Focus Speaks: Call Center Metrics that Matter

Updated: February 10, 2010

Ask Questions: Determining the most important call center metrics involves asking a lot of questions, according to Focus Expert Michael Schmier. "First, pick a handful of metrics that represent balanced performance for your organization," Mr. Schmier said. He added that this "will depend on a number of factors, citing several as examples.

  • Who are the metrics for? Your agents? Their managers or executives?
  • What type of contact center or contact center group do you have? Inbound or outbound? Focused on sales, technical support, general customer services or collections?
  • What are you industry-specific metrics of import?
  • What can you actually report on accurately? What is the quality of your data [management] and back-end reporting systems?

Know Your Goals: Another Focus Expert, Chris Selland, argued for a slightly broader initial perspective. "Michael put together a great list, but before going to that level of detail, I'd go one step further and step back to insure there's clarity on what the primary goal of the call center is. For instance, the broad strategic goal(s) could be something like:

  • generate revenue (process orders, cross-sell, up-sell)
  • maximize customer satisfaction
  • provide a low cost of service
  • maximize first-call resolution

"There can and almost certainly is some level of tradeoffs between some of these goals," Mr. Selland added. "[F]or instance, a low-cost service center would almost certainly NOT focus on the same set of metrics as a center intended to maximize revenue. Which metrics are 'most important' [is] very dependent upon these decisions being made in line with strategic organizational goals. Once you've got this level of perspective in place, it becomes pretty straightforward to move to the next level of detail and a set of more specific, easily-measured (and benchmarked) metrics," Mr. Selland added.

Tailor to Fit: Another Focus community member, Richard Snow, echoed the scope and complexity of the challenge presented by call center metrics. "I have been researching contact center performance for 5 years and the ‘right' performance metrics is a perennial question. You have to consider:

  • What is right for your business and the type of center you are running
  • Different metrics for different levels of users; execs need an entirely different view to say a manager/supervisor
  • You need a balance of operational metrics (volume of calls handled) and business metrics (sales made) - I find many companies focus on the former whereas what is probably more important is the latter
  • In the same way you need a balance of efficiency metrics (AHT) and effective (outcome) measures (FCR)
  • You have to consider the data sources available from which you can extract data and thus metrics; many companies today look at structured data (CRM, ACD), call recordings (speech), text (forms, surveys, e-mails) and social media sources (Facebook, Twitter)

Such goal-oriented, business-centric considerations can help you zero in on metrics tailored to the specifics of your organization and your industry, Mr. Schmier added. "For example, you might have for an agent in an inbound contact center for a major credit card company focus on these metrics:

  • Productivity (measured as average handle time or AHT);
  • Customer service (measured as first call resolution or FCR);
  • Schedule (measured as a percentage of adherence);
  • Quality (measured as appropriate to specific company goals and practices); and
  • Refunded fees/call (a metric specific to the credit card industry)."

For maximum business value, call center metrics must be placed into a meaningful context, Mr. Schmier said. "Now, just as important as the metric is the goal against the metric. What is the agent's goal for performance? How is it computed? How does it change over time?" He added examples based on the metrics featured in the example above.

  • Static goal example: to achieve 70% FCR.
  • Personalized/dynamic goal example: Your AHT goal varies based on the number of each call type you handle.
  • Relative goal example: to be in the top quartile of like contact center agents at the end of the measurement period.
  • Tiered goal example: five levels of performance, Tier 1 being best and Tier 5 being the worst; tier boundaries can be set with static, dynamic or relative goals.

"Finally, since so much of call center compensation is performance-based, it is essential to tie metric performance against goals specifically to incentive compensation," Mr. Schmier concluded.

Use What You've Got: "Not sure how you plan to produce your reports, dashboards, and analysis but one way to get an insight to what is achievable is to look at some of the specialist vendors and they will demonstrate the variety of metrics they can produce from just about any source," Mr. Snow added.

Focus contributor Patrick echoed this approach. "Don't overlook existing ‘tools' and ‘capabilities' within your current software / hardware running in the center(s). Leverage your ACD / Network / CRM vendors to help you integrate and build your dashboard and a set of robust analytics behind the dashboard….[C]ompanies are using call centers as a strategic tool in the customer life-cycle management process [including] acquisition, retention, loyalty and migration up the value chain. With senior management's call center KPIs [key performance indicators] in mind, reverse engineer your call center management [solution's KPIs and dashboard features to] track and measure these elements [and] provide capabilities…so management can make real-time business decisions."

Measure What Matters: The bottom line is to measure the things that actually align call center performance with business value, Focus contributor Laurence Barrett asserted. "Be very careful on what you measure - all too often call centers measure the wrong things! For example measuring time to answer is not a good measure and will create dysfunctional behavior in your team as they attempt to achieve this target."

Contributor Alison J. Widdup agreed. "Be careful what you measure - it will impact on the service your call center delivers, and not always for the better!

"While it's important to understand how long callers are having to wait and how many callers hang up, [these] shouldn't be a target, nor should they be the key metrics used to measure the service. Measures like this (and others such as call volumes…and calls answered or made per call handler) help call center managers to manage resource in response to volume or need. However, they miss the most crucial aspect of call center measurement: they fail to address why people call and how well (or otherwise) the call centre responds to that call. More worryingly, such measures do not demonstrate calls that could have been prevented," Ms. Widdup added.

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