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Contact Center Metrics: AHT is Out, FCR is In (But Not Enough!) 

Bill Price | Feb 26, 2013 892 views No Comments

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Customer support contact centers exist to fix problems or clear up confusion, while sales or collections centers help produce revenues. For years the key metric for both types of centers was speed: contacts handled per hour per agent (CPH) or its flipside average time to handle contacts (AHT). Fortunately, wiser heads have prevailed once it became clear that speed often produced errors (leading to repeat contacts or cancelled sales); customers hated to be rushed (especially if the company created the mistake or confusion that prompted them to have to make the contact); and agents quit more frequently because of the pressure.



Today most customer support contact centers and sales/collections centers still measure CPH and AHT, but primarily as inputs for forecasting and scheduling. The other reason is to isolate outliers across the agent population: those with very low AHT or very high AHT, since both ends produce lower customer satisfaction1.

FCR to the Rescue?

Replacing AHT is first contact resolution (FCR), the percentage of time that customers get what they need in the first contact they placed, and do not need to make another contact for that issue. Over the years it has proven hard to measure FCR, with efforts to estimate FCR (e.g. “if the customer doesn’t call back in 7 days we will declare the earlier contact to be resolved”) shown to be imprecise. Some customers/issues need more than 7 days to sort out, and other customers might contact the company for other reasons within 7 days, and many dissatisfied customers might not place another contact at all2.

Instead, if the company asks the customer immediately after the first interaction if s/he is satisfied that the issue is resolved, or perhaps asks the customer a few days afterwards when that issue should reasonably be resolved, then a more accurate FCR emerges.

Limitations and Pitfalls

Even though many analysts have trumpeted FCR as the best measure of customer satisfaction, it is prone to numerous pitfalls. For example, if the company can say “75% of our customers report first contact resolution,” then we see these major weaknesses relying solely on contact center FCR:

  1. Like all averages, FCR belies what might be a “long tail” – if some customers need 3 or more contacts to resolve their c-sat will be terrible, pulling down the average3.
  2. Likewise, since “all customers are not created equal”4, viewing FCR as an average across the entire customer base will not be meaningful for new customers or VIP/most loyal customers, or other in-place customer segments.
  3. If customers are transferred all over the place to get the solution needed in their first contact, or placed on hold a lot while the agents figure out the answer, then their c-sat will also be very low.
  4. Since more than 80% of customers today first seek help or answers on the company web site5, if they are unable to get what they need there and have to make a contact to the support or sales center, then that is already they 2nd contact. By the same token, if customers then attempt resolution in the company’s IVR phone system (or go there first), then when they make their contact to the center it might be their 3rd (or 2nd, if IVR was first attempt) contact! Therefore even if companies can calculate FCR accurately in their centers, they are already behind their customers’ needs, and c-sat will suffer sooner or later6.
  5. As I have promoted for years7, recently confirmed by respected analysts8, c-sat and customer loyalty are higher when customers do not need to contact the company at all, because everything they need works right and there isn’t any confusion. “Best Service” trumps FCR every time!

In addition, there is little consensus what constitutes “target” or even “outstanding” FCR. Clearly an increase in FCR is “good” or at least “better,” and lower FCR is “bad,” but there is a wide range of FCR across verticals, issues, and customer tenure. For starters, and to challenge contact center analysts and executives, we set a very high bar: “FCR>90%”9.

Don’t Relay Solely on FCR

So what are even better metrics than FCR in the customer support contact center or the sales/collection center, moving us further away from AHT or CPH?

Referring again to the four pitfalls of FCR listed above, we see the following as superior metrics to relying solely on FCR (in other words do go ahead and measure/report FCR, but don’t depend on that statistic by itself).

  • Average number of contacts to resolve an issue (or issue type), and the greatest number of contacts required10
  • FCR by customer segment, with higher standards for new customers and most-loyal customers11
  • First point resolution (FPR) = the percentage of time that customers get what they need in the first contact but also with the first person they contacted (no transfers needed)12
  • FCR for your web site and for your IVR system (the latter often also called “containment rate”), more so than FCR in your contact centers13
  • CPx or “contacts per X” where C = customer-initiated contacts for live support and x = the key driver of those contacts, often the number of units shipped or systems in place or customers14

With our emphasis on FCR at least we’ve moved beyond speed-at-any-cost (AHT and CPH), but contact centers executives should still be wary using FCR as the only c-sat driver for their company. Try out number of contacts required, FCR by segment, FPR, web and IVR FCR, and CPx!

Sources:
1. From Global Operations Council (GOC) research by Driva Solutions (founder/Chair of GOC).
2. SQM webinar 25 November 2008 and subsequent papers.
3. From numerous Driva Solutions client studies.
4. Introduced in The Best Service is No Service: Liberating Your Customers From Customer Service, Keep them Happy and Control Costs (Wiley/Jossey-Bass, 2008), Bill Price & David Jaffe.
5. Aberdeen, Frost & Sullivan, and Driva Solutions research.
6. Also covered in Best Service.
7. Also covered in Best Service.
8. TARP data in “First-Contact Resolution and Quantifying Its Top Line Payoff,” ICMI webinar 16 August 2012.
9. Driva Solutions’ DrivaWise online/on site course “FCR>90%.”
10. TARP research.
11. Forthcoming book Back to the Customer Future, Bill Price & David Jaffe.
12. Covered in Best Service and Back to the Customer Future.
13. From Global Operations Council (GOC) research by Driva Solutions (founder/Chair of GOC).
14. Covered in Best Service.

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