents are needed to provide efficient service or how your center's service compares to others in your industry.
Service level is defined as: "X percent of contacts answered in Y seconds," e.g., 80% of calls answered in 20 seconds. Response time (which is the equivalent of service level for transactions that don't have to be handled the moment they arrive) is defined as: "100% of contacts handled within N days/hours/minutes," e.g., all customer email inquiries will be handled within four hours.
In essence, service level and response time objectives tie the resources you need to the results you want to achieve. These metrics measure how well you are getting customer contacts in the door and into the hands of agents (and thus are essential for planning and budgeting). They are the clearest indication of what customers experience when they attempt to reach your contact center.
When establishing and assessing service level and response time objectives, the important thing isn't merely how high your overall stated objectives are, but how consistently the center hits those objectives throughout the day.
Don’t be lulled into thinking solid performance here is the only thing to watch. A center can achieve its objectives, yet still be wasting resources, creating extra work and providing poor quality.
Accessibility is an enabler, not a guarantee of quality or of customer delight. Accessibility means that contacts are getting in and being handled efficiently so that the contact center has the opportunity to accomplish its mission of ensuring long-lasting customer satisfaction and loyalty. If quality is poor, things such as repeat contacts, unnecessary contacts and escalations and complaints will eventually drive service level down and frustrate your customers.
3. ADHERENCE TO SCHEDULE
Adherence to schedule is a measurement of how much time during an agent's shift he or she is logged in and handling contacts or at least available to do so. Most centers choose an adherence objective around the 85% to 90% range, meaning that each agent is expected to be available to handle contacts .90 x 60 minutes, or 54 minutes each hour.
Adherence is comprised of time spent in interacting with customers, as well as time spent in after-call work, making necessary outbound calls and waiting for calls to arrive. Time taken for lunch, breaks, training, etc., is not counted as time assigned to handle contacts, and thus is not factored into adherence to schedule measurements.
While always an important metric in contact centers, adherence to schedule has taken on an even more significant role of late as centers have learned to focus more on what really matters, and on what agents can control. Where average handle time and calls per hour used to rule the metric roost, centers have discovered that agents are merely slaves to such measurements and that these metrics aren't indicative of whether staff is in the right place at the right times, doing what they are supposed to be doing. Agents can't control how many calls are coming in or how long a transaction might take on the customer side, but they can be held accountable for where they are and what they are doing.
This is not to say that contact centers should completely do away with more traditional productivity metrics. After all, the center needs to have an idea about how many calls a typical agent is handling and how long those calls are lasting to help pinpoint any scheduling adjustments that may have to be made. The good news is that when placing a stronger emphasis on adherence to schedule by having agents in the right places at the right times, things like average handle time and calls per hour tend to take care of themselves. That is assuming the center has taken time to provide agents with adequate training and a quality mindset, and that the center has done a decent job of forecasting and scheduling.
That said, there is the danger of focusing too stringently on adherence to schedule -- watching agents' every move with the help of workforce management technology and inevitably eliciting cries of micro-management from them.
Here are several recommendations from ICMI for ensuring solid adherence stats that agents won’t find intrusive:
- Train each agent on how much of an impact he or she has on the queue, and on customer accessibility and satisfaction.
- Establish concrete service level and response time objectives that everybody knows, understands and accepts.
- Educate agents on the essential steps involved in resource planning to ensure that they understand how schedules are produced.
- Develop appropriate priorities for the wide range of tasks your agents perform on the job.
- Provide real-time information to agents and back it up with training on how to interpret that data.
- Track and manage schedule adherence at the supervisory level, as conditions dictate.
- Track schedule adherence for the entire group for planning purposes and to assess how well management has created a process that enables appropriate schedule adherence.
4. FORECASTING ACCURACY
Forecasting accuracy – better described as forecasted contact load vs. actual contact load is a performance metric that reflects the percent variance between the number of inbound customer contacts forecasted for a particular time period and the number of said contacts actually received by the center during that time. It is a critical, high-level objective in all contact center environments.
Underestimating demand leads to understaffing. This, in turn, leads to long wait times in queues, frustrated customers, burned-out agents and high toll-free costs (due not only to the long hold times, but also to the longer call times that might result from dedicating a portion of the call to caller complaints about hold times). However, overestimating demand results in waste, overstaffing and increased idle time.
Forecasted call load is available from the system used for forecasting (e.g., the center's workforce management system or spreadsheets); while actual call load is tracked by the ACD, workforce management system, email response management system, Web servers -- wherever data is available. Forecasting accuracy should not be reported as a summary of forecasted versus actual contacts across a day, week or month, but rather as an illustration of accuracy for each reporting interval, typically half-hours.
5. SELF-SERVICE ACCESSIBILITY
It has become the quest of most contact centers to deflect from the agent queue as many basic transaction types as possible. These calls are shunted to self-service systems -- mainly IVR and interactive Web applications. This can help enhance service efficiencies and cut costs; it also frees up agents to use their valuable skills to assist customers with more complex issues, thus keeping staff engaged and motivated.
