Call center metrics 101
A beginner’s guide to discovering the right call center metrics, and heads-up to what can go wrong in the process
Most of us have a fairly good idea of what metrics are and what they mean to the success of a business. Yet, our teams keep tracking the wrong numbers month on month — numbers that can be improved upon for their own sake but do not really add any value to the bottomline.
In contrast, we may be tracking the right metrics for our call centers but along with too many other numbers leading to analysis paralysis. So, how do we find out if we are on the right track or not?
One of the basic checks is to ensure that our call center metrics are call center KPIs too.
Call center metrics vs. call center KPIs
By definition, call center KPIs are drivers to the operational growth of a call center and in turn, the financial growth of the business that runs it. By function, they help us identify growth levers, bottlenecks, and even anomalies in the performance of a call center. While metrics help us to measure people and processes, KPIs help us measure them with a purpose.
So, if we choose the right metrics, we will be able to easily (well, more easily than we were doing before) optimize our operations, take strategic decisions on staffing or upgrading the call center software, and most importantly, keep our customers and agents happy.
The characteristics of effective call center metrics
Call center metrics are no different from the KPIs we define for other business functions. The right metrics, the effective ones, typically embody the following characteristics:
1) They are quantifiable.
As basic as it may sound, the quality of being quantifiable has several implications attached to it. First, it leaves no room for imagination or assumptions when it comes to communicating the KPIs to your team or anyone else in the organization. For example, when you ask your team to ‘improve CSAT score by 20% in 3 months’ instead of simply saying ‘improve customer satisfaction’, it defines not just the goal your team should be working towards but also the rigor at which they should operate. Second and most importantly, it ensures that the definition of the metric itself is data-driven. Ergo, you will have a reasonable answer when someone asks you, ‘Why 20%? Why not 45%?’.
2) They are measurable.
The KPIs should be measurable using the tools available to you. Or, you should know which tools can be used to measure the metric you are chasing. Once you have your hands on the right kind of call center reporting, you should also make sure that your results are statistically significant, and not something caused by an anomaly or even chance.
3) They are timely.
Metrics should be reported at the right intervals. Frequent reporting can lead to insufficient data which is not actionable. It can overload your call center agents as well. By contrast, if you do not report them in a timely manner, it can lead to bad decision-making or worse, no decision-making.
4) They are relevant.
Relevancy is based on the nature of a contact center. Not every call center directly contributes to revenue, but most involve operational complexity. For instance, inbound call centers and customer service are traditionally seen as cost centers. But, businesses are increasingly identifying opportunities for revenue generation along with providing value to the customer — upselling, cross selling, reducing attrition (churn) in subscription-based businesses, and so on. Outbound call centers, on the other hand, are primarily considered as profit centers. So, metrics that apply to one type of call center may not apply to the other. At the same time, there might be overlaps too depending on how the capabilities of a call center are evolving.
5) They are cascading.
Ultimately, your call center metrics should be aligned with the overall strategic objectives of your business. This will steer your call center agents away from any existential crisis — they can see in real-time how they are contributing to the bigger picture of the organization they are working for and hence, gain a better sense of purpose.
However, understanding the nature of call center metrics does not end here. Apart from the key qualities we just discussed, there is another salient feature for every KPI — the aspect of the call center it influences. This plays a key role in prioritizing the metrics that a call center should be immediately focussing on.
So many numbers. So little time.
Identifying the different types of metrics for a call center
Here are the five key types we can categorize call center metrics into based on the areas they influence or improve:
Quality-related metrics typically reflect the quality of experience received by your callers.
Example: Let’s take a look at one of the most commonly employed KPIs — Hold time. Hold time is a great indicator of agent performance. But more importantly, it also tells us how much a caller has to wait, on an average, to derive value out of the call center. Now, what actionable insight can you glean out of this?
