What are the different contact centre metrics that can be used, and how do you establish which are most important for your organisation?
Performance measurements in contact centres will vary from business to business; there’s no right or wrong way to measure performance. There isn’t a fixed set of metrics through which to evaluate a centre. One size doesn’t fit all.
When looking at contact centre metrics, one must look at the type of organisation, the type of customer that is serviced and the type of business as a whole. Different metrics might look great when put together, but when examined in isolation, they might not really be effective or reflective for the particular business in question.
It is important to take a holistic view when working out what you’re trying to achieve with contact centre performance measurement. For example, if you’re measuring cost per call, it might seem sensible for a centre to finish that call as quickly as possible. However, the more satisfied the customer, the more chance of them becoming brand advocates. The ROI from the call is then probably higher as a long-term relationship is nurtured even if the call has extended slightly beyond answering the initial query. Creating a formula to calculate the ‘time versus value add’ could be beneficial.
In fact, as businesses have moved away from viewing contact centres as purely cost centres, and have increasingly acknowledged the value in providing a positive experience to the caller, so metrics such as average call handling time have become outmoded. Nonetheless, other efficiency measures continue to be popular and valuable, even with the new focus on experience, including staff shrinkage and agent occupancy.
Abandon rate, longest delay in queue and average speed of answer have become common service measures. But the nature of the business and the type of customer will determine service levels so it is important for any contact centre business not to firmly screw themselves to the ground if certain metrics are not going to be appropriate. Indeed, it is far more important that the contact centre plays its own role within the whole business. The score card of the contact centre must feed in to the broader, wider Balance Score Card of the business rather than just measuring the contact centre in isolation.
A forward thinking business should look beyond the immediate hitting or not hitting of the standard KPI numbers. So for example, if customer retention and customer satisfaction are sales and revenue markers, then these are the key metrics that the results from the contact centre should drive. If some of the metrics do not deliver on this, then they should be of less focus.
Having said that, whilst there are a wide variety of different metrics that can all stake a claim as being vital KPIs, there are certain metrics that are of course important. As a general rule, as stated, these should not be set in stone, but are still effective metrics to measure on performance and not just in isolation.
Our industry puts first resolution rate as the Holy Grail when it comes to contact centre performance measurement. Yet it is important to remember that some customers might not have an issue with being transferred, for example if it is a technical enquiry. The initial agent offering basic product support will need to transfer to an agent who is more technical, but whose skill set needn’t be used on the frontline to handle basic product enquiries. Agents cannot be all things to all people; it simply isn’t profitable.
Therefore if a call cannot be handled by one agent, this shouldn’t be a big issue. What is important is how the agent deals with the query. If they haven’t the skill set to answer the customer and need to transfer the call onwards, then it is imperative that the ‘handshake’ process is done in the correct way. This means appropriate training is vital. Additionally, this situation helps the contact centre to analyse which agents need performance enhancement training, so internally across the business as a whole, it is an important metric.
Average handle time of calls stems out of this. What’s the point of getting a customer off the call as quickly as possible if it just means that they have to call back? It provides a false economy. The more an agent does on a call, the less they’ll have to do afterwards. If an agent is empowered to conduct a refund over the phone then you’re stopping them having to do the paperwork after the call. Yes the call might be longer, but the customer leaves satisfied in the knowledge that they request has been completed. So, average call handle time can also be a white elephant; an important metric for a contact centre, but one that must also be used in conjunction with other performance tools across the business and not just in isolation.
Measuring the abandon rate of calls is a useful metric. Whilst contact centres can adopt sophisticated queuing systems that do retain a customer’s interest, they can have the annoyance factor attached to them. By analysing the abandon rate, a contact centre can ascertain if measures such as ring-backs are necessary whereby a customer puts themselves in the queue and requests a call back from an agent. Moreover, abandon rates help to optimise resource; flexible working staff, sometimes even from other areas of the business, can help support and cover peak periods, for example first thing in the morning before work, or at lunch hours. Using the existing infrastructure, these staffing options can help handle the peaks and troughs and the contact centre results can feed into the bigger picture of the overall business plan.
Abandon rates can also help a contact centre determine if self-service routes, or IVR can help address this issue. Having a smart self-service function, and not a massive amount of complicated menus, can be beneficial for a centre, but again, it is important to look at the type of customer being served. If the customer base is older, then smart technology might not be the answer, however if the customer is a younger group just checking their remaining mobile phone usage quickly, then self-service could help address abandon rates.
Internally, contact centres have many different quality measures such as how well the call was handled. However there are not a vast amount of external quality measures. With more external measurements, the contact centre can feed its results back into the wider business plan and it is a surprise that so few centres employ external quality measures. As an industry we must do more benchmarking and more independent auditing of customer experience. A timely CSI survey can tell what the customers really feel.
Satisfaction surveys after the call are open to bias as a customer is either in one camp or the other; if a good experience has happened then the respondent will be favourable, however if there has been a bad situation then the survey will be negative. So independent, ‘mystery shopper’ surveys are a good way to measure external performance and of making sure that you’re doing everything to meet the customer’s needs.
Of course, there are many other metrics not discussed here; communication etiquette, agent occupancy and system availability, amongst others, but it is important for a centre to choose the most appropriate measurement methods for their business as a whole. A contact centre shouldn’t just be measured in isolation; the most effective contact centres will deliver results that are part of the Balance Score Card for the overall business.
Working as part of this bigger picture can help the contact centre choose the most appropriate metrics to ensure that they are delivering value to the organisation, to the brand that they’re working for, and of course, most importantly, to the customer.
- Blockage - Measuring busy signals, this indicates what percentage of customers are unable to access the contact centre due to insufficient network facilities in place.
- Abandon rate - An important metric due to its relation to retention and revenue – though abandon rates can also be influenced by a number of other factors outside of the call centre’s control.
- Average speed of answer - This metric address the percentage of calls answered in a defined wait threshold.
- Longest delay in queue - An alternative speed of answer measure, focusing on how long the oldest call in the queue has been waiting.
- First resolution rate - A critical measure of quality, this looks at the percentage of transactions completed within a single contact, and is a gauge of the ability of the individual and centre as a whole to address the customer’s issue in a single step, without transferring the call or needing further contact in the future.
- Transfer rate - To help identify performance issues or routing strategies, call centres can measure what percentage of contacts have to be transferred to another person for assistance.
- Communication etiquette - It is standard practice for contact centres to measure call quality in terms of etiquette and communication.
- Agent occupancy - Useful for measuring how well a centre is scheduling its staff and efficiently utilising its resources, this measures the time an agent is busy with customers compared to available time, or idle time.
- Staff shrinkage - The amount of time staff are unavailable for handling calls due to training, time off, breaks, etc.
- Average call handle time - A very common measurement, though with a shift towards quality of calls, rather than quantity, it is not viewed as the key metric any longer.
- System availability - System speed, uptime and overall availability are recommended measurements to ensure optimised response time and efficiency.
- Cost per call - Commonly measured as either labour cost per call, though it can be more complex, encompassing technology and facilities, this is a useful metric for benchmarking the use of financial resources compared to other centres.
James Le Roth is contact centre director at Eclipse Marketing.