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8 customer service metrics to measure call center success

Measuring call center metrics and KPIs benefits organizations by showing where issues occur. Average handle time, service level and cost per call are a few metrics to start with.

A business may think it has the best call center, but it won't know for sure until it measures and reports the proper KPIs and metrics.

Unlike many other departments, call centers have metrics available to measure results up to the minute and second. While every KPI has value, call centers need to focus on a limited number of these metrics to ensure they prioritize and make effective decisions.

Organizations must also understand the limitations and flaws of specific KPIs so that they do not focus blindly on a specific goal, which may result in unplanned consequences -- such as an agent rushing a customer off the phone without resolving the issue.

Here are eight of the most critical customer service call center metrics and KPIs for call centers to focus on.

1. First contact resolution

First contact resolution (FCR) is a customer experience metric that measures the frequency at which an agent can resolve customer issues in a single interaction. FCR is also a key driver of other customer-focused metrics, including customer satisfaction and customer effort.

The most effective way to measure FCR is to analyze data to determine whether a customer called back within a given time period with the same or similar issue.

Alternative methods of measuring FCR include asking the customer immediately at the end of a phone call or surveying them later to determine whether they experienced FCR. The problem with these methods is that call center management may not be able to conclude that the agent effectively addressed the root cause of the issue so quickly following an interaction.

For example, if a customer experiences a billing issue due to incorrect information in the CRM system, they may believe that FCR occurred when the agent provides a credit to resolve the issue. However, if the agent does not correct the information in the CRM system and the same billing issue occurs the following month, the agent does not achieve FCR.

Three types of call center metrics
Call center metrics

2. Service level

Service level is a customer experience metric that measures the percentage of calls that agents answer within a given time period.

A common service level target is for an agent to answer 80% of calls within 30 seconds (80/30). This is an effective KPI to ensure that a call center has proper staffing for inbound phone lines and that the wait time to answer customer calls is at an acceptable level.

The issue with this metric is that it ignores the wait time for all calls that do not fall within the service level goal. If an agent achieves their 80/30 goal, the service level metric ignores the 20% of calls that agents do not answer within 30 seconds.

Many of the calls that agents do not answer within service level receive a response shortly after 30 seconds, but if a large number of callers have to wait 60 seconds or longer for an agent to answer their call, there is a blind spot in this metric.

It is also critical that call centers monitor KPIs that show the percentage of calls that agents answer in intervals beyond 30 seconds to ensure that agents provide a consistent customer experience to a broad set of customers.

3. Call abandon rate

The call abandon rate is a customer experience metric that measures the percentage of callers that hang up before an agent answers the phone.

A variety of factors influence abandon rate, such as amount of time a caller waits in queue, alternative channels of communication, urgency of a call and whether there are other competitors in the marketplace that customers can easily turn to instead. Therefore, call centers need to understand their callers' needs and their competition to create an effective targeted abandon rate.

Call center management should count and track all abandoned calls to monitor trends and identify when issues arise.

Many organizations do not count abandoned calls within specific time frames because they believe the caller did not give them an adequate opportunity to answer the call. Two common examples are:

  • when a caller abandons a call within a very short time frame, such as five seconds; or
  • if a caller abandons a call within a service level target, which is within 30 seconds for an 80/30 service level goal.

Call center management should count and track all abandoned calls to monitor trends and identify when issues arise. For example, a call center may experience an acceptable 2% abandonment rate within five seconds. In this case, customers realize they have dialed an incorrect number. But if the call center suddenly experiences a 5% abandonment rate in five seconds, something may have changed, such as another organization publishing an incorrect toll-free number that is driving calls to the contact center. Abandon rate targets vary by industry.

4. Average handle time

Average handle time (AHT) is a call center efficiency metric that measures the length of time agents take handling customer phone calls. AHT has three main components:

  • average talk time -- the time the agent is speaking with a caller;
  • average hold time -- the time an agent places a caller on hold; and
  • after call work time -- the time it takes an agent to perform follow-up work resulting from a call after the caller hangs up.

Many organizations choose to eliminate this metric while measuring agent performance because it often drives behaviors where agents rush phone calls to attain their AHT goals. However, AHT is still a key metric to identify if agents need additional training, if process or system improvements would improve efficiency and to support resource planning.

