We’ve been doing a lot of writing and speaking about metrics in the contact centre. So we asked a number experts which key performance indicators (KPIs) should be used in the contact centre.
Too many companies stick to standard metrics
In seven years of research into call centre performance management, I have placed a lot of emphasis on what KPIs companies should use to monitor and assess the performance of their centres. However, I have found companies pretty much stick to standard metrics such as queue lengths, volume of calls, average call handling times, holds, transfers, etc.
To improve, I advocate that companies think in terms of categories of metrics (operational, agent, customer), types of metrics (efficiency, effectiveness, root-cause), and currency of metrics (historic, real-time, predictive). Whilst doing this, companies will have to address the state, quantity and types of data they will need to access and what technologies are available to support this transformation.
Categories of metrics
The metrics currently used by most centres fall into what I term operational metrics. These mostly relate to how the technology is performing and the throughput of the centre. They are almost entirely about efficiency and don’t say much about how successfully the centre is performing at delivering business objectives. They link very closely with cost and as such will always be an important part of any centre’s KPIs. However, centres are not just about efficiency of operations, they also concern people – agents and customers. When it comes to agents, most companies rely on their quality monitoring processes to allocate agents a quality score and to identify what training they require. More advanced companies use technologies such as speech analytics to identify what their agents are saying, how they are satisfying customers and how well they are performing at solving customer issues.
Advanced companies are linking these metrics to call routing so that calls are routed to the agent most likely to achieve the best outcome from any one call.
They also look at root-cause analysis to understand why calls are occurring and why the outcomes are what they are. This will enable companies to address these root causes, which is likely to have a far more dramatic impact on call volumes and average handling times than focussing on pure operational efficiency metrics.
The type, currency, validity, volume, quality, etc. of any set of KPIs depends on two things – the data they are based on and the technology used to derive the metrics from the data.
A study I did a while ago showed that companies have, for example, customer data in 22 different types of systems, everything from network control databases, CTI systems, to applications such as CRM, ERP, billing systems, knowledge databases, and of course spreadsheets. To these, companies have to add unstructured data such as emails, letters, forms, surveys, call recordings, web scripts, IVR usage, IM scripts, text messages, blogs, tweets and videos. In fact, there are if anything more unstructured sources than structured.
The good news is that vendors are rising to the challenge. There are now customer data management vendors that support the creation and maintenance of high-quality data sources, vendors that can access every form of data, and vendors that can access data inside and outside the firewall.
Richard J Snow is VP and Research Director at Ventana Research
Wow… this is one of those open-ended questions that might never have an ending
Now, assuming we’re talking about an inbound centre, there are some of what I call the “classic” measurements. These will help capture the internal workings and productivity measurements of the centre such as:
- Occupancy, expressed as a percentage – This helps identify how much time an agent is actually “speaking live” to your customers. As a rule, the higher the percentage, the better, but be careful it isn’t too high. Unless you’re in a highly specialised role (directory enquiries services spring to mind) too high a number might indicate either a lack of attention to after-call work, or an inaccurate measurement.
- Abandoned calls – pretty self explanatory and naturally, the lower the better
- Calls answered
- Calls offered
- Average wait time
- Grade of service (number of calls answered within x seconds)
Pretty simple so far. But this is also where it starts to deviate depending on the role of the contact centre. For sales-driven environments, There will be much higher emphasis on the average wait time compared to, say, a support or service line. There are also a number of other KPIs that will be important to any sales organisation, such as:
- Conversion – The ratio of calls to closed business (or appointments, or promises to pay, whatever your centre’s goals are). This can calculated through a simple result code that your agent can key into their ACD phone, assuming your ACD supports this).
- Average call length – Depending on what you’re selling, this can vary greatly, and there are no right or wrong answers to it. For example, someone selling a mortgage product will be permitted a much longer average call length than someone who places orders from a mail-order catalogue.
For operations that are more customer service or resolution based – you could consider KPIs which will help interpret the level of customer satisfaction with the call. These could include:
- First call resolution (%) – Being able to resolve the customer’s query/concern on the first call made. A nirvana for most customer service centres, but much more difficult to achieve in real life.
- Average age of query – Failing to resolve the query on the first call, this metric calculates the average amount of time that a case remains open. Naturally, the shorter the better. And most organisations should be able to have the reporting capabilities to track/trend this.
- Customer call frequency – A metric to indicate the frequency of repeated calls from the same customer. This helps identify if correct information was given in the first place, or if there are repeated issues with a particular element of your business.
