Keys to Establishing the Right Metrics in Your Contact Center

It's often said that what gets measured gets done, but I believe that's an over-simplification. I've seen organizations measure lots of things yet not make sustained improvements in those areas, nor embrace the new ways that customers want to communicate. It's not just a a matter of establishing the right metrics but also building a culture that understands and contributes to them and, ultimately, ensuring that day-to-day activities and decisions support them.

The key enabler, though, is measuring the right things. Too many organizations are missing key areas that deserve attention—ironic given how easy it is to get buried in data. So where should your focus lie?

There are seven key categories of measures that should be in place in every contact center. They build on each other, and it helps to order them from the most elemental and tactical to strategic. They include the following:

  • Forecast Accuracy. If you don't have an accurate prediction of the workload coming your way, it's almost impossible to deliver efficient, consistent service and achieve high levels of customer satisfaction. And that's just as true for new social interactions as it has been for telephone, chat or email.
  • Schedule Adherence. If you have a good handle on the contact center's workload, you can build accurate schedules that ensure the right people are in the right places at the right times. This is best managed from the bottom up, with ample buy in, and is an important enabler to everything else you're trying to accomplish.
  • Service Level and Response Time. If customer conversations don't get to the right places at the right times, then little else can happen. Establishing service level and response time objectives is a prerequisite to ensuring that the organization is accessible and part of the conversation, wherever customers choose to interact.
  • Quality and First-Contact Resolution. Quality is the link between call-by-call activities and the organization's most important high-level objectives. First-contact resolution is essentially an extension of quality, a tangible result of getting quality right. Quality measures should be applied to every type of customer interaction.
  • Employee Satisfaction. Employee satisfaction clearly influences—even drives—customer satisfaction and is an essential measure in any environment. Further, retention, productivity, and quality often have a definable, positive correlation to agent satisfaction.
  • Customer Satisfaction and Loyalty. Customer satisfaction is essential in all environments and has greatest value as a relative measure and in conjunction with other objectives (e.g., how do changes in policies, services, and processes impact customer satisfaction?). Customer loyalty is usually viewed through breadth and longevity of the customer's relationship with the business.
  • Strategic Value. What contributions can the contact center make to favorably impact revenue, marketing initiatives, product innovations, and other primary business objectives? Measures are often focused on contributions to improved quality and innovation, more leveraged marketing initiatives, more effective self-service systems, minimizing potential legal issues, and contributions to revenue—all ultimately based on the call center's role in listening to, engaging in, and learning from customer interactions.

Other measures and objectives should be driven by your mission and objectives. For example, many customer service environments focus on customer satisfaction, efficiency issues, and cost measures. Sales environments often base key objectives on revenue, cross-sell, upsell, and customer retention activities. And encouraging the use of self-service systems and preventing contacts before they happen (e.g., by working with other business units to simplify features, fix glitches, or improve manuals) are important objectives in many technical support environments.

Interpret Carefully

Any measure, even the good ones, can be misleading if viewed in a vacuum. Take first contact resolution. Higher is better, right? Actually, it depends. We've seen many cases where organizations with high FCR rates (e.g., in the mid- to upper-90 percent range) are resolving contacts they shouldn't be handling in the first place. Common examples include contacts that should be automated or repeat contacts that could be prevented with product or communication improvements.

Other important measures, such as forecast accuracy and service level, lose their meaning when they are averaged across a day or more. Even customer satisfaction can be suspect without some context. For example, if the contact center goes through heroics to save the day for customers reflected in a survey sample, you could be missing problems impacting the larger customer base.

As you focus on the right objectives, keep your eyes on creating maximum strategic value. Push hard to include all types of customer interactions in your plans and measures of success.

Establishing the right measures and objectives is one of the most important responsibilities in leading and managing a contact center successfully. As you establish measures in each of these categories and then focus and build on them, many good things begin to fall into place!

Brad Cleveland is a customer service consultant, specializing in contact centers, support desks, and other customer-facing environments. One of the two original partners in the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI), Brad acquired ICMI outright in 1996 and served as its president and CEO from 1996-2008. Today, Brad consults and speaks to a broad range of organizations and associations and serves as a senior advisor to ICMI. He is author/editor of eight books, including Call Center Management on Fast Forward. His current research is focused on the future of customer access management and the impact of social media; his blog can be followed at