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I'm not one to criticize or judge, except perhaps when I'm around other people. However, I feel I must voice (or, more accurately, write) my opinions regarding some common problems that plague the contact center industry.

Following are what I have found to be among the most common stupid things contact centers do, along with some suggestions to help avoid such idiocy.


Borrowing another contact center’s Service Level or Response Time objective. In choosing a Service Level and/or Response Time objective for their center, many managers simply use the same objective that is in place at centers deemed "best in class." What these managers fail to realize is that their particular customers may very well be bigger pains in the butt than those of best-in-class centers, making them more likely to complain and become irritable if their call isn't answered immediately.

Take for example a manager who, after reading an article about an award-winning pharmaceutical company's contact center with an 80/30 Service Level objective in place, implemented the same goal at his center. What he failed to realize was that 94 percent of the pharmaceutical center's customers were using a leading anti-depressant, and thus thoroughly enjoyed humming along to the centers' on-hold music for as long as possible. Our guy, on the other hand, managed a helpdesk for novice voodoo practitioners, where it wasn't at all uncommon for callers who were forced to wait even just 10 seconds for a connection to start sticking needles in little dolls wearing headsets.

The key point to take away from this ridiculous example is that I am very prone to run-on sentences. Another important point is that, whenever deciding on performance objectives, it's essential to choose the best objectives for YOUR contact center, and to ignore those of respectable ones.

 
Failing to incorporate customer feedback into coaching. One problem with relying solely on your own QA staff or supervisors to provide monitoring feedback to agents is that your agents don't like your QA Staff or your supervisors. Many of your agents would rather have their gums scraped or read a technology vendor’s whitepaper than take your supervisors' advice. That's why the best contact centers have started incorporating direct customer feedback (taken from post-contact surveys) into monitoring scores and coaching efforts. True, most agents don't like your customers either, but are more willing to accept their input because customers never have coffee breath and rarely if ever order your agents to go home and change out of their cut-off Rage Against the Machine tee-shirt on Casual Fridays.

Research has revealed several key benefits of implementing a direct customer feedback initiative. One study, for example, found that contact centers with such initiatives in place have up to 25% higher customer satisfaction rates, up to 15% higher agent retention rates, and up to 1% fewer incidents of QA staff and supervisors being gang-tackled by staff.


Waiting for bleeding-edge technology to become boring. I'm not saying that all contact centers should take big risks on unproven customer contact tools. I'm merely suggesting that those that don't are totally chicken. Now you may argue that investing in unproven solutions is not an intelligent, well thought-out business move. That's fine, but if you are interested only in things intelligent and well thought-out, then you have no business reading my blog.

Show me an award-winning contact center, and I'll show you a manager who has dared to make some dangerous moves with regard to customer contact solutions. Granted, occasionally such deployments fail at these leading centers, but persistent and progressive managers do not let such events stop them. Instead these managers continue to think about the next advanced technology to revolutionize their center and, once their request to leave the mental health facility is granted, eagerly begin meeting with vendors seeking beta-testers.


Treating agents like employees. If you treat agents like employees, they are going to act like employees, and few organizations can recover from such damage.

A recent study by a leading consulting firm revealed that employees are one of the biggest threats to a corporation's health and prosperity, second only to the CEO. Absenteeism, poor work performance and stapler-theft were among the many harmful acts found to be carried out more by employees than any other living entity.

On the other hand, the report found that such undesirable behavior is almost never associated with grandmothers, infants or lemurs. That's why, as I've been saying for years, contact center managers would be wise to stop spending so much time micromanaging and monitoring agents, and start spending more time providing them with rose-scented perfume, colorful rattles and pictures of Madagascar.


For those who find it insulting that I’ve used the term “Stupidity” in the title of this blog post, don’t be dumb. I was just trying to shake things up a bit and bring about some positive change.

For those of you who actually stuck around and kept reading, feel free to share what YOU feel is a common stupid thing in our industry. And please don’t say “Greg Levin”. I may be a highly judgmental and critical jerk, but I do have feelings. Moron.



 
“Smile, you’re on Customer Camera.”

Such a statement isn’t quite as silly or absurd as it sounds. Video calls are no longer just a whimsical fantasy. The technology that drives video interactions with customers is ready for prime time, and has been for a while.

