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Expert’s Angle: Can Good Metrics Solve the Call Center’s People Management Issues?

Imagine being a soccer player and getting negative points each time you put the ball in the goal. You would quickly learn to avoid being anywhere near the goal, wouldn’t you? Sure, scoring the contact center game is a little more complex than a soccer game – but clear, unambiguous, relevant metrics matter just as much. If you are struggling with getting your team members to contribute enthusiastically and consistently, you should take a look at the metrics you use. 

1. Bad metrics get in the way

If you define a good call as one during which the agent used the customer’s name three times, will customer’s names be used a lot? Certainly! But the overall interactions may be lacking in other, more important ways. And if you measure success by keeping the handle time low, you will likely get low handle time, along with a low resolution rate, low customer satisfaction, and higher call volume. Not exactly what you bargained for, perhaps.
Ill-chosen metrics create problems. As you think of a metric, train yourself to imagine how it could go awry. It should not be too hard to foresee the connection between (enforced) low handle time and low contact resolution rates.

2. There is no one perfect metric

Often metrics are destructive (or more destructive) when used alone. So if you measure the agents’ contributions via their contact productivity (and nothing else) you will get lots of contacts handled but fail to capture how well they are handled. If, on the other hand, you decide to measure strictly based on customer satisfaction, you will get high customer satisfaction but at the cost of lower productivity. But if you combine productivity with customer satisfaction you would get a nicely balanced view of the contact resolution process.

Don’t look for the one perfect metric: It does not exist. Instead, combine and balance metrics that capture different aspects of the work. If the reps are expected to handle customer issues and contribute to the knowledge base, then you must include both contact productivity and knowledge base contributions (and customer satisfaction, always!).

3. Measure outcomes rather than activities

Gaming occurs when an individual figures out a way to hit high levels of metrics without actually achieving the outcomes that you expect. For instance if you set a high goal for contact productivity, you may find that some agents routinely create multiple cases for one customer request, splitting each separate question into a different case, when others would be content to create just one case. To minimize gaming: 

  • Anticipate gaming when you design the metrics: If it’s easy to cheat, some people will do it.
  • Pay attention to balance, as noted above. It’s really pretty easy to cheat on contact productivity (create multiple cases for one issue) but much harder to do if there is a customer satisfaction survey, since the customer would wonder how one request spawned so many cases. 
  • Most importantly, measure outcomes rather than activities. An outcome could be a resolved contact or a satisfied customer whereas an activity would be an update to the customer. It’s great to update customers but it doesn’t resolve the case – and it’s quite easy to fake updates.

4. Balance out group and individual goals

Teamwork is essential in the contact center, but that doesn’t mean that we should ignore individual variations in performance: If Jane can resolve 10 issues while John barely manages one, surely Jane should be rewarded for her diligence.  On the other hand, some metrics don’t make sense when computed for an individual. Take response, time for instance: It’s almost always a team effort (unless you happen to have just one person responsible for the intake process). What to do?

  • Capture individual performance whenever possible. Contact productivity is a good example of that.
  • Use group performance when individual performance is meaningless, for instance for response time.
  • Include a component of group performance even when using individual metrics to stimulate teamwork. For instance productivity is a classic individual goal, but you can consider 10% of the total for group performance, reminding the top performers that they can and should help others with customer issues.

5. Set targets on what agents can control

Soccer players expect that the success of the game will be determined by the number of goals, for or against, not by whether the customers find the seats comfortable. In the same way, it makes sense to measure an agent by the customer’s feedback on his or her performance, not by feedback about product quality. The rep has to have a certain amount of control on the achievement of the objectives: We all know that customers’ satisfaction with the contact center is highly influenced by product quality, but still the rep has some way of influencing the feedback, up or down. 

Setting goals that the agents feel they have no control over is demoralizing -- the opposite of what you want.

6. Measure often, measure exactly

In a professional soccer game there is a scoreboard, clearly indicating at every moment where the teams stand. We need scoreboards for each player on the frontline team that show individual performance at every moment against every target. It’s very unfair to wait until the last day of the quarter to discover that productivity is low since there’s nothing that can be done at that time.

For most people, the ability to self-benchmark against realistic and meaningful metrics, without any managerial effort, is enough to promote and reward good performance. So use your metrics to set the stage for people management. 

Francoise Tourniaire is the founder and principal of FT Works. [email protected]