Getting the measure of contact centres: What call centre metrics do you need?by
Contact centres need to monitor service metrics, quality metrics and efficiency metrics, while also keeping an eye on customer feedback numbers too.
There are many different metrics that enable us to measure the performance of a contact centre and one size certainly doesn’t fit all.
In some cases, the traditional priority on measuring speed of answer will trump all other thoughts - Emergency Services being the obvious example where speed of answer will be its critical and defining measure. However, for commercial clients, this metric is unlikely to be top of the list.
But customers often rank the importance of speed of answer much lower than the resolution of their enquiry. People don’t mind waiting a short period of time as long as it culminates in dealing with the right person who will own and resolve their problem or enquiry. A customer will become dissatisfied with waiting times if they don’t end up with their issue sorted out or they reach the wrong person who is unable to resolve their problem without transferring their call.
This is where the frustration about waiting time will start to come out. In fact, contact centres that fail to understand this idea and drives speed of answer as a main performance measurement create unnecessary staffing costs that would be better spent on a quality model.
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.
The most important metrics
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.
First resolution rate is often viewed 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.
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.
Here’s a quick summary of some of the main metrics in use today:
- 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.
New measurement challenges
Stepping away from the traditional telephone, technological advances and the proliferation of social media, coupled with the rapid expansion of online services and the growing use of smart phones and tablets has seen a shift in consumer behaviour that has made measurement more complicated than it once was, even just a few short years ago.
Contact centres are now responsible for delivering sales and support across all channels and as such must set themselves up to understand the value they are adding at each step of the journey. Whilst there are various forms of analytics software able to help do this, the most common place to start would be to measure the customers ‘likelihood to recommend’ at the end of the touch.
This methodology, often referred to as Net Promoter Scores (NPS), is widely used and accepted throughout many leading organisations, not just in the contact centre space. However, you can fall into the trap of assuming that customers indicating that ‘they do not intend to recommend a product or service’ are then likely to spread negativity and detract others from the brand.
In fact, research now suggests that many of these ‘detractors’ (as they are labelled under the NPS system) don’t appear to broadcast much of this negativity (as previously assumed in the model). In response to this, new methodology is now becoming available within the market that enhances the NPS process to include questions that establish not only the ‘likelihood to recommend’ the brand but also the ‘likelihood to detract’ from it. Needless to say, knowing these subtle differences are all key factors to getting the service design right from the start.
The main point to remember is that regardless of the customer feedback tools that are used by an organisation, whether that is post-transaction NPS phone surveys or customer panels, through to after sales surveys amongst others, it is important to work with a contact centre that can offer you expertise and variety of approach that is best suited to your business and more importantly customer needs.
Being part of a business that integrates a contact centre into their CRM strategy allows me to raise another key point around the concepts of customer feedback, a metric that really, every business should be striving towards improving. This rests in being able to ‘close the loop’ on the feedback and is a really important metric that sometimes doesn’t go as far as it should. All too often we can be doing a great job of capturing the customer view to then not actually use this insight and act upon these findings; it doesn’t have to be a massive leap from what we’re currently doing, but instead, shows intelligence and understanding of the customer needs to get information into the hands of the customer at a time when they’re thinking favourably about the brand or product in question.
For example, it is common practice to run NPS or customer satisfactions surveys (CSS) programmes to simply measure the propensity in different areas of performance. As we are asking if a customer will recommend products to friends and family, it seems silly not to go one step further and close the loop. By this I mean building in the objectives and outbound resources to follow up on this with ‘actual’ offers and samples to the original customer surveyed or indeed the personal contacts they might be prepared to provide. This activity could be another important metric measuring the performance of the contact centre.
Unified communications and agent desk top allows service level agreements (SLAs) to be set and delivered across all channels and this has meant the ability to deliver faster responses to e-mail and real time response to texts and web chat. This has created an increasing focus on people’s written skills and workforce optimisation tools. To measure this, we have various tools at our disposal, including screen recording and instant analytics which are the most popular ways of measuring this skill.
Finally, on the theme of designing the multi-channel experience for feedback, another basic but crucial requirement is to make sure that feedback channels are created that actually work for the customer. If they need to complain, there is nothing worse than being sent on a round robin between departments and worse still, having to engage with insincere people that have no obvious desire or empowerment to recover their custom.
Of course, there will still be brands which want to measure contact centres using the more traditional metrics which can include measures such as abandon rates, average speed of answer, longest delay in the queue, first resolution rate, transfer rate and communication etiquette amongst others. However, these shouldn’t be the only way that the performance of a contact centre is measured and in this day and age, even building on just a few years ago, the main areas that I’ve referenced in this piece should really be part of the overall measurement process.
Mike Jefferies is contact centre manager at Eclipse Marketing.