Off Center
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

A comprehensive transaction-based customer satisfaction (C-Sat) measurement process is essential for any organization hoping to keep its finger on the pulse of customer sentiment and its hand in the pocket containing the customer’s wallet. By “transaction-based” I mean the process involves a post-contact survey designed to captures customers’ ratings and feedback immediately following an interaction with the call center. And by “comprehensive” I mean that at least one of the call center’s managers has been hospitalized while trying to get the C-Sat survey design and measurement process just right.

Many organizations claim to effectively measure C-Sat, but merely go through the motions. For instance, rather than use a post-contact survey, it’s not uncommon for call centers to rely on internal quality monitoring to gauge customer sentiment and satisfaction. That’s sort of the equivalent of having a chef or waiter decide whether or not diners have enjoyed their meal.

Other centers may use a post-contact survey – even a well-designed one – but have made the C-Sat measurement process all about numbers/percentages rather than about analysis and action. Managers in these centers are completely content with their enviable 85%-90% C-Sat rate but haven’t a clue as to how such numbers relate to loyalty or revenue, or why the remaining 10%-15% of customers are itching to sucker-punch agents in the gut.

Here are several of the common practices I’ve seen in call centers that know how to focus on the “customer” and “action” in “customer satisfaction measurement.”

Timely and concise post-contact surveys. Leading call centers use one of three preferred C-Sat survey methods: 1) automated (IVR) phone survey; 2) live phone survey; and/or 3) email survey. Each method enables centers to receive customer feedback immediately or very soon after the customer/agent interaction in question occurs, thus ensuring that the feedback is accurate (assuming the customer didn’t start drinking heavily before/during the call).

All three are viable post-contact survey methods, though each does have its distinct advantage(s). For instance, automated phone surveys can be easily conducted before the caller disconnects, thus increasing survey participation rates and providing particularly timely feedback. While live phone surveys are typically more expensive and time-consuming, the live person conducting the questionnaire can ask customers to elaborate clearly on certain answers and  threaten customers with physical harm when they rate their experience too harshly.

As for how many questions C-Sat surveys should contain, top call centers typically ask no fewer than 4-5 questions, and no more than 7-8 questions. Make your survey too short and you fail to gather sufficient data for spotting key trends and uncovering customer needs/expectations. Make your survey too long and customers will abandon them like your agents did their dream of earning a living wage.

What types of questions should be included? The best post-contact C-Sat surveys ask customers to rate how satisfied they were with their overall service experience, the agent’s knowledge, and the agent’s professionalism/courtesy – as well as whether or not the customer’s issue was resolved. It’s not a bad idea to also include a Net Promoter Score (NPS) type of question, as NPS was first introduced in a Harvard Business Review article and thus must be important.

Real-time alerts to help recover highly dissatisfied customers. Smart call centers have designed their survey systems to provide immediate alerts whenever customers compare their service experience unfavorably to undergoing a root canal procedure without Novocain. Such alerts enable companies to attempt a service recovery callback in an effort to regain the customer’s loyalty and credit card number. Naturally, the sooner the recovery team is alerted and responds to an aggravated or infuriated customer, the better are the chances they will be able to “recover” the customer, or at least get him to drop his weapon and come down from the water tower.

Many customers will tell you that the mere act of being contacted personally regarding their recent dissatisfaction is often enough to make them forget how angry your company made them. Of course, sometimes more is required – such as a free offer or upgrade – to repair the damage and sustain a positive relationship with the customer, who may be considering seeing other call centers.

It’s not them. It’s you.  

Use of C-Sat data to provide better, more personalized service and offerings. When handled correctly, the wealth of customer feedback and data captured each day via C-Sat surveys drives continuous improvement and customer loyalty. Careful evaluation of survey results reveals what customers like, dislike and despise about your company, your products, your agents and, most importantly, your on-hold music. Root-cause analysis can help uncover common problems with processes, workflows and performance that can be easily fixed by firing everybody in your IT and Training departments.

In world-class call centers, the actual C-Sat score is far less important to management than is identifying opportunities to keep customers from going to the competition or going insane. That’s not to say that these managers aren’t proud of their high C-Sat average, or that such results don’t occasionally inspire them to do a jig in their office when nobody’s looking or to brag about their impressive rate when drunk at conferences. However, throughout all the jig-dancing and bragging, these managers never lose sight of the fact that C-Sat is not just some stat to be measured, but rather a sentiment to be understood – and acted upon.

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