Impact Learning Systems


What Are Your Contact Center Metrics Really Telling You? Vasudha Deming

One of the great things about the con­tact cen­ter as a work­place is the ready avail­abil­ity and near-instant access to met­rics — mea­sures of qual­ity and pro­duc­tiv­ity. Unfor­tu­nately, how­ever, this easy access often results in a short-sighted assess­ment of what the num­bers really mean.

Five Key Met­rics to Assess Con­tact Cen­ter Agents

Fol­low­ing is an exam­i­na­tion of what might be lurk­ing behind five of the key met­rics used to assess con­tact cen­ter agents.

1. Aver­age Han­dle Time (AHT): This is one of the most com­monly used met­rics and a favorite with con­tact cen­ter man­age­ment. And that makes per­fect sense: If calls can be han­dled quickly and effi­ciently, every­one wins, right? The prob­lem is that quick does not always mean efficient.

When agents are told (and in some cases incen­tivized) to keep AHT low, they tend to focus pri­mar­ily on call length and will take all rea­son­able short­cuts to keep it short. There are a num­ber of pos­si­ble pitfalls:

  • The agent may be miss­ing (or skip­ping) oppor­tu­ni­ties to cross-sell, up-sell, or pro­vide the cus­tomer with valu­able education/information.
  • The agent may do away with small but cru­cial cour­te­sies — thank­ing a caller for hold­ing, exe­cut­ing a warm trans­fer, build­ing rapport-that fac­tor into cus­tomer satisfaction.
  • The call flow might omit the step of updat­ing a customer's account data or oth­er­wise cap­tur­ing valu­able infor­ma­tion that can only be obtained dur­ing a live contact.

The key to suc­cess is to main­tain a strate­gic equi­lib­rium between AHT num­bers and other met­rics such as cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion, first-contact res­o­lu­tion, and rev­enue per call.

2. After Call Work (ACW), also known as "Wrap Time": It's easy to under­stand why this met­ric is so com­monly used in centers-a key fac­tor of work­force man­age­ment is mak­ing sure agents are mov­ing briskly from one call to the next. That being said, I've repeat­edly seen the haz­ards of overem­pha­siz­ing this met­ric. The prob­lem is this: Get­ting that extra few moments (not even min­utes) between calls can make all the dif­fer­ence to an agent's abil­ity to han­dle the next call with a pos­i­tive, pro­fes­sional attitude.

If ACW is a met­ric that is stressed in your cen­ter, make sure you put other mea­sures in place to guard against agent fatigue, low morale, high turnover rate, and a poor rela­tion­ship between agents and management.

One tip that might prove help­ful is to hold agents to a strin­gent ACW stan­dard dur­ing peri­ods of high vol­ume but then ease up on it once or twice per shift, as call vol­ume relaxes.

3. Staff shrink­age: This met­ric refers to the amount of time that employ­ees are on the clock but not avail­able to han­dle calls. Granted, call han­dling is an agent's pri­mary job role, but if the expec­ta­tion related to shrink­age (and the related mea­sure of "uti­liza­tion") is too severe, it's likely to cre­ate issues of low morale and high turnover.

When call cen­ter agents are given suf­fi­cient time for train­ing and career path projects, not only are they more knowl­edge­able and pro­duc­tive, but they also tend to feel like well-rounded employ­ees. This in turn can lead to higher per­for­mance, increased employee engage­ment and sat­is­fac­tion, and lower turnover.

4. Call Vol­ume: Every Oper­a­tions man­ager knows the eupho­ria of high call vol­ume (unless, of course, the calls are flood­ing into a customer-complaint line). Typ­i­cally, high call vol­ume sig­nals sales suc­cess, pop­u­lar­ity with cus­tomers, and job security.

To ensure that your call vol­ume read­ings aren't giv­ing you a "false pos­i­tive," you need checks and bal­ances in place to con­firm that:

  • These calls aren't call­backs from cus­tomers who ide­ally would have had their needs met the first time.
  • Cus­tomers are not call­ing in with needs that you pre­fer be han­dled through a dif­fer­ent chan­nel (e-mail, self-serve FAQ, etc.).

5. First-contact Res­o­lu­tion (FCR): It's dif­fi­cult to come up with any cau­tions against using first-contact res­o­lu­tion as a key met­ric in your call cen­ter. This tends to be an essen­tial mea­sure rel­e­vant to prof­itabil­ity, effi­ciency, and cus­tomer satisfaction-and it's one that I con­sis­tently espouse for call cen­ter per­for­mance opti­miza­tion. So, if you're not yet mea­sur­ing this one, start now.

That being said, there is one pit­fall that I've occa­sion­ally seen in tech­ni­cal sup­port envi­ron­ments: There's a dan­ger that agents, striv­ing for FCR, will stay on the phone too long when in fact the cus­tomer would be bet­ter served by a call­back (after the agent has done addi­tional research or con­sulted with the appro­pri­ate peers).

Think of met­rics as more a scale than a yard­stick. The data yield weights and coun­ter­weights that help you to achieve that all-important bal­ance between qual­ity, pro­duc­tiv­ity, cus­tomer ser­vice, and employee satisfaction.

