Expert Angle: Critical Metrics for Standardizing Your Contact Center

ICMI recently published this expert angle as a series of blog segments to highlight a 'Metric of the Day'. We now wrap-up our month of 'Metrics That Matter', and give you the article in its entirety.

Our contact centers are generating and receiving exorbitant amounts of data on a daily basis. Deciphering these facts and figures in a way that provides meaning and value to the continuous improvement of the contact center requires an understanding of which metrics require our attention – and which don’t. It is a delicate balance between quality and efficiency that, if not equally weighted, can wreak havoc on a contact center’s cost and even more importantly, their customer experience. Leading contact centers BECOME leading contact centers because they recognize which metrics to focus their time and attention on in order to achieve an ideal balance and maximum results.

Through in-depth research, industry expert insight, and case studies of best-in-class contact centers, ICMI has identified the following as the critical metrics for standardizing your contact center:

First Call Resolution (FCR)
There is a tremendous amount of buzz around this particular metric and, when you look at recent research, it is easy to understand why. Studies suggest that no other single key performance indicator (KPI) has an impact on customer satisfaction as significant as FCR. Research completed by Service Quality Management Group, a customer contact research and consulting firm, revealed that for every 1% improvement in FCR, you get a 1% improvement in customer satisfaction.

While FCR has been identified as a critical KPI for contact centers, there has been debate about exactly what 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.

Service Level / Response Time
If you’ve spent any time in the contact center, you probably understand that 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. In essence, service level and response time objectives tie the resources you need to the results you aim to achieve.

Service level is defined as: "X percent of contacts answered in Y seconds," e.g., 80% of calls answered in 20 seconds. Response time, 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.
When establishing and assessing service level and response time objectives, what’s important isn't merely how high your overall stated objectives are, but how consistently your center hits those objectives throughout the day.

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 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 adherence has always been an important metric in contact centers, this particular metric has taken on an even more significant role in recent years as centers have learned to focus more on what really matters, and on what agents can – and can’t – control. Best-in-class contact centers have discovered that with adherence as the primary critical metric, agents were ‘ slaves’ to measurements such as average handle time and calls per hour, and that these metrics are not indicative of whether staff is in the right place at the right times. Agents can't control the number of calls that 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.

That said - this does not negate the need for centers to identify how many calls a typical agent is handling and how long those calls are lasting – both of which are integral to help pinpoint any scheduling adjustments that may need to be made. The true lesson here is this: When placing a stronger emphasis on adherence to schedule by having agents in the right places at the right times, you’ll discover that you don’t need to focus on areas such as average handle time and calls per hour. This is, however, is assuming your 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.

One other cautionary warning in this metric: be aware of the danger of focusing too stringently on adherence to schedule -- watching agents' every move with the help of workforce management technology can inevitably elicit cries of micro-management from them.

Forecasting Accuracy
Forecasting accuracy 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. (Forecasted contact load vs. actual contact load.) It is a critical, high-level objective in all contact center environments.

Underestimating demand leads to understaffing, which 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). On the flip side, 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, - essentially 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.

Self-Service Accessibility
Advances in contact center technology have enabled most contact centers to deflect from the agent queue as many basic transaction types as possible. By utilizing self-service systems such as IVR and interactive Web applications, centers 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.

If centers are not careful, however, they can get so caught up trying to lure customers off the phones and into self-service that they forget to track something essential: how well does the self-service experience “treat” their 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. 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 beneficial in determining how your valued customers feel about your automated service options.

Contact Quality
Contact quality is another classic metric that is both a common and critical customer-centric performance metric in all contact centers, regardless of industry, function and size. Its ability to be utilized as both a high-level, center-wide metric, as well as an individual agent performance measure, makes it a favorite measurement of the top performing centers.

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.

Customer Satisfaction
Last, but by no means least, is customer satisfaction. Studies continue to reveal a direct correlation between customer satisfaction, customer loyalty, corporate revenues and employee morale and performance. For these very specific reasons, it is one of the most critical metrics for any contact center.

Yet, while all companies claim to have an awareness of the importance of customer satisfaction and a strong focus on customer-centric practices, 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 like, or dislike them, but also to proactively make key improvements before customers take their business elsewhere.

A leading trend in customer satisfaction insight is to survey customers 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 mentioned above in reference to 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 one or two open-ended questions prompting 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 ideally, 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 the satisfaction level of who have chosen to interact with thee company via email or chat. To do so, they send a survey similar to 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.

Leveraging These Metrics to Standardize Your Contact Center
When establishing which metrics to focus on, it is essential that your choices be driven by your mission and objectives. Remember to keep these measures fair and balanced, and never make the mistake of looking at any one of them in isolation.

Ultimately, your metrics should be in alignment with your goals for having a maximum positive impact on your business. Also, it is critical that your team understand the purpose of these metrics, and how they are applied to individual roles. By involving every person of your team, you’ll ensure that they feel a direct connection between what they do and what your organization is trying to achieve.

Additionally, be certain that you are employing an established best practices framework within your center. This will ensure that managers are “speaking the same language,” and create a culture of empowerment. Professional training and certification – such as the program offered by ICMI – can be highly effective in helping to achieve this goal, and will also assist in addressing and incorporating the standardization metrics referenced in this article.

Achieving clarity in our purpose as contact centers is critical if we wish to remain a strategic part of our organization. By leveraging the seven critical metrics discussed above, you will be setting the foundation for your future success.  


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