The problem with customer service metrics

2nd Nov 2010

Professor Moira Clark and Philip Michell look at the thorny issue of customer service metrics - and whether it is possible to balance all the demands and measures.

No matter the sector or business, the word ‘metrics’ always sparks lively debate. This is particularly true for the world of outsourcing, and in particular for customer service, where the measurement of performance is critical. Of course, we should remember that what you measure and reward is what you get. So if you measure and reward sales you will get sales - but not necessarily customer retention or customer satisfaction. If you measure and reward the number of calls handled in a given time frame, you will no doubt get high levels of efficiency but not necessarily effective customer service.
Employee behaviour is undoubtedly linked to what you reward. It is therefore essential that companies think very carefully about the metrics that they put in place so that they don’t accidentally create unhelpful behaviours like agents dumping calls in order to meet sales targets. Creating the ‘right culture’ of measurement for customer-facing staff is vital for creating successful customer experiences and long-term relationships with customers.
If employees perceive that metrics are being used inappropriately to constrain their behaviour or that their behaviour is being overly managed, they are quite likely to put all their energies and competencies into trying to beat the system, but if they perceive the system to be transparent and fair and that they are trusted to act in appropriate ways, then they will often make great efforts to deliver great customer service.
Rather than a lack of metrics in today’s contact centres - AHT (average handling time), FCR (first call resolution), abandoned calls, CSAT (customer satisfaction) for example - there is in fact an argument that there are too many measures. This is compounded by the fact that most of these measures are not business driven - every one of them is either internally focused or does not have a direct relationship with the high level goals of the organisation. That is not to say that these measures are not critical, they certainly are to the planning and forecasting of operations within contact centres.
It is therefore important that these ‘input’ metrics are combined with two other sets of measures: those that ensure the function is aligned to the goals of the organisation (‘output’ metrics) and those that ensure the end service delivered exceeds the expectations of customers and ultimately converts them into advocates for the business (‘customer’ metrics). Choosing metrics that reflect these three areas is where the challenge lies – but by choosing a select number, a business can get a very accurate picture of performance, drive business goals and enhance customer experience
Managing the metrics
So how can this approach be managed? While the adoption of a balanced scorecard is key to success there is a need to analyse these three metric groups in different ways: 
  • Input metrics – what is their impact on cost?
  • Output metrics – are the goals of the organisation being achieved?
  • Customer metrics – are we building a good pool of advocates? 
It is also critical to remember what impact these metrics can have on future operations and performance. While ‘input’ and ‘output’ metrics tell a historical story of performance it is the customer metrics that provide the best future indicator of output metrics. For example, measuring average handling time (input), revenue per call (output) and customer satisfaction (output) only tell you how you have performed. Customer advocacy or the Net Promoter Score provides more effective indications of future performance - providing your product or service remains competitive.
So is it possible to balance all of these demands and measures? The simple answer is yes - however there is no 'one size fits all' - which is evident if one considers the fundamental differences between, say, a premium retailer and an emergency services line.
This is only the start though. Throwing social media into the mix makes measurement even more complicated. The adoption of social media as a marketing, sales and customer care channel requires a totally new set of metrics.
How will a business determine if one of their agents’ Tweets meets the customer’s requirements and prevents a call to the contact centre for example?
Further still, how will a business know how it improves that customer’s (and every other customer that reads it) advocacy towards it? Take another example; if each Tweet and Facebook posting has the chance of being seen by millions of people – how much time should you allow agents to invest in addressing the issue and building advocacy? 
Social media has rewritten the metrics rule book and will require a new approach using innovative technology if its impact and reach is going to be accurately measured.
Professor Moira Clark is director of the Henley Centre for Customer Management, Henley Business School. Philip Michell is consulting director of Vertex Data Science Ltd.

Replies (2)

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By Jodi Koskella
05th Nov 2010 23:16

Great post! I agree that there are often too many metrics, and social media is only complicating matters. We're seeing more and more customers take a dual-approach to measuring customer satisfaction through both social media and traditional surveys. For example, we see companies performing transactional surveys after call-center interactions and also monitoring social media feedback, and then comparing the results side by side to understand customer satisfaction within the call center and across the social web. Sometimes the results are similar- in other cases they are quite different simply because instead of calling for help, the customer is tweeting their problem and not always receiving an answer. We advise companies to monitor their social media and take the conversation offline and to a help-desk as quickly as possible. I'd love to hear other best practices for dealing with support requests via social media!

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By Henry Dean
09th Nov 2010 09:25

Metrics are without doubt a big headache for customer service but there are signs that the sector is starting to get to grips with the issue. It has always dependend on what end of the telescope you're looking through. If the business wants to keep costs low then they will focus on average call handling time. Hence why it has proven so popular in the past. As time has moved on and biz have realised that the experience is more important they have started to look at things differntly which is why we now see so much emphasis on first call resolution. But other metrics are creeping in too and I notice that Zappos uses Net Promoter Score as a metric for its call centre staff to ensure they deliver a WOW experience.

However, don't get me started on social media metrics!!!!! We've barely scraped the surface of this yet!

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