Not a lot of contact centers have experimented with video calls to date, but some have and even report success in the visual medium. These centers claim that video calls aren’t just a gimmicky trend but rather something that many customers want – particularly those who are voyeurs and/or exhibitionists.

Video calls break down the barriers that exist with faceless phone conversations (and emails, chats, tweets), thus enabling companies to establish stronger rapport and more personalized relationships with customers. And because video lets customers put a face with a name, it makes it much easier for a disgruntled customer to find the exact agent he wants to slap after driving (or flying) to the contact center site, thus saving innocent staff members from any harm.

Achieving success with video calls, however, requires careful planning and strategy. Easy to overlook when implementing video are the unique performance metrics the center needs to measure in association with this new contact channel. While many of the metrics used for traditional phone calls also apply to video contacts, there are a few new measures that are particularly essential for success with video, including…

Food Particles In Teeth Per Shift (FPITPS): Agents who handle traditional voice-only calls can get away with having a piece of spinach or broccoli caught between their teeth, even if it does disgust their coworkers. For video agents, however, such a common occurrence can cause a customer experience disaster. In fact, a recent study found that video callers are 87% less likely to continue doing business with a company whose video agents fail to floss effectively.

Video agents should be coached and trained not only on proper pre-call flossing but also on the use toothpicks and hand mirrors to ensure that their FPITPS numbers remain very low. While there is no industry standard for FPITPS, the best video-enabled contact centers aim for between 0.0 and 0.2 food particles in teeth per shift for the entire center. The exception is suicide prevention hotlines, where higher FPITPS numbers are not only tolerated but encouraged, as studies have shown that agents with food caught in their teeth on camera helps emotionally distressed callers feel a lot better about their own lives.

 
Agent Smile Radius (ASR): Agents have historically been told to “put a smile in your voice” (and your emails/chats/tweets). Despite being an annoying and ambiguous command that makes agents feel like punching their supervisor, this practice has been shown to increase customer satisfaction. Now, with video, agents must learn to put an actual physical smile on their face when interacting with customers – no easy task when you consider the long hours, verbal abuse, physical confinement, low pay, and corporate motivational posters that agents must contend with each day.

To ensure that agents smile widely on a consistent basis during video calls, it’s important to hold them accountable and reward them for achieving an ambitious yet feasible Agent Smile Radius (ASR). ASR is the distance from one corner of an agent’s mouth to the other when forcing a smile during customer interactions. When choosing an ASR objective, select one that requires agents to smile big enough to make customers feel warm and special, but not so big that the customer mistakes the agent for Julia Roberts or Mick Jagger.
 
If you have some agents who simply cannot force a smile onto their face during video calls, consider using some strategic tools and props to help elicit genuine grins from these grumps. Possible smile-inducing tactics include having a supervisor stand off-camera wearing a pinwheel hat, and investing in workstation chairs that tickle.

 
Average Eye-Roll Rate (AERR): For traditional phone agents, the rolling of eyes while speaking to bothersome customers is as common a practice as sobbing alone in the break room or beneath a workstation. However, video agents must strive to keep such insulting actions in check. If customers see an agent rolling his/her eyes, they will feel the company doesn’t value them – thus increasing the likelihood of them taking their video contacts to a more caring company where agents merely have food particles stuck in their teeth.

Given the idiocy of some customers today, it’s unfair to expect video agents to completely refrain from rolling their eyes. Still, it’s important to keep eye-rolling to a bare minimum. Establishing a strictly enforced Average Eye-Roll Rate (AERR) objective and educating agents on said objective will help in this endeavor.

For best results, reward and recognize video agents who maintain a low AERR over time, or who last more than 10-15 minutes without rolling their eyes even once during a shift. And be sure to deal with problematic eye-rollers swiftly and sternly, either by docking their pay or by telling them that if they don’t stop rolling their eyes, their face is going to stay that way. 


Got any good (read: funny) metrics for video-enabled contact centers you’d like to recommend? Please share them in the comment section below.


 
In this age of social media, sound bytes and ADHD, people love quick and catchy stats. Unfortunately, in the contact center and customer care space, there seem to be only a handful of snazzy stats in circulation. The same ones just keep getting regurgitated over and over (yes, that’s redundant), especially on Twitter.

This is perplexing considering how dynamic customer care is and how much contact centers have evolved. It’s actually worse than perplexing – it’s depressing. Every time I see someone tweeting the old chestnut , “Satisfied customers tell only 3 people about their experience, while dissatisfied customers tell 8-10 people” (or some variation of this), a part of my soul dies. I even wept a little just now while typing that stat.