These terms are a bit generic, and many business will use their own jargon or acronyms to describe some of these concepts. There are lots of others that can be applied to other more specific operations too.
Gene Reynolds is the owner of GPR Consulting
Contact centres are at the heart of the customer experience and as such are under constant scrutiny from the public and the industry to provide a consistently high level of service. It is commonly acknowledged that the sustainable differentiator between companies is now the level of service they provide and the subsequent impression left with the customer when each call ends.
As such the performance measurement criteria used by a contact centre should complement and not conflict each other in order to achieve a successful level of service.
The business objectives
Organisations need to be clear as to what their overall objective is in order to establish what they are looking to achieve as a business, whether this be maximising profits, maintaining high levels of customer satisfaction, recruiting new talent, driving new business or all of these things.
Managers can then create and execute successful plans for each area of the goal. However, if a brand fails to consider its intentions at the start of a project, it is in danger of potentially skewing one set of results which could be detrimental to another.
Customer satisfaction surveys
To understand whether a contact centre is developing in the right direction, it is essential to use some form of customer satisfaction survey. A CSAT Index, for example, can be simply implemented to measure customer satisfaction and loyalty.
The survey method can help to reduce the complexity of implementation and analysis frequently associated with measures of customer satisfaction. In turn, this provides a stable measure of business performance that can be compared across business units.
Another critical factor is pro-actively assessing customer advocacy and word-of-mouth feedback by looking at whether existing customers are talking about the services and products on offer. Brands should be continually looking for new ways to elevate their service not only to ensure repeat business from customers but to activate the spread of the business name through word of mouth.
Start measuring Twitter
The internet has given consumers the ability to express their opinions on an easily accessible platform where they can openly applaud or criticise a brand and its service. Word of mouth online can work in two ways; negative comments posted on review sites or Twitter can be read by thousands of people and become a deciding factor in brand or product choice. Conversely, a satisfied customer can pass on positive comments which have a considerable impact on a brand in terms of generating new custom and increasing profit.
To drive customer satisfaction there should be a clear definition of first-contact resolution and the opportunity to provide customers with better processes in response to their needs. It is essential for managers to look at how efficient their contact centre’s current processes are by identifying any existing weaknesses in first-contact resolution. A focus on speed of delivery can often mean contact centre agents have far less interaction with customers which can result in them feeling less valued and can remove the personal aspect from conversations.
In order to monitor first-contact resolution effectively, contact centres can use automated technologies but in the initial stages agents should be trained to handle situations without any props. To do this, agents should be briefed on the detailed processes that will solve customer problems efficiently and appropriately. Managers must ensure that customer’s satisfaction levels remain high by establishing a timeframe to monitor customer requests and track progress. Through this approach, contact centres can save money and essentially avoid losing customers.
Customer lifetime value
For contact centres, an essential indicator of performance would be one which considers the value of the brand to the consumer. This can be analysed by looking at how many products a customer has purchased from that organisation and the value that this relationship has generated.
To fully understand a consumer’s affinity to a brand, a contact centre must distinguish whether the customer is heavily engaged and happy with the service being provided. In theory, customer lifetime value represents exactly how much each customer is worth in monetary terms, and therefore how much a brand should be spending to acquire and retain them as a loyal customer. Those customers which are defined as giving greater lifetime value can be maintained with approaches tailored to them.
It is essential to provide a positive working environment in the contact centre, recognising and rewarding each individual’s efforts. Agents should feel they can openly contribute and are supported when exchanging ideas during day-to-day activity.
To achieve this, it is essential to evaluate and measure turnover, employee satisfaction, employee attitudes, and management effectiveness continuously in order to develop the potential of the workforce.
Call centre effectiveness
It is equally important to look at hard, quantitative measures of call centre effectiveness. This can be done by looking at how quickly agents are able to resolve calls and the ability to build rapport whilst gaining additional insight and data. Encouraging a customer to impart any information, especially in light of the somewhat negative view the media has placed on the use of personal data, can be a challenge for agents, but will enrich the customer service experience. But a warm, personable, individual and interested conversation can overcome this and an agent who is able to do this well can open up opportunities for subtle cross- and up selling, generating more income for the organisation.
Chris Hancock is the MD of GasboxDMG
A call centre measurement framework must be simple, relevant to the particular call centre business and provide a balanced and comprehensive view.
Any balanced scorecard should include the following measures:
- Customer Satisfaction (How well am I serving my customers?)
- Operational Efficiency (How well is my operation performing?)
- Business Value (How well am I supporting business sales?)
- People Management (Am I getting the best out of my people?).