But some centers get so caught up trying to lure customers off the phones and into self-service that they forget to track something essential: how well the self-service systems actually "treat" customers.
Self-service accessibility has emerged as a critical metric in this age of automation and customer-centricity. Leading contact centers gauge not only how many customers begin self-service transactions via IVR and the Web, but also how many complete those transactions without live-agent assistance. Centers with a serious focus on effective self-service have invested in tools that record customer interactions with IVR apps and Web sites. Such tools help to pinpoint any system glitches or snags that hinder the customer experience and that cause customers to "zero out" to email or chat with a live agent or simply abandon their online shopping cart. In addition to specialized monitoring tools, some centers have invested in diagnostic technologies that perform proactive load-balancing tests to ensure that IVR systems and Web self-service tools are prepared to effectively and efficiently handle high volumes of contacts -- a sort of self-service check-up.
Many contact centers also survey customers following a self-service transaction to gather direct feedback on their experiences. While not the most proactive or definitive method for gauging self-service accessibility, surveys are a good way to uncover how your valued customers feel about your automated service options.
6. CONTACT QUALITY
This is a very common and critical customer-centric performance metric in all contact centers, regardless of industry, function and size. Top centers track contact quality as a high-level, center-wide metric, as well as an individual agent performance measure.
Contact quality is typically assessed via the monitoring and recording of agent interactions with customers, with quality assurance specialists or supervisors rating the contact using a comprehensive evaluation form that features key criteria that the center feels contributes to a quality interaction from the customer's perspective. Each criterion is usually assigned a numeric value by those conducting monitoring and weighed based on its impact on customer satisfaction and the center's goals and requirements.
- Common quality criteria include such things as:
- Use of appropriate greetings and other call scripts
- Courtesy and professionalism
- Capturing key customer data
- Providing customers with correct and relevant information
- First-contact resolution
- Accuracy in data entry and call coding
- Grammar and spelling in text communication (email and chat)
While monitoring and recording is by far the most common method used for assessing contact quality, some quality measurements may come from ACD-based call coding, from reports generated by customer information systems.
7. CUSTOMER SATISFACTION
Customer satisfaction is one of the most critical metrics for any contact center. Studies have revealed, and common sense supports, a critical and direct correlation between customer satisfaction, customer loyalty, corporate revenues and employee morale and performance.
All companies are aware of the importance of securing high customer satisfaction, and all claim to have a strong focus on customer-centric practices. But, not all go about measuring customer satisfaction in the most precise and most consistent ways, nor do all have an effective process in place for analyzing and acting on the findings.
While there is no standard method for calculating customer satisfaction, there are certain common practices and processes that enable leading centers to not only effectively and efficiently keep tabs on just how much customers dislike them, but also to make key improvements before customers take their business elsewhere.
Customer satisfaction measurement has evolved beyond mail surveys (delivered by post) and phone interviews days after the customer's interaction transpired. The big trend now is to survey callers immediately after the interaction occurs, when the experience is fresh in the customer's mind and before problems can escalate. Top centers typically do this via IVR-based post-call surveys, similar to the type described in the previous section on first-contact resolution. Callers are asked a series of questions about their interaction with the agent, their feelings about the organization and their plans to continue doing business with the company. They are asked to rate each question on a numeric scale (often 1 to 5) for easy customer satisfaction calculation. Many surveys also feature a couple of open-ended questions for more detailed customer feedback.
Today's advanced IVR survey apps can be programmed to recognize when a customer gives an abnormally low overall rating and to send an alert to the center manager or quality assurance team. The system can capture (via CTI) the caller's identity and link it to the actual recording of the call in question for complete analysis of the interaction. After reviewing the survey responses and the call, the manager can quickly call the customer to "repair damage" and hopefully restore trust and loyalty.
Of course, not all customers contact the center via phone, thus IVR-based surveys alone are insufficient for holistic customer satisfaction measurement. Progressive centers also gauge how satisfied customers are who have chosen to interact with the company via email or chat. To do so, they send a survey like the IVR-based one to these customers via email or program the survey to pop up on the customer's screen upon completion of an online interaction.
ROAD TO SUCCESS PAVED WITH METRICS
The metrics your center embraces have an impact on the customer experience that simply can’t be ignored. Of course, not every metric can be completely customer-centric -- there are operations costs and business needs that must also be considered -- focusing strictly on straight productivity metrics and managing a contact center primarily as a cost center simply is no longer feasible.
Emphasizing and balancing the view of the metrics here will ensure that your company keeps customer satisfaction and loyalty high while enabling your center to be an efficient, high-performing, critical business entity.
Metrics, Customer Experience, People Management, Learning & Development, Self-Service, Workforce Management
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