Rather than just complain about the lack of statistical variety being promoted by self-proclaimed customer experience experts in the Twittersphere, I aim to remedy the situation. Following are several fresh and captivating stats about customer care and contact centers that I believe you and everybody else will feel compelled to talk and tweet about:

  • 86% of customers would be willing to pay more for better customer service. 100% of contact center managers would be willing to pay more for even mediocre customer service.  

  • 70% of contact centers list Average Handle Time among their key performance metrics at the agent level. Of those centers, 100% need a clue.

  • Only 17% of contact centers really mean it when they say “Your call is very important to us”. Of the remaining centers, 38% feel “Your call is somewhat important to us”, 24% feel “It’s surprising how unimportant your call is to us”, and 21% feel “It’s hilarious that you are still holding for a live agent.”

  • 73% of contact center managers claim to know how to accurately measure First-Call Resolution. The remaining 27% of managers are telling the truth.

  • Engaged customer service agents are 35% more likely to provide a positive customer experience than are customer service agents who are already married.

  • The top three criteria contact center managers consider when selecting work-at-home agents are: 1) Past performance; 2) ability to work independently; and 3) body odor.

  • Every time a caller must provide his/her name and account number to an agent after having just provided that exact same information via the IVR system, a puppy dies.

  • 97% of contact center agents fantasize daily about sending a hungry Bengal tiger to the home of abusive callers. The remaining 3% of agents fantasize daily about sending a hungry Siberian Tiger.

  • 81% of contact center agents are empowered to do exactly what their managers and supervisors tell them.

  • Each year, over 150 customer care professionals die from overexposure to acronyms.

  • 50% of managers feel their contact center is highly unprepared to handle social customer care; the remaining 50% do too.  

  • The three people that satisfied customers tell about their experience are Sue Johnson, Dave Winthrop, and Bud Carter. All three are tired of hearing about these experiences.

  • 42% of contact center managers say they will not hire an agent applicant unless said applicant has a pulse and/or can work at least one weekend shift a month.

  • Four out of five agents represent 80% of all agents. In contrast, the remaining agents represent only 20% of all agents.

  • The average agent-to-supervisor ratio in contact centers is 20:1. The odds that this is enough to provide agents with the coaching and support they need to succeed is 2000:1.

  • 100% of managers destined for greatness and wealth purchase a copy of the Full Contact e-book. 0% of managers understand why the author of said e-book looks so angry and aggressive in the photo on the book cover.



 
True contact center success comes when organizations make the critical switch from a “Measure everything that moves” mindset to one of “Measure what matters most.” Given that we are now living in the Age of Customer Influence, “what matters most” is that which most increases the likelihood of the customer not telling the world how evil you are via Twitter.

No longer can companies coast on Average Handle Time (AHT) and Number of Calls Handled per Hour. Such metrics may have ruled the roost back when contact centers were back-office torture chambers, but the customer care landscape has since changed dramatically. Today, customers expect and demand service that is not only swift but stellar. A speedy response is appreciated, but only when it’s personalized, professional and accurate – and when what’s promised is actually carried out.

AHT and other straight productivity measurements still have a place in the contact center (e.g. for workforce management purposes as well as identifying workflow and training issues). However, in the best centers – those that understand that the customer experience is paramount – the focus is on a set of five far more qualitative and holistic metrics.

1) Service Level. How accessible your contact center is sets the tone for every customer interaction and determines how much vulgarity agents will have to endure on each call. Service level (SL) is still the ideal accessibility metric, revealing what percentage of calls (or chat sessions) were answered in “Y” seconds. A common example (but NOT an industry standard!) SL objective is 80/20.

The “X percent in Y seconds” attribute of SL is why it’s a more precise accessibility metric than its close cousin, Average Speed of Answer (ASA). ASA is a straight average, which can cause managers to make faulty assumptions about customers’ ability to reach an agent promptly. A reported ASA of, say, 30 seconds doesn’t mean that all or even most callers reached an agent in that time; many callers likely got connected more quickly while many others may not have reached an agent until after they perished.


2) First-Call Resolution (FCR). No other metric has as big an impact on customer satisfaction and costs (as well as agent morale) as FCR does. Research has shown that customer satisfaction (C-Sat) ratings will be 35-45 percent lower when a second call is made for the same issue.

