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How to Make Performance Metrics Truly Matter

As contact center leaders, we are always in search of the best way to manage our operations, which can often translate to how well we are managing costs. But our job is far more than just "managing costs." It is also our job to communicate how our teams impact the rest of the business and the bottom line. It is our job to fight for what is right for our team members and to manage costs appropriately.

We've all seen the usual suspects of contact center performance reporting. Traditional service level goals, Average Handle Time (AHT), abandonment rate, and qualitative measures like First Contact Resolution, call quality, Net Promoter, and customer satisfaction scores are standard measures on a contact center scorecard. But there have been few real breakthroughs when it comes to new ways to measure contact center success. One thing that is still very common is the practice of putting most of the metric goals on the backs of the front-line contact center team members. The same team members that you expect to be the voice of your company, the ones that you want to empower to deliver a better customer experience, the ones that you want to identify roadblocks to excellent service.

Contact Center Performance Metrics

There's a better way: stop using AHT and Adherence as team member performance metrics.

Using data and performance metrics are essential elements of a contact center leader's job. I'm not suggesting that we stop using the data. Measuring (and improving upon) those metrics is still crucial in running an operation; we still have a job to do and limited resources with which to do it.  But I am suggesting that we stop using AHT and Adherence as individual team member goals.

The case for WHY you should dump AHT and Adherence

For many years, I have been searching for evidence that any agent level productivity measurement leads to a better customer experience. Sure, metrics such as AHT and Adherence help control cost, and it's crucial to manage costs aggressively, but these measures should be a management goal, not an individual team member goal. Only the manager running the contact center should be accountable for AHT targets. After all, AHT is really just a financial measure. You can't get to the root of service level problems by merely including AHT on an agent scorecard. Time and time again, I have seen leaders only manage team members to a number, rather than addressing opportunities for improvement.

There is very little that is more demoralizing (and dehumanizing) than having to go to work every day and focus on hitting what feels like an arbitrary number. Sure, we all have goals we must achieve, but we've gone overboard making a metric of every micro thing a contact center agent can do.

Imagine if other departments had to achieve similar standards. What if associates in the marketing department were evaluated by how quickly they checked their voicemails. Or if employees in Human Resources had a daily scorecard that tracked how many e-mails they answered. Seems crazy, doesn't it?

I spent more than half of my 20+ years managing contact centers using individual AHT goals. It took many years for me to understand that they don't always result in the behavior we want. In some cases, they can drive the opposite behavior.

In her book, Chief Customer Officer 2.0, Jeanne Bliss, wrote about the five competencies for customer-driven growth (see also http://www.customerbliss.com/3-actions-prevent-cx-implosion/). I am not suggesting that Bliss is arguing against individual performance metrics. I am, however, asking you to try and make the connection between team member AHT and Adherence goals and those five competencies. I've not been able to do it.

In Daniel Pink's book, Drive, he discussed the three elements of real motivation: autonomy (which Pink defines as "the desire to direct our own lives"), mastery, and purpose. Can we all agree that a contact center team agent has the least amount of autonomy of nearly any person in a company? Using AHT and Adherence as individual team member goals is a surefire way to drain the autonomy, mastery, and purpose out of your team members.

What to do instead

Focus on behaviors and provide feedback. Use AHT data to tell you where to examine your coaching, processes, and training. Stop trying to manage AHT at the individual level. Focus on the direction of AHT at the macro level. Stop reporting AHT numbers to everyone in the business. Use it only for WFM scheduling purposes. Use other metrics such as cost per call and calls per 1,000 customers to tell a complete story.

The same thing goes for Adherence. Focus on behaviors. If you have a team member who is supposed to be logged in and ready to take phone calls at 10 AM, but they're not there, give them feedback about the behavior. That is far more effective than giving them a scorecard at the end of the month that shows that their Adherence was 93%.

The ultimate responsibility for driving more efficiencies in the contact center belongs to the manager. Don't place it on the backs of our team members who help our customers every day. It is our job as leaders to provide our team with the support they need to do their job well, and we don't need to manage them individually to AHT and Adherence goals to do that.

I'd love to hear what you think. Comment below!