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Do your contact center metrics hide reality? Here’s the test

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As a contact center leader, you measure a lot of things and trust each metric to give you an accurate pulse on your business. Great metrics enable you to predict and measure success. But, what if I said that some of the most popular performance measures actually tell you a false story? That they cause you to look for signs of success in the wrong places, or at the wrong times, or in the wrong way? It would be unsettling, to say the least.


I’ve been fortunate enough to have a front-row seat to the metrics that are used by contact centers around the globe. They’ve spanned industries, focused on inbound and outbound, and been sized large, small, and everything in between. The biggest lesson that I learned from all of them is that there is tremendous discrepancy and confusion around even the most common of key performance indicators. We don’t define them the same way, we don’t measure them the same way, and we definitely don’t benchmark them the same way. In fact, if there’s one thing that I’m sure of, it’s that most contact center leaders could use help when it comes to establishing, understanding, and evolving how they measure success in their businesses. 


Wondering if you’ve fallen victim to some common pitfalls of measuring contact center success? Here’s a look at the metric mistakes that I see most often.


  • Credulity


We live in an era of information inundation. There is no shortage of people or places to find the answer to our most burning questions. Want to know the answer to “what are the most important contact center metrics?” Just type it into Google and you’ll have about 381,000,000 results. Apparently, everyone’s an expert. It makes discerning credible sources a daunting task. We’ve practically been conditioned into a culture of credulity – to simply just believe that the first few pages of results must hold the right answers. 

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This habit that many of us have, to accept business advice at surface levels without tangible proof to back it up, isn’t just about trusting web results. When I’ve surveyed contact center leaders on the sources that they look to when making decisions there were two at the top of the list that should always be considered with a grain of salt.


  • Search Results – There’s a lot of great information on the web but, unfortunately, there’s also a lot of noise. Especially in the top few pages of search results. In case you didn’t know, companies who sell contact center solutions have a focused effort around search engine optimization. In other words, they work very hard to have pages of their website show up in the search results for a variety of keywords. 


Sometimes, they source that content by working with credible authorities in the industry. As an example, when RingCentral approached me about writing this very article, they did so based on my extensive experience working directly in and with contact centers. 


Many times, however, the content is written by agencies who specialize in “SEO-optimized” content, or by staffers who lack domain expertise and rely on their own web research for answers. The result? A lot of bad advice gets heavily circulated and adopted into practice. 


Here’s my advice to overcoming this pitfall: always consider your source. If you can’t verify an author’s expertise on the topic, look somewhere else.


  • Contact Center Legacy/Tradition – AKA, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” If there’s ever been a classic example of credulity, it’s how business leaders accept the practices, beliefs, and methodologies of the leaders who came before them. This is especially true in the case of contact center metrics. 


Were you part of deciding every metric that’s measured in your contact center? Why it’s calculated the way it is? Or how it came to be weighted more than other criteria? I’ll guess that some of you are answering yes, but most of you are answering no. You just accepted them as what’s best, whether or not that’s actually true.

Want to overcome this pitfall? Conduct an audit of your contact center metrics and level-set with your team on which metrics are actually best for your business today.


  • All-Or-Nothing Achievement


Are you viewing your metrics in black and white? Only recognizing whether or not something was achieved? You’re likely limiting your contact center’s achievement by neglecting to measure, discuss, and celebrate your progress along the way.


Metrics don’t exist to only tell us once we’ve crossed the finish line. They’re also there to let us know whether we’re getting closer to, or further away from, our desired outcomes. 


A well-rounded set of metrics should help our contact centers do two things:


  1. Define and measure progress towards our goals
  2. Quantify success


Another way to think of this is that metrics help us to predict whether or not we will be successful and reflect back on to what extent we achieved success. 


Here’s an example: If I wanted to lose 50 lbs, I could step on the scale every single day to see if my weight went up or down. It would reflect whether or not I was being successful in achieving my goal. But, getting on the scale isn’t what actually drives my success. It’s a combination of other factors like diet and exercise. It’s my decisions around those metrics that would ultimately determine my weight.


Our contact centers work the exact same way. You say that you want to achieve greater customer satisfaction, higher employee engagement, or any number of other metrics? The secret to getting a better measure of whether or not (and why) you’ll get there is to establish predictive behaviors and metrics that help you better recognize and celebrate your success along the way.


  • Ambiguous Definitions

Confession: I get personal satisfaction from watching a group of people squirm when I test whether or not they’re aligned on a process, definition, or understanding of a concept. I believe that we grow the most by being comfortable with those types of uncomfortable moments. But how often do we create those moments in our business? Are we willing and able to prioritize the creation of safe places for our teams to grow? The answer better be yes if we want to get a clear picture of how our business is doing.


Earlier I alluded to the existence of a vast discrepancy in how common metrics are defined and measured. While I’d love to highlight each one of them, this blog post would quickly become an epic, so I’ll focus on one metric to highlight the problem and provide a series of questions to help get your team aligned.


Example: First Contact Resolution – Contact center leaders love to talk about improving FCR. In theory, that sounds wonderful, but what does that actually look like in practice? Let’s use a series of questions that enable your business to make an informed decision around if and how it makes sense to measure.


  • What does it mean?

First Contact Resolution breaks down into two keywords that will mean something different from one business to the next. 

  • “First Contact” – How will you define the first contact? Does a web visit count as the first contact? Or is it when they speak to an agent? When does the first contact conclude? What happens if the person is transferred to another queue or department? 
  • “Resolution” – What does it look like for a contact to be resolved? 