Trouble is, accurately measuring FCR is something that can stump even the best and brightest scientists at NASA. (I discussed the complexity of FCR tracking in a previous post.) Still and all, contact centers must strive to gauge this critical metric as best they can and, more importantly, equip agents with the tools and techniques they need to drive continuous (and appropriate) FCR improvement.


3) Contact Quality and 4) C-Sat. Contact Quality and C-Sat are intrinsically linked – and in the best contact centers, so are the processes for measuring them. To get a true account of Quality, the customer’s perspective must be incorporated into the equation. Thus, in world-class customer care organizations, agents’ Quality scores are a combination of internal compliance results (as judged by internal QA monitoring staff using a formal evaluation form) and customer ratings (and berating) gleaned from post-contact transactional C-Sat surveys.

Through such a comprehensive approach to monitoring, the contact center gains a much more holistic view of Contact Quality than internal monitoring alone can while simultaneously capturing critical C-Sat data that can be used not only by the QA department but enterprise-wide, as well.


5) Employee Satisfaction (E-Sat). Those who shun E-Sat as a key metric because they see it as “soft” soon find that achieving customer loyalty and cost containment is hard. There is a direct and irrefutable correlation between how unhappy agents are and how miserable they make customers. Failure to keep tabs on E-Sat – and to take action to continuously improve it – leads not only to bad customer experiences but also high levels of employee attrition and knife-fighting, which costs contact centers an arm and a leg in terms of agent re-recruitment, re-assessment, re-training, and first-aid.

Smart centers formally survey staff via a third-party surveying specialist at least twice a year to find out what agents like about the job, what they’d like to see change, and how likely they are to cut somebody or themselves.


For much more on these and other common contact center metrics, be sure to check out my FULL CONTACT ebook at http://www.offcenterinsight.com/full-contact-book.html.


 
In an effort to gain recognition and respect, too many struggling contact centers try to bite off more than they can chew – implementing performance goals that they have as much chance of meeting as I do of being crowned Miss America. 

I often encourage managers of poorly performing contact centers to stop reaching for the stars and to instead just concentrate on not sucking. You have to crawl before you can walk, and you have to walk before you can run a world-class operation.

With that in mind, below are some key performance objectives that managers of sub-par centers might want to consider implementing to help earn some quick wins, build some confidence among staff, and quit drinking so much in the morning.

Contact Resolution. Don't worry about first-contact resolution (FCR) right now. True, resolving customer issues on the first contact has a big impact on customer satisfaction, agent engagement and operational costs, but chances are your center just isn't yet ready to achieve a lofty FCR objective. Instead focus on a more feasible and less intimidating metric – fifth-contact resolution (5CR).

Studies have shown that it is easier to fully resolve customer issues on the fifth try than it is to do so on the first, second, third or fourth try. Research has also revealed that centers that are able to resolve customer issues within five contacts report higher customer satisfaction, agent retention and cost savings than do centers that don't resolve customer issues until the sixth, seventh or eighth contact.

Service Level.
Don't set your center and agents up for failure by shooting for an ambitious service level objective of answering 80 percent of calls within 20 seconds, or some similar challenging goal. It's much wiser to start out with the following, more palatable service level objective: 80% of calls answered… period. The number of seconds that it takes to do so should not be a major concern at this point – that will come later, assuming customers don’t burn your center to the ground in the meantime.  

Adherence to Schedule. Most contact centers focus too much on whether or not agents are in their seat at the right times. Your center will be much more likely to meet/exceed its adherence objective if you don't emphasize the "in your seat" and the "at the right times" parts so much. Instead, go a little easier on your staff by explaining the importance of them at least trying to stay within city limits during their shift. Agents will greatly appreciate the fact that you recognize how challenging and restrictive their job can be, and, as a result, will strive to meet the new objective you have set forth. Or not. 

Contact Quality. When it comes to assuring quality in struggling contact centers, the emphasis should be less on agents achieving high monitoring scores and more on whether or not the person rating the call throws up. When no vomiting occurs, be sure to praise the agent publicly, and consider grooming him or her for a supervisory role. If, however, vomiting does occur during a call evaluation – and it will – provide the agent with positive and nurturing pointers on how he or she could have made the interaction with the customer less nauseating to the person evaluating it.      

