The Seven Essential Metrics in Times of Crisis

The disruptions that the COVID-19 crisis is bringing to economies around the world is truly unprecedented. Many contact centers are grappling with both increased workloads and staffing challenges. And many managers are wondering on which metrics to be focused.

I would encourage them to focus on areas that, no matter what the pressures or circumstances, remain essential. There are seven categories of metrics that every contact center should have. I recommend you view them as building blocks, from most tactical to most strategic. And I'll discuss them here in that order, from foundation up.

1. 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. That's true for any channel—phone, chat, social media, and others. Especially in times of rapid change, make it a priority to get your forecasts as close as possible to what';s evolving.

2. Schedule Fit and Adherence

If you have a good handle on the 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 from agents, and it is an important enabler to everything else you're trying to accomplish.

3. Service Level and Response Time

These objectives are really just outcomes—the result of forecasting the workload and matching it with the right resources. If customer contacts don't get to the right places at the right times, little else good can happen. Establishing service level and response time objectives is key to ensuring that the organization is as accessible as possible when customers most need you.

4. Quality and First-Contact Resolution

Quality is the link between contact-by-contact activities and the organization's most important 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. Getting quality right ensures you're meeting customer needs and preventing unnecessary repeat work and problems down the road.

5. Employee Engagement

Employee engagement strongly impacts customer experience, and it is an essential metric in any environment. Agent engagement often has a definable, positive correlation with retention, productivity, and quality. Engagement is more important than ever given the current pressures on your customers and agents.

6. Customer Satisfaction and Loyalty

Customer satisfaction is essential in all environments. It has the greatest value as a relative metric and in conjunction with other metrics (e.g., what impact do changes in policies, services, and processes have on customer satisfaction?). Customer loyalty is usually viewed through the totality of customers' relationships with the business. Robust methodologies, such as Net Promoter Score or customer effort score, can provide deeper insight into improvement opportunities and a baseline for benchmarking (see Should You Have an Overall KPI, below).

7. Strategic Value

What contributions does the contact center make to process improvements, service and product innovations, and other business objectives? Strategic metrics are often focused on examples of impact in these and related areas, fueled by listening, engaging, and learning from customer interactions.

Other metrics and objectives should be driven by your organization's 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 and customer retention activities. And encouraging the use of self-service systems or customer communities and preventing contacts before they happen (e.g., by working with other business units to simplify products and services) are important objectives in many technical support environments.

These seven areas of focus should be in place in any contact center. I find that, in many cases, two or three (or sometimes more) are missing or not strongly established. So this is an area of opportunity for many organizations.

Should You Have an Overall KPI?

Many organizations have established an overall metric that reflects customer experience. That's a wise move, and having a baseline is especially important in times of rapid change.

There are several common methods, including customer satisfaction, Net Promoter Score, and customer effort score. The idea is to have an easy way for anyone to see how things are going. To liken it to sports, the actions your team takes represent what's happening on the field. The metric provides the score.

I'll leave it to other articles to cover these metrics in more detail. But let me offer a couple of suggestions when using any of them. First, customer experience metrics don't have much value unless you know what's driving them. So, they are best viewed along with other metrics. Verbatim comments also can be very helpful (and with large sets of data, analytics applications can be a great help in identifying themes and pain points).

Second, remember, you're not trying to produce scores; you want results. Ensure that overall scores are not the only thing you or other senior executives look at. Be sure to also follow customer behavior. Are they getting the help they need? What are they saying about you on feedback sites and social media channels? Your company is either being strengthened or undermined by the actions you take. The right leadership approach is so important, especially at a time when the world is so challenged.

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