This content is part of the Essential Guide: A guide to call center metrics

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Metrics for success: Building efficiency through contact center metrics

Contact center metrics are a widely misunderstood topic. Aaron Lester explains how metrics can help your contact center run more smoothly.

With customer experience quickly becoming the distinguishing factor among competitors, contact center professionals are paying closer attention to their organizations' performance. To do so, most contact centers gravitate toward the "typical metrics," said Tim Montgomery, CEO of Culture.Service.Growth (CSG), a San Antonio-based contact center management firm. These "typical metrics," or key performance indicators (KPIs), are valuable for evaluating success, Montgomery said. But the question remains, "How does a contact center transform metrics into a world-class customer experience?"

Common core contact center metrics from Lori Fraser

While companies differ on the contact center metrics used to measure customer satisfaction, here are a few core metrics that often gauge the customer experience:

  • Service level. The percentage of calls answered within a presdetermined number of seconds.
  • Response time. The average time taken to respond to a customer call.
  • Abandonment rate. The number of callers that hang up before they are connected to an agent.
  • Average handle time. The average amount of time spent on each call, including administrative duties associated with the call.
  • First-call resolution. The ability to resolve the query or concern on the customer's first call.
  • Customer satisfaction. Customer's measure of a contact center's performance.
  • Quality monitoring scores. The observation of live or recorded calls by evaluators for the purpose of rating effectiveness.

So, how does a contact center go from being good to being great?

First, the contact center metrics

There is no single metric to manage contact center operations, and each call center uses different ones, said Lori Fraser, a senior consultant at Strategic Contact Inc. in Beaverton, Ore. But some core contact center metrics are common to the bulk of organizations: response time, abandonment rate, average handle time, first-call resolution, quality monitoring and customer satisfaction, among others.

With the multitude of well-intentioned KPIs available, the question is, "How do you choose the right ones?" A company should not choose a metric just because another contact center uses it or because a contact center manager has read about it, Fraser said. "KPIs need to support what a contact center's goals are. And a contact center's goals need to support the overall organizational goals." An inside sales team, for example, would understand why net sales per agent makes sense as a KPI, because that contributes to overall goals.

"Our problem is that we have too much data," said Jay Minnucci, president and founder of Service Agility, a contact center consulting and training company based in Spinnerstown, Pa. "Our challenge is to weed out the bad, low-value data in order to get to the good -- the 'needle in a haystack' sort of thing." Minnucci advises contact center managers to "reverse-engineer" the selection process. A contact center should start with the outcome it wants, then work backward to determine the metrics that inform the outcome. "That way, you will focus on actionable data, since it is directly related to the outcome," he said.

Beyond metrics

Anything can be measured, and agent and contact center performance should be measured -- but is that the end of the story? The real value of metrics is the ability to identify opportunities and motivate positive change. "Just because you measure it and report the result doesn't mean that will necessarily motivate [agents] to do it better," CSG's Montgomery said. The effectiveness of the call center depends directly on the ability of leaders to coach employees and on how opportunities are presented. Montgomery recommends an inclusive approach to metrics. "We don't pile the metrics on the agents' shoulders. We talk about schedule adherence, for example, and what it means to their workload, their neighbors' workload, the customer and the profitability of the contact center. That way, they get a true view of the metric, rather than just a report of the metric."

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"Great organizations -- down to the individual agent level -- understand what their metrics do and how they're supporting the overall organization," Fraser said. From the date of hire, an agent should learn what is important to the contact center, what the center's goals are, and how tracked metrics tie into those goals, she said. Then metrics should be available to agents on a nearly real-time basis, while coaching or mentoring sessions should be held on at least a monthly -- if not weekly -- basis, she added.

Through the customer's eyes

Tips for achieving a quality customer experience

No matter which metrics your call center leadership decides to use, never lose sight of the true goal of customer service -- helping the customers. Some key tips:

  • A customer should experience little to no difficulty during an interaction with the company.
  • A customer shouldn't have to educate the company; the company should educate the customer.
  • The customer should walk away from an interaction with the belief that the company will advocate on his behalf.
  • The customer should believe that a call center agent showed empathy and understanding of his situation.

To be a great contact center, you have to think like a customer, emphasized Jessica Kaufman, the operations manager of voice channel at Blue Shield of California. Kaufman has listened to countless hours of call center interactions -- sometimes during long commutes in her car. She knows what customers want and need. Generally, most customers want to feel informed and valued. They also want agents to show empathy and understanding, and they want to feel that the company is willing and able to advocate on their behalf.

Too often, however, quality is based on whether certain steps were accounted for or certain procedures followed by the agent, rather than determining whether it was a good interaction from the customer's perspective. If you want the pulse on a contact center, think about what it means to the customer, Montgomery noted. "You ask whether or not [the contact center] is easily accessible to the customer, and when it is, what kind of quality it provides."

When a customer reaches out to a call center, for example, he doesn't "want to jump through hoops or be put on hold," Montgomery said. When you look at world-class customer service versus companies trying to achieve this level of service, world-class companies are available and respond quickly, regardless of channel, he said. "Accessibility is key." Of course, the call has to satisfy the needs of the customer, or it doesn't matter how accessible a call center is. The information presented during a call needs to be accurate and helpful to the customer's needs, but there are also soft skills that can win customers' loyalty. "You may give a customer exactly what they want, but they don't feel good when they get off the phone."

In the end, it always boils down to the customer's perception, Blue Shield's Kaufman said. "Regardless of whether you feel that your processes are all working accurately and aligned with your business objective, and your applications and processes are working as designed, if something feels broken to your customer, that really should be your measurement."

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