If you follow all the suggestions and recommendations provided here in this blog post, I guarantee that your contact center will move from being absolutely abysmal to being just a little pitiful in no time. Best of luck!


For performance measurement and management tactics that are even MORE practical than those highlighted here, be sure to check out my book,
Full Contact: Contact Center Practices & Strategies that Make an Impact.



 
Few metrics have made contact center managers drool like first-call resolution has. And with good reason: FCR has been shown to have a significant impact on customer satisfaction, operational costs and employee morale. So we’re looking at a metric trifecta – a measurement that is both qualitative and quantitative, and that is also engaging for agents.

Unfortunately, FCR is also one of the most misconstrued and mis-measured metrics in the contact center. Many managers get so caught up in the potential benefits that FCR can bring, they simply add it to the center’s scorecard and start tracking it haphazardly – without really grasping some key concepts or taking the customer’s perspective into full consideration.

To avoid the typical FCR pitfalls that doom many a contact center and customer relationship, it’s critical to understand the following:

Accurately measuring FCR takes work. This metric is not easily captured and calculated. You can’t just rely on callback tracking technology, as some customers may not call back even if their issue wasn’t resolved. For instance, they might instead contact the center via another channel (e.g., email, chat) or perhaps even defect to the competition out of frustration. Nor can you just have your quality monitoring folks decide if a call has been resolved (though that doesn’t stop many centers from doing this to gauge FCR); it has to be measured from the customer’s perspective. And while asking customers about issue resolution via post-contact surveys is highly recommended, that method alone isn’t sufficient for accurately tracking FCR either, as sometimes a caller might think their issue was resolved during a call, but then the agent or somebody else doesn’t follow through with what needs to be done to complete the resolution, resulting in a later callback.

The best way to track FCR is to use a combination of the aforementioned methods, and to then just hope you are catching the metric at enough angles to get close to what your actual FCR rate is. That’s a lot of work to still be unsure, but the good news (sort of) is… 
 

...Customers don’t actually care if you know how to measure FCR – they simply want you to ACHIEVE it. It’s important the managers don’t get so obsessed with measurement of FCR that they forget to focus on what processes and practices actually drive FCR improvement. Who cares if you are doing a bang up job of tracking FCR if all the reports show that your rate never goes up. Top contact centers worry less about numbers and more about positive customer experiences, and thus embrace such FCR improvement tactics as:

      -Providing agents with the training and resources to quickly and effectively resolve contacts.
      -Ensuring that there are no conflicting performance objectives hindering customer-centricity and

         FCR achievement (like rigid AHT goals).
      -Mastering skills-based routing so that callers get sent to the right agent with the skill-set to handle 

       their issue.
      -Building agent incentives around FCR goal achievement.
      -Empowering agents to make improvements to FCR-related processes.
     

A high FCR rate isn’t always something to cheer about. Even if your center effectively measures FCR, and your reports consistently show a rate in the 90%-95% range, don’t assume you are an FCR rock star. While rates that high can be legit, more often than not they are inflated by simple “slam dunk” inquiries that the call center could have avoided entirely by providing (and effectively promoting) strong self-service options (e.g., speech-enabled IVR; dynamic web self-service tools.) A potent self-service strategy not only can save the company mucho dinero, many customers prefer self-service when it comes to basic transactions and inquiries.

A high FCR rate doesn’t always account for the amount of effort expended or pain endured by the customer. Sometimes an issue may get resolved on the first call, but not before the customer considered suicide while stuck in a IVR hell only to get transferred to an agent who, while equipped with the answer required, was not equipped with much courtesy or professionalism. That’s why no FCR initiative is complete without solid Quality monitoring and C-Sat measurement practices in place. They are key to ensuring calls are resolved AND relationships are cultivated.



 
Most contact center professionals will tell you how much they value their employees, and how the center has a lot of programs in place to keep agents – and thus customers – engaged and happy. However, few contact centers include Employee Satisfaction (E-Sat) on their formal list of key performance indicators.

And many of the centers that do consider E-Sat among their KPIs don’t do an adequate job of measuring/tracking the metric. Instead, they implement a plain-vanilla E-Sat survey once every year or two and take little action based on the findings.