Vasudha leads the Per­for­mance Solu­tions Team at Impact Learn­ing Sys­tems, reg­u­larly work­ing with lead­ing com­pa­nies to improve per­for­mance of their customer-facing ser­vice, sup­port, and sales teams. She is a lead devel­oper of Impact's suite of train­ing courses and has authored four books, includ­ing the pop­u­lar Big Book of Cus­tomer Ser­vice Train­ing Games, all pub­lished by McGraw-Hill.
5 What Are Your Contact Center Metrics Really Telling You?
Vasudha Deming
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  • Vinu

    Employee Engage­ment is also one among the key fac­tor that effects the per­for­mance of the employee

  • Vasudha

    Thanks for the note, Vinu. I agree with you that employee engage­ment is a key fac­tor of suc­cess and morale in a con­tact cen­ter. It would be inter­est­ing to hear how you mea­sure engage­ment at your orga­ni­za­tion. Do you have a method in place?

  • Nishma

    I found this arti­cle extremely inter­est­ing to read as the con­tact cen­tre I work for are try­ing to nav­i­gate our way through the vast num­ber of met­rics that can be used and which ones work and and which ones are more dam­ag­ing than help­ful. Any fur­ther infor­ma­tion you can pro­vide Vasudha, would be greatly appreciated!

    Kind regards,


  • Vasudha

    I'm glad you found the post help­ful! We work with alot of con­tact cen­ters and, like you, many of our clients it daunt­ing to "nav­i­gate" the best use met­rics. One fur­ther piece of advice I have is to keep it simple–don't let met­rics become an eso­teric sci­ence that con­fuses and demo­ti­vates agents. If there is a spe­cific issue Impact can help you with, please give us a call or pop us an e-mail. Other than that, please check our blog and newslet­ter from time to time, as we fre­quently share infor­ma­tion on met­rics and sim­i­lar con­tact cen­ter issues. Best regards, Vasudha

  • Improv­ing Call Cen­ter Oper­a­tions: The Envi­ron­ment | Cus­tomer Ser­vice Blog | Impact Learn­ing Systems

    […] so much empha­sis placed on call met­rics (”the num­bers”) these days, it’s impor­tant to assess and opti­mize the environment […]

  • Con­tact Cen­ter Philippines

    Con­tact cen­ter met­rics some­times mea­sure every­thing but what really counts: whether cus­tomers receive a sat­is­fy­ing expe­ri­ence when they inter­act with the con­tact cen­ter. Num­bers that look good on the sur­face may really be dis­guis­ing deeper per­for­mance issues that are push­ing up over­all oper­at­ing costs, con­tribut­ing to churn and get­ting in the way of effec­tive cross-selling and up-selling.

  • CCare

    is there an indus­try stan­dard in term of call han­dling duration?

  • Vasudha Dem­ing

    In response to your ques­tion, my expe­ri­ence has been that there are no indus­try stan­dards for call dura­tion because call flows vary from cen­ter to cen­ter. Some are sim­ple (for exam­ple, a cus­tomer call­ing to com­plete an address change) while oth­ers are quite com­plex (a dif­fi­cult tech­ni­cal sup­port issue, for exam­ple). It seems to me that the empha­sis from a QA stand­point should be one of effi­ciency rather than dura­tion: Did the agent take care of the customer's need as com­pletely as pos­si­ble (so as to pre­vent call­backs) in the short­est amount of time while still accom­plish­ing impor­tant soft skills such as buidling rap­port and being cour­te­ous? I hope that helps. If you'd like fur­ther info, feel free to write back.

  • Call Cen­ter CSR

    I work in a call cen­ter for a large telephone/television/internet ser­vice provider in Canada. I can tell you right now, morale is con­stantly ignored by man­aga­ment. It's hard to keep employ­ees happy when they're being paid a lit­tle above min­i­mum wage. All the pan­cake lunches and "snack give­aways" in the world won't keep your employ­ees from seek­ing other jobs. The most com­mon thing I hear around here is "I got that inter­view" or "Can't wait to get out of here". Morale is impor­tant, pound­ing your agents with call after call of com­plaints and billing issues will thin your work­force out, no mat­ter what you do. Espe­cially if the pay is low. The man­age­ment team is also ques­tion­able, pulling employ­ees aside and telling them to lower their AHT by 12 and half sec­onds, or rais­ing just a tad above the 412 sec­ond mark is one way to drive peo­ple up the wall. Another great way to thin the ranks would be cram­ming 200 peo­ple together inside a noisy office with no win­dows, and ask­ing for detailed expla­na­tions when an agent is "away from desk" for more than 3 mins. Call cen­ter man­agers have very lit­tle con­trol over the atri­tion rate, mostly because of the indus­try itself. I can't think of the last time I heard any­one say they enjoy this type of work, and any­one who says they do, try spend­ing a cou­ple years here.

  • Sybil

    There are many other para­me­ters that can be used to assess and com­pare met­rics and it all depends on what is valu­able to a call center.

  • Impact Learn­ing

    Excel­lent point! Can you share some other met­rics for read­ers to consider?

  • A Love of Met­rics — Platform28

    […] for your cus­tomers. A really good sug­ges­tion from the Vasudha Dem­ing in a 2010 arti­cle, “Impact Learn­ing,” is to “hold agents to a strin­gent ACW stan­dard dur­ing peri­ods of high vol­ume, but then ease […]

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