If an agent is putting your customers on hold longer than others, it might mean that they do not have the expertise to handle the queries coming their way. Or, it could mean that they do have easy access to canned responses. Now that you know there is a bottleneck, you can find out the root cause and take the necessary action, be it enrolling your agents for training programs or giving them easy access to support documents. This improves agent performance which in turns improve the quality of service offered to a caller.
In order to run a successful call center, there are two sets of people who must be happy — your customers and your agents. Alright, if spreading happiness seems to be a bit out of your reach at the moment, aim for satisfaction to begin with.
Examples of people-related metrics include CSAT (customer satisfaction) scores, Employee satisfaction index, and even First call resolution, because who doesn’t like their problem being solved quickly.
Although it might sound like a tall claim, KPIs related to workforce management are probably among the best things that happened to call center managers. Based on these KPIs, supervisors can take complex decisions on staffing, define shifts, and even pull off the near-impossible task of scheduling a team meeting without increasing the number of missed calls to their call center.
Example: Call volume analysis, Call volume trends and Call outcomes are metrics that are crucial to workforce management.
4) Phone System
These metrics are an indication of the operational efficiency of your Automatic call distributor system.
Example: You can optimize your call flows based on metrics like Abandon rate. For instance, if your number of abandoned calls is higher than the number of missed calls, try removing an IVR menu from your call flow.
Like we discussed before, it is important for strategic business objectives to trickle down into call center metrics as well. More importantly, this cascading effect should be measured as well.
Example: If you run an outbound call center, you can measure your Revenue per call by integrating your call center software with your CRM software.
Based on this classification you can define your area of focus for the quarter or the year and then proceed to define your KPIs.
What can go wrong
By now, we’ve seen how to identify call center metrics and prioritize them based on certain qualities. Before we wind up, there are a few other things we need to keep in mind. Here is a list of few common mistakes that can happen even after we identify the metrics that are effective for running a call center:
1) We are chasing too many metrics.
It is tempting to measure everything that can be measured. However, we need to know the difference between vanity metrics — numbers that do not really influence or correlate to our objectives — and real KPIs, and measure only the ones that can truly indicate call center performance.
2) We are making things too complicated.
Yes, metrics influence each other. For example, the ‘number of unanswered transfers by agents’ by itself does not give us the full picture, unless we look at ‘call distribution by agents’ as well. However, we should take care that the KPI plan is not complicated enough to potentially scare or even demotivate the team implementing and tracking it.
3) We are giving up too easily.
There are short-term and long-term KPIs. It is very important to distinguish between the two. While you may be able to quickly influence short-term metrics, long term KPIs may take months to show measurable changes. Keep reviewing and optimizing your processes too before writing any metric off.
4) We did not give it enough time.
This is slightly different from giving up easily. When it comes to KPI reporting, enough time has to be allotted to allow the data to make sense and reveal valuable trends.
5) We haven’t differentiated between leading and lagging metrics.
Leading indicators are input-oriented. They are easier to influence than lagging indicators that typically reflect an end result. For example, call distribution by agents is a leading indicator you can easily influence and control. On the other hand, revenue per call is a lagging indicator you can measure easily but cannot influence in a linear or straightforward manner. Identifying this difference is crucial to better decision-making.
The call center metric checklist
We’ve looked at several aspects of defining call center metrics. Here’s a checklist that summarizes it all.
|Checklist for your call center KPIs|
|1. Are my KPIs quantifiable?|
|2. Are they measurable?|
|3. Have I defined the intervals or frequency at which they are reported?|
|4. Are they relevant to the nature of my call center?|
|5. Do they contribute to the strategic objectives of my company?|
|6. What am I trying to improve with these metrics?
- Quality of customer experience
- Customer and Employee satisfaction
- Workforce management
|7. Am I chasing more metrics than my team and I can focus on?|
|8. Are my KPI targets achievable?|
|9. Am I allotting time for trends to develop?|
|10. Have I differentiated between leading and lagging indicators?|
If your answers are ‘Yes’ to most of these questions, you are on the right track. If no, it’s time to take a step back and replan.
Illustration by Nikhil Kanda
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