The best contact centers give teeth and attention to E-Sat, using a comprehensive survey tool and implementing the survey once every six months or so. These surveys are designed to gauge not only traditional employee satisfaction, but also employee engagement. Engagement is satisfaction on steroids; engagement surveys help to identify which agents are not only happy with their job but also willing to maim others or themselves in the name of the company’s honor.
 
Most leading centers use an outside surveying specialist to design and implement the survey to ensure that the right questions are asked in the right ways, as well as to help foster a sense of privacy/anonymity, thus increasing the chances that agents will respond in a frank and honest matter. Surveying specialists can also help a contact center with evaluating results, pinpointing key trends and warning managers of a frontline mutiny.

Naturally, every contact center would love to achieve a 100% E-Sat rate, but that’s about as likely as a home agent bathing every day. As with C-Sat, anything in the 80%-90% range for E-Sat is impressive – and feasible, particularly if you incorporate into the survey process threats of physical harm for low ratings by staff. 

If E-Sat isn’t already on your contact center’s list of critical metrics, make some room for it. Bump AHT off the roster if you have to. And as for measuring E-Sat, don’t just go through the motions, or you’ll likely find that you have a bunch of agents doing the same. 


 
Some people are simply blessed with the power of prognostication. They have visions and pick up signals the average person cannot, thus enabling them to provide unique insight into how things are likely to go down in the future.

I am not one of those people, but that has never before stopped me from making bold predictions about contact centers and customer care.  

With the aid of my crystal ball and a couple cans of Red Bull, here’s what I see happening in 2012:



A new metric – “Average Speed of Anger” – will take hold.  Customers are more demanding than ever. It’s nearly impossible to respond to their calls, emails, chats, and social media comments/inquiries before they start whining or worse.  Many companies now find measuring traditional accessibility metrics like Average Speed of Answer (ASA) to be a waste of time. After all, even when the contact center hits an ambitious ASA objective, customers still complain and clamor for quicker service.

That's why a growing number of centers have started secretly tracking a new metric: Average Speed of Anger (ASA grrr),  which measures the average time it takes customers to become so enraged they curse your agents/IVR and/or blast your brand on Twitter. By focusing on ASA grrr, the contact center can make training and staffing adjustments that will quite possibly keep customers from killing anybody, and maybe even satisfy a few.


A law will be passed that makes it illegal for a contact center to not have a home agent program in place. Study after study has shown the huge impact home agent programs have on employee engagement, retention and performance, as well as staffing flexibility and operating costs. Nevertheless, three in four centers still don’t have a single home agent in place.

Fortunately, the leaders of these centers will soon be imprisoned and/or fined if they don’t get with the program. A militant but growing group – led by me – has been lobbying Congress about the issue for over a year now. I’ve been told by powerful sources that, thanks to my group’s efforts, Congress now views expanding home agent positions as a top priority, right behind balancing the Federal Budget and bringing down Kim Kardashian.  



A new type of cancer caused by over-exposure to acronyms will plague the customer care industry. This is one prediction I hope doesn’t come true; however, I don’t see how it can be averted. Medical researchers have strong evidence that excessive absorption of acronyms radically alters brain cells and can cause severe vowel deficiency.

A recent landmark study showed that lab mice placed in a cage lined with shredded ACD reports were 17 times more likely to develop malignant growths than were mice whose cage was lined with shredded long-winded speeches free of any abbreviations. The study led medical researchers to conclude that excessive exposure to acronyms may be more dangerous than smoking two packs of unfiltered cigarettes a day while standing next to a Japanese nuclear power plant. The researchers implore contact center and customer service professionals to start using fully spelled-out terms as much as they can, and to do so ASAP.

 


 
As customer care and contact centers continue to evolve, so must the metrics that centers measure. Sure, some classic metrics – such as service level, quality and C-Sat – will be around forever; however less pertinent and impactful ones will fade away while newer, sexier measures emerge.

For example, in the early years of customer service, metrics like ATTCT (Average Time Till Carpal Tunnel) and NRPC (Number of Reps Per Cubicle) ruled the roost, but have since become secondary or tertiary metrics in most modern contact centers. As have such measures as HSPS (Headset Shocks Per Shift) and AAL (Average Agent Lifespan).

So, what fresh new metrics can we expect to emerge and soon bloom into powerful key performance indicators? I recently asked several noted contact center practitioners, consultants and analysts their opinion on the matter, but I forgot to record our conversations or take any notes, so here are my new KPI predictions instead:


FTR – First-Tweet Resolution. This will become an increasingly critical metric in this crazy age of social media. FTR measures the percentage of angry customers on Twitter that the contact center is able to “silence” before the customer posts any more tweets about how much they hate your company.

