Finding the Right Performance Measures for Contact Centers

How important is first-time call resolution?

Ventana Research recently completed a study that shows companies use a variety of measures to assess the performance of their contact centers. The most popular are based on measuring how efficiently calls are handled. First-time resolution of problems is high on this list because managers see it as impacting both costs and customer satisfaction. But our observations suggest that many companies distort the real results by applying questionable operational practices. We recommend that companies seeking real performance improvements scrutinize these practices and supplement efficiency measures with others more directly related to their business goals.

In our recent survey of contact centers, we asked respondents what metrics they currently use to assess performance, and what if any plans they had to change them. The most important financial measure by far was cost, with 64 percent rating it as extremely important. Next were total revenue generated in the center (48 percent) and first-time resolution of calls (44 percent); no other category received more than 25 percent.

Our questions about operational metrics covered four categories. In the call-handling category, the top score was average time to answer a call (77 percent). Regarding agents it was the quality of service they provided in handling calls (69 percent). For finance, total revenue generated in the center (59 percent) scored first, and for customer satisfaction the top measure was how well customers felt calls were handled (83 percent). Looking at the call-handling metrics in more depth, we see that the next three most important measures were average length of calls, number of calls abandoned and queue times. First-time call resolution finished in sixth place, with 46 percent of centers using it as a key performance metric. Overall, this result shows how important call-related measures are in monitoring the performance of contact centers and that in practice more immediate measures take precedence over first-time call resolution for center managers.

Contact center managers are driven to improve customer satisfaction, but these answers indicate that they are very mindful of costs and the impact of call-handling on cost. First-time call resolution (FCR) affects both aspects. Having to call more than once is a major negative factor in customer satisfaction, and handling repeat calls consumes agents' time, which drives up costs. So there is no doubt FCR is an important measure, but we see some complex operational issues beneath this simple conclusion.

For one thing, what qualifies as an FCR? Does telling the caller that someone will call back qualify? What about giving an answer that the customer accepts but subsequently turns out to be incorrect? For operational reasons many centers count both these scenarios as FCR. From the customer's perspective, these scenarios will not satisfy - they want their issue resolved definitively during the first call about it.

Second, what is the difference between a call-back because the original answer didn't satisfy the customer and the same caller calling about a new issue? This is much harder to identify and measure, since the calls might happen several days apart and be handled by different agents.

Third, a customer might call frequently about similar issues. In this case, each individual call might seem to be resolved, but the underlying issue remains and produces further calls. For example, say a caller regularly is given credit for disputed items on the telephone bill; receiving credit might satisfy this individual, but it does not lead to resolving the underlying issue of why unwarranted charges appear on bills - a systemic problem that may affect other customers as well, driving them to call.

Operational measures, including FCR, are important parts of measuring the performance of a contact center. However, our research indicates that companies are taking, or will soon adopt, more business-focused approaches to measuring performance. Cost always will remain important, but Ventana Research advises companies to take a fresh look at what they measure and develop new metrics to drive more effective cost-improvement programs that won't reduce customer satisfaction or the possibility of increasing revenue.

FCR is a case in point: Contact center managers need to identify real repeat calls. One vendor in this performance management space, Enkata, has developed a unique way of tagging calls so users can identify repeat calls about an issue even if they occur days apart and are handled by different agents. Further analysis helps to identify why the repeat calls are occurring, and the center can initiate programs to reduce them. Doing so might require process or system changes, or possibly new training programs that help agents deal with specific types of call or caller. Agents are at the forefront of handling customer interactions, but our research shows that training alone will not necessarily improve performance. Process improvements are required, as well as better support for agents at their desktops - including the availability of more customer- and business-related information - and improvements in managing the complete life cycle of agents from recruitment on. In particular, our research identified two areas needing improvement: Only 19 percent of centers provide their agents with an intelligent desktop, and only 34 percent of centers can produce a customer-focused scorecard.

With so much emphasis placed on improving customer satisfaction, it is surprising that so few centers can produce a customer-focused scorecard. The root cause lies in the complexity of the data sources present in a contact center, many of which are proprietary in nature and so are difficult to access. Vendors such as AIM technology, Enkata, HardMetrics and Merced Systems have developed tools that make it possible to get at this data and produce the business- and customer-related analysis that agents and center managers need to improve call handling. More complete information will enable agents to resolve more calls the first time, which in turn should lead to improvements in customer satisfaction and overall business performance.

Ventana Research concludes that companies need to change the ways in which they analyze contact center performance. Some transactional measures, such as FCR, will always be required, but companies need to take a more business-focused approach as well.

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