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Metrics That Balance Call Center Efficiency With the Customer Experience

In January and February 2011, 428 contact center professionals working in centers of all sizes and shapes around the globe participated in the study, sharing critical information about their centers’ ability to strike a balance between call center efficiency and the customer experience.

Perhaps the most telling response in the entire survey process is that less than one-third (29.9%) of contact center professionals surveyed rate their centers as successful at achieving the balance between call center efficiency and customer experience. A slightly more positive 42.7% rate their centers as somewhat successful in this endeavor. While a small portion (8.8%) say their centers are extremely successful at striking this balance, another 11.7% say they’re somewhat unsuccessful at it, and 1.1% say they’re not successful at all. Another 5.8% say they have no way to measure success in this area. What this indicates is that there’s much room for improvement.

When we examined the complete survey results, we found that it’s not one area that contact centers are struggling with; rather, their lack of success can be explained by a combination of shortcomings (or, perhaps, shortsightedness) with regard to people, processes and technologies. We developed this picture through several snapshots of performance and practices in the survey. Here, we look at the metrics that call centers are using as indicators of a successful contact.

Because a successful contact should exhibit a balanced devotion to both efficiency and the customer experience, we asked survey participants to prioritize the key components of a successful contact.

Overall, customer satisfaction, contact quality and first-contact resolution (in that order) – key contributors to a good customer experience – took the top priority slots in a scale of 1 to 5 (with 5 being the highest priority). The next highest-ranked metric is speed of answer, high on the list of efficiency desirables. Where we’d expect to see them – in a position of medium importance – are successful cross-selling or up-selling and short handle time, considered to be secondary efficiency metrics.

Slightly concerning is that more than one third (37.7%) of respondents rated short handle time a 4 or 5, giving it considerably higher importance when you add the 28.5% who rated it at 3. Short handle time, particularly, is an oft-debated metric. For efficiency’s sake, it’s easily considered a key metric to watch, and it is – to watch, but not to rigidly enforce. Focusing too much attention (and action) on handle time can jeopardize quality, contact resolution, customer satisfaction and even cross-selling and up-selling.

On the other hand, it’s important to monitor handle times for spikes so that you can determine causes that might be diminished or eliminated. On average, however, focusing on the people, processes and technologies that can improve performance around metrics such as contact resolution, quality and customer satisfaction should be a daily vigil.

Responses throughout the study indicate that many call centers are truly struggling with understanding the interrelatedness of call center efficiency and the customer experience. And this is underscored by what we learned about their practices related to people, their processes and their technology implementations or their desires for new technologies.