For example, let’s say that 10 of your customers write an incendiary comment about how the last agent they spoke to on the phone was an idiot or how your IVR system made them want to commit a violent crime. If your center is able to contact and persuade seven of those customers to not launch any additional 140-character verbal barrages, then your FTR rate would be 70%. But you will never achieve an FTR rate of 70% because 90% of human beings need Twitter to get the attention they desire but don’t get at home or work. So just shoot for a FTR rate of 10%-20%. 

Naturally, you don’t want the whole world seeing your desperate attempts to convince customers to stop flaming about your company on Twitter. Instead, it’s best to send each fuming customer a friendly private message via Twitter asking them to kindly call or email you to discuss how you might get them to shut up.    


ART – Average Refrigerator Time. This metric’s emergence is a direct result of the recent proliferation of home agents in the contact center industry. ART measures how many minutes per shift a home agent spends searching for snacks in the kitchen when they are scheduled to be on the phones. In contact centers that have a large percentage of former high school football linemen and/or aspiring Sumo wrestlers among their remote staff, ART is measured in hours rather than minutes.

To effectively measure ART, it’s essential to install in each home agent’s house a “fridge-cam” that captures and records every trip the agent makes to the kitchen while on the job. Unfortunately, it’s highly illegal to do so; nevertheless, the best contact center managers know that sometimes you have to break the rules in order to maintain the tradition and integrity of accurate and precise metric measurement.  

Most contact centers struggle to keep ART within acceptable ranges – not just because of the irresistible lure that the refrigerator presents for home agents, but also because most managers and supervisors in charge of home agents are uncomfortable telling an employee that he should watch his carb and fat intake. Some of the most forward-thinking centers have succeeded in lowering their ART rate by installing in each home agent’s fridge a sound card that says something like “You disgust me” or simply “AGAIN?” each time the refrigerator door is opened.


HSPH – Hand Spasms Per Hour. As web chat has grown as a customer contact channel, so have the debilitating finger cramps of the agents who handle chat sessions. A recent study that I conducted or maybe just had a dream about showed that contact centers that offer chat are 94.3% more likely to have agents who have hands that look like crab claws.

Thus, HSPH is fast becoming a critical metric in chat-handling centers that don’t like their employees looking like crustaceans. To measure HSPH, centers simply need to attach to the hands of each chat agent a small non-invasive electrode that detects each muscle spasm that occurs. HSPH scores in the 10-15 per hour range are considered normal; anything over that is a sign that the agent is at risk for moderate to severe hand cramping that could hinder their ability to compose coherent messages during chat sessions with customers. Once an agent’s HSPH score approaches 50 or more per hour, there is nothing left to do but pronounce their hand(s) legally dead, then move them into Sales, where all they’ll ever need to use is their mouth.


 
Conversations about contact center metrics often cause controversy – especially if you are having that conversation with me, and especially if I’ve been drinking at a conference cocktail reception. Drinking brings out the bold truth in me, and the bold truth (ok, my bold opinion) about metrics tends to stir things up amongst contact center folk. It’s one of the main reasons why I’m rarely invited back to industry events.

But I’m not looking to make friends – according to my Facebook page, I already have four. If what I write here results in me receiving hate mail or having things thrown at me by detractors, so be it – as long as the customer care industry as a whole improves.

In the interest of time and space, I’m not going to expound on what I feel are the most critical contact center metrics (Service Level, C-Sat, FCR, Contact Quality, Forecast Accuracy, Adherence to Schedule, and E-Sat). Instead, I’m going to discuss three popular metrics – those that have been coveted in our industry since its inception  – that I feel need to be clarified and brought back down to earth once and for all. These metrics certainly have their place – just not at the top of the heap.

1) Average Speed of Answer

No doubt that tracking how many seconds on average each caller is forced to wait before reaching a live agent is important. Then why isn’t ASA listed among my metrics A-list? Simple: It gets trumped by service level – a mightier metric that gives managers key information that already includes an ASA component.