  • Why does it matter? What will you do with it?

If you aren’t clear on why it matters or what you’ll do with it, then why would you measure it? If you’re trying to improve your online self-service experience, then you might look specifically at people who attempt to resolve their issue online. If you’re looking to modify your escalation process, you might look at the Tier 1 contacts that move to other tiers.


  • How is it measured?

Do the agents click a box to note that the issue was resolved? Do customers receive a survey to weigh in on the resolution? Can your systems maintain a check and balance on issue resolution? If you solely leave it up to your agents, they could provide inaccurate data. If you solely leave it up to your customers, they could think that their issue is resolved and only later discover that it wasn’t. 


  • Who can affect it?

If an issue isn’t resolved in the first contact, what’s the reason and who can solve it? Is it a routing problem that needs to be corrected by a systems administrator? Is it documentation that needs to be revised by a back office team? Is it wrong information that the agent provided? Once you know your FCR rates and reasons, you’ll need a plan for who can actually help improve the issue.


  • When does it get reported?

What’s the cadence for understanding and acting on issues? In the case of First Contact Resolution, my suggestion is that you run your reporting after the period of time in which the issue would most likely reappear. For example, if you were making changes to customer billing, it would likely be after the next billing cycle to confirm that the requested changes actually occurred.


  • Bogus Benchmarks

Benchmarking can be a great tool for helping contact center leaders understand whether or not their metrics align with others. When used correctly, benchmarks can help guide initiatives, enable competitive intelligence, and introduce innovative ideas. But, without understanding a few key factors, benchmarks can conceal, mislead, and confuse.


Here are a few common benchmarking pitfalls of which you should be aware.


  • Data is often self-reported. Many of the more popular benchmarking reports are based on surveys. Here’s the catch: There’s no fact checking. You’re left to trust that everyone answered accurately, but there’s often no way to get validation on the responses.


  • You don’t always know how respondents defined the metric. As the above example of First Contact Resolution demonstrated, there is room for broad use and interpretation of some metrics. 


  • You don’t always know the intervals by which they measured the metric. Let’s use Service Level as an example. Service level is measured as x% of contacts answered in Y seconds. It’s a common measure for inbound contacts that must be handled as they arrive. I’ve seen contact centers measure and report on this metric in 15-minute, half-hour, hourly, daily, weekly, or greater intervals. Here’s the problem with that – the larger the span of time, the more diluted and the less actionable the metric. If you don’t know the interval that’s reported, and it’s vastly different from your interval, you’re making an unrealistic comparison.


  • You don’t always know what they’re doing with the metric. I once heard about a financial services team who tied quality assurance scores to customer satisfaction surveys because they read about similar businesses who did the same. After making the change, they couldn’t figure out why they were seeing high QA scores and low CSAT scores for the same interactions. As it turns out, they were measuring the satisfaction of individuals who’d just learned that they were denied a mortgage. Remember: what’s right for one contact center isn’t necessarily right for yours.


As I said though, benchmarking isn’t bad. I actually believe that it’s one of the most important tools for contact center leaders who want to drive meaningful outcomes. Here are three ways in which I recommend using benchmarks.


  • Benchmark Against Yourself

You know how you define, measure, and use every metric in your contact center. There’s no better place for achievement and growth based benchmarking than against yourself. Where is your business today and where do you want to be in six, twelve, or eighteen months? These benchmarks enable you to celebrate and recognize internal progress and drive achievement toward your goals.


  • Benchmark Against Your Competitors

Are you in a highly competitive industry? You can use benchmarks to differentiate and excel. Here’s an example: When I led the training and onboarding team of a four-star hotel, we would have new hires call other four-star hotels to research booking a vacation. At the end of the exercise, we’d ask them where they’d choose to stay and why. Through this, our agents gained ideas for the type of service that stands apart and our marketing and services teams gained insights on programs, features, and benefits offered by other resorts. By benchmarking against service offerings, we could ensure that we were more responsive, more inclusive, and more compelling than the competition.


  • Benchmark Against An Industry/Broad Base

Many of the popular benchmarking or research reports enable readers  to compare themselves against their vertical or other broad demographics (seat size, location, etc.). These types of studies are best used for gaining an understanding of shifting trends and common practices. Think of them as conversation starters but not decision makers. You might discover that 80% of contact centers in your industry measure a metric that you don’t. It doesn’t mean that you should, but it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t. Use these reports to help inform what’s happening in the world around you and provoke meaningful discussions with your team around what should matter most to your business.


  • Ownership and Accountability

Lastly, I watch contact centers fail to get the most from their metrics when there isn’t a clear sense of ownership and transparent approach to keeping people accountable.


Les McKeown, the author of Predictable Success, put it best when he said this, “The lynchpin…comes down to personal ownership and self-accountability throughout the organization: engaged, empowered individuals and teams who hold themselves accountable for delivering real results, and who exercise structured creativity, innovation and risk taking to achieve their goals, which are also your goals.” 


Here’s what I believe that Les was getting at with that statement: Great leaders recognize that the key to success is to be centered around ensuring the success of their teams. For contact center leaders, this means taking an agent-centric approach to managing the contact center. It means establishing metrics that your agents clearly understand and willingly partner with you to achieve. 


Curious to learn more about what it would look like for you to make that transformation? Check out the latest eBook I wrote that provides a look at how you can lead an agent-centric contact center.


Originally published May 16, 2022, updated May 17, 2022

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