Organizations should establish an acceptable AHT range rather than a specific hard target. AHT varies by business, so the range may be different depending on the industry. For example, an acceptable AHT range in retail may be three to five minutes, while in technical support it could be 15 to 20 minutes. By setting a range to hit, call centers can avoid problems such as repeat callers and agent confusion.

For agents who fall outside of the range -- both on the high and low ends -- a supervisor should perform additional call monitoring, including screen capture, to better understand if an agent requires additional training.

For example, an agent having trouble navigating screens may require more training in this area. If it is not a training issue, there may be a process or system breakdown affecting the interaction. Perhaps the agent experiences slow response time with their computer, which might require system maintenance.

It is also important to understand that as self-service resolution rates increase, there is a likelihood that AHT will increase as a result of self-service being able to successfully handle the "easier" transactions. An easier transaction can be a password reset and bill payments, while harder transactions may require hardware troubleshooting.

Other call metrics

While these KPIs are among the most important for call centers to use, they are not an exhaustive list of metrics. Here are some additional metrics for contact centers to consider:

  • blocked call rate
  • average speed of answer
  • customer satisfaction
  • customer effort
  • Net Promoter Score
  • dial transfer rate
  • number of waiting calls
  • longest hold time
  • callback messaging volume
  • self-service resolution rates
  • call escalation rate
  • number of calls handled
  • number of calls handled by type
  • occupancy rate
  • utilization rate
  • shrinkage
  • system availability
  • call arrival patterns
  • attrition rate
  • absenteeism rate

Monitoring and reporting KPIs and metrics are important to understand the customer experience, improve operational efficiency and drive agent effectiveness. The key is to pick the proper KPIs and metrics to focus on and to understand their value in order to drive effective decision-making.

5. Call forecast accuracy

Call forecast accuracy is a call center efficiency metric that measures how accurate call volume forecasts -- a key input for staffing and scheduling purposes -- are during specific time intervals.

The more accurate the forecasting, the higher the likelihood that staffing and scheduling will be more effective. This leads to a higher chance of attaining service level goals and improving staff efficiency.

If call forecast accuracy is low, a call center will schedule staff at the incorrect times, which not only leads to poor service level attainment, but also lower efficiency and higher costs.

6. Cost per call

Cost per call is a call center efficiency metric that measures the financial cost of handling customer phone calls. Contact center leadership and the financial organization are responsible for measuring cost per call.

It is important to track cost per call over time to determine if it is changing positively or negatively. Call centers can use cost per call for benchmarking purposes to compare against other call center operations. For either purpose, cost per call is a tricky metric to dissect as a result of the various components that it is built upon.

One challenge occurs when an organization increases its self-service resolution rates. In this scenario, there is a very good chance that the cost per call, which call centers measure excluding self-service transactions, will increase as a result of self-service being more effective for simpler transactions. Therefore, agents who need to handle more complex calls typically take a longer amount of time.

For benchmarking purposes, a call center needs to make sure it counts the various components of cost per call in the same manner. For example, if one organization is cloud-based and the ongoing subscription fees factor into operating expense while another organization has a depreciated on-premises platform with upfront costs, there is not an equal way to compare the cost per call metric.

7. Schedule adherence

Schedule adherence is an agent effectiveness metric that measures how closely an agent adheres to their specific schedule.

Call centers cannot hold their agents accountable for whether a department achieves its overall service level goals, but they can hold agents accountable for their contribution to that goal. Agents need to adhere to their scheduled time for being on the phone and their availability to answer calls.

If a call center has very high schedule adherence, there is no guarantee that it will attain the call center's service level goals. If the forecasting of call volume is not accurate, even with the best schedule adherence, service level attainment may be at risk.

8. Quality

Quality is an agent effectiveness metric that measures the accuracy and courtesy of an agent's interactions with customers.

It is an important metric from an internal perspective -- that is, adhering to policy and procedure -- to measure how agents adhere to policy and procedure along with other quality requirements that an organization defines.

Organizations must also measure quality from the customer's perspective. When developing a quality scorecard, businesses must include factors that affect the customer experience -- including agent skills such as courtesy and effectiveness -- to provide a more accurate quality score.

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