ASA is like the unstable cousin or brother of service level – closely related to SL but much more likely to cause problems, mess things up, or get drunk and start a fight at a family wedding. What ASA lacks is the “X% in Y seconds” attribute of its blood relative, thus it does not always give the most accurate representation of what callers experience when trying to reach an agent in the contact center. ASA is a straight average, and many managers when seeing an ASA figure – say, 30 seconds – make the mistake of assuming that this figure is indicative of how long most customers waited before getting to an agent. However, the reality is that many callers get connected much more quickly than 30 seconds while many other customers may get connected after much more than 30 seconds.

So if you are looking to more accurately gauge what is happening to individual callers and not just hang your hat on a sometimes unreliable average – one that could conceal a host of irate callers who have access to social media and know how to use it – then it’s best to keep service level as your main accessibility KPI.

However, there is no need to disown ASA. It is still a useful metric in its own right – it can help in calculating trunk load and serves as a solid back-up measure to service level (since it comes from the same set of data as SL). Just remember that it can be dangerous to fully embrace this somewhat unstable metric or to invite it to important family functions.


2) Abandonment

When I say abandonment, I’m talking about the accessibility metric, not the feeling that contact center managers experience after asking senior management for a budget increase.

A contact center’s abandonment rate is the percentage of callers who hang up before their call is answered by a live agent. This data can be obtained directly from ACD reports. The most common formula used for calculating abandonment is:

Total # of calls abandoned ÷ (total # of calls abandoned + total # of calls answered)

While abandonment is an important metric and one that should be tracked on an interval basis by all contact centers, it is not an ideal measure of accessibility. True, high abandonment rates usually indicate a problem with the center’s staffing levels – but not always; sometimes conditions beyond the contact center’s control result in higher than usual abandonment rates, and sometimes a large group of callers are just cranky and impatient because their football team lost the day before.

Another problem with relying primarily on abandonment as an accessibility measure is that a low abandonment rate – while certainly the goal in any contact center – does not automatically signify smooth operating. Again, different conditions often affect how long a caller will wait in queue before hanging up. For example, on a typical day, a contact center may achieve a respectable abandonment rate of, say, 1.5% and everything is fine with regard to service level and customer satisfaction. However, the next day let’s say that the company runs a “limited time” online promotion (“Call now and receive a…”); the center will likely receive a flood of calls and few customers will hang up because they have an incentive to wait – for long periods of time. So abandonment may be less than even 1%, but does this mean that service level is good, costs are contained, and that customers aren’t getting perturbed? Nope. Nope. And nope. 

   
3) Average Handle Time

Back in the pre-historic era of call centers, when cost reduction/efficiency was the only real objective, AHT ruled the land of metrics. But customer contact has evolved rapidly over the past couple of decades; and in the best-run organizations, so have the performance metrics. Top contact centers today, while still keeping an eye on AHT, focus more on quality, call resolution and customer satisfaction. It’s the Age of the Customer Experience. And though it’s still important to control costs and be efficient – just as it is in any business or industry – winning organizations realize that they stand to make a lot more money if they focus on their customers first to create lasting loyalty and advocacy. 

Contact centers should certainly not do away with such traditional productivity metrics as AHT and number of calls handled per hour/shift. After all, the center needs to have an idea about how many calls a typical agent is handling and how long those calls are lasting to help pinpoint any scheduling adjustments and/or special training/coaching that might be required. But the best contact center managers don’t set strict “hit this target or else” AHT objectives. For one, they recognize that many factors influencing handle times are out agents’ direct control – e.g., call complexity, caller mood, electric shocks from cheap headsets, etc. And secondly, these managers know that if they do set and rate performance based on a strict AHT target, agents will do what it takes to hit that target, which may include rushing calls, sloppily inputting data, and yelling “fire” before hanging up on customers and running out the building.   

Instead, managers in leading contact centers set acceptable ranges for AHT and only really focus on the numbers when the center’s or an agent’s AHT falls far outside the normal range, which typically indicates a problem with staffing levels, agent adherence or agent skills/knowledge.

Progressive managers view AHT reduction ultimately as their responsibility, not that of their agents. They realize that it’s up to them to make sure that the center’s forecasting and scheduling processes are sound and that agents receive the coaching and training needed to handle calls efficiently and effectively. What smart managers do hold agents accountable for is adherence to schedule. Agents can, for the most part, control when they are in their seats ready to take calls. And when they are where they should be, things like AHT and other productivity metrics tend to take care of themselves. No whip-cracking nor threats of physical harm to agents or their family are typically necessary.