If we take the balanced scorecard measures one by one, the essential KPIs are:
1. Customer Satisfaction
Percentage of Calls Abandoned, Answered and Average Speed to Answer are the basic hard measures underpinning customer satisfaction. Internally, they can reveal suboptimal shift patterns or agent scheduling; externally long wait times means frustrated customers keen to take their business elsewhere.
First-Contact Resolution rate is vital for customers who rightly resent being put on hold or passed through different departments. A low FCR can indicate poor internal processes or inadequate staff training.
Customer Satisfaction Scores provide direct feedback from the people who count; the customers. Take it seriously and don’t resort to email feedback surveys as your only data-gathering mechanism.
2. Operational Efficiency
Agent Occupancy describes how long the agent spends answering or dealing directly with calls. Low occupancy can indicate overstaffing and high operational costs.
Average Handling Time measures the time agents spend handling individual calls. Long times can reveal inadequately skilled agents or broken processes and tools.
Call Transfer Rate tells you if calls are being routed to the right agent first time or whether too many are being redirected thus wasting agents’ time.
Cost Per Call takes into account all fixed and variable costs expended in running the contact centre operation and provides an overall gauge of efficiency when compared with similar operations.
3. Business Value
Total Sales directly measures the revenue contribution of the contact centre. Linked to the correctly aligned reward structure it can drive effective agent behaviour.
Sales Conversion should be used in conjunction with Total Sales to make sure that quality leads are being converted.
Customer Retention determines whether the contact centre is exploiting its “front line” opportunity to nurture and retain customers and lock in future profits for the organisation. This is just as true for service-related contact centres as for those with a sales bias.
4. People Management
Attrition Rate is a lagging indicator often influenced by the local and national economy. High attrition means high recruitment and training costs, lower average skills and a more costly operation offering a worse service.
Unapproved Absenteeism literally measures the health of the contact centre and is closely related to Attrition Rate.
Agent Quality enables contact centre management to take a holistic view of agent performance and moderate the hard measures of agent performance which individually may give an unduly biased view of an agent’s performance, for example.
Paul Gardner is an Associate Director at Xantus Consulting
Identifying more granular metrics
Everyone is familiar with the classic contact centre performance report – it’s all about numbers: how many calls were received, how quickly they were answered and how long they lasted. There’s a lot of focus on statistics, and we probably only use them because that’s the format that our ACD equipment generates.
But the problem with average statistics is that they often lead to average performance levels. As a result, contact centres can get locked into quantitative assessments that don’t always offer up the kind of insight needed to move an operation forward. This means that managers aren’t spending enough time asking more critical questions. By concentrating on averages they are effectively hiding the performance variants that might help them to improve key factors such as overall customer service quality or agent adherence.
That’s why we think that contact centres need to start looking for more granular metrics and KPIs that will allow them to identify performance exceptions. This can help shift the focus towards more meaningful measures such as quality scores based on a sample of calls. Once these types of metrics become established, organisations can start to use exception-based reporting to build balanced scorecards featuring essential KPIs such as first-contact resolution and customer feedback.
Once the core operational metrics are in place, it’s also possible for contact centre managers to apply the same approach to other key parts of their operation, including customer contact history, self-service, customer feedback and agent classification. The ultimate goal would be to have a record of all contacts and self-service interactions stored within the customer record.
Customer feedback data can also play an important role in providing an external counterbalance to internally generated records. You can start the process with quarterly customer satisfaction surveys, and progress towards post interaction surveys across all channels.
It’s also important to gather data from the agents. It’s surprising how many contact centres don’t actually log post-contact classification data around the reasons for a customer’s contact and its outcome. Automating the agent’s entry into the customer record can provide managers with an element of real-time reporting, and provides the ability to carry out ad hoc queries to establish the reasons for current contact volumes.
There’s no point collecting all this data unless you do something with it. Regular automated reports that feature a balanced spread of service metrics can be broadcast to stakeholders at regular intervals, while more advanced reporting processes can use analysis and reporting tools to allow more complex queries to be made.
They say you are what you measure
We believe that if you limit your performance measurement and KPIs to the most basic record keeping and reporting, then you’re probably going to the limit the overall potential of your contact centre operation.
A business that makes sure its agents are performing efficiently, that takes note of what its customers are calling about, that asks them for their feedback, pays attention to how their brand is being discussed on social networks, and actively measures their customers’ propensity to recommend their service to others (using Net Promoter Scores), is much more likely to be getting things right.
The right measurements really can make a difference.
Kenneth Hitchen, Director, Sabio Consulting