For a Driving-Force Metric, Consider CPX


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In the beginning, there were … lots and lots of easy-to-obtain operational metrics such as “average speed of answer” (ASA) and “average handle time” (AHT), and some pundits crudely and erroneously associated them with strategic importance, even quality. Even though these are well-known contact center metrics, and quite important in scheduling overall staffing levels and achieving overall “service levels,” they fall well short of anything akin to strategy or quality.

After all, do customers really get excited when their call is answered quickly but the answer is wrong or even over the simple fact that they had bothered to make the call in the first place?

One of our clients has adopted a far superior metric, one that has enabled the organization to reduce costs, increase spend per customer and improve customer loyalty: “CPX.” CPX stands for contacts per “x,” where x equals new customers and base customers. By analyzing the root causes for new customers’ propensity to contact the company (to do such things as register their “subscriber” data and figure out invoice details) and longer-term base customers’ need to contact the company (for such matters as when data isn’t posted in timely fashion or there’s confusion regarding new terms and conditions), this client has managed to accomplish a great deal in the past three years. It has:

  • Tripled the number of customers with exactly the same number of agents
  • Seen 60 percent lower “repeat contacts” by fixing the issues the first time
  • Seen 30 percent lower agent attrition than competitive contact centers in the same region, thanks to a real feeling on the part of customers that it has made a difference

How did the business leaders accomplish this formidable set of changes? I’m glad you asked!

First off, they recognized that they didn’t have a handle on multiple customer contacts—aside from knowing that they called and emailed. An older generation of CRM software did not allow cross-media comparisons, so email was languishing in the queues when customers called to re-state their question or complaint. By upgrading to a newer version (at no incremental cost because the CRM vendor was at fault), they reduced multiple contacts.

Secondly, they reduced from 200 constantly changing contact or reason codes to fewer than 40, enabling new agents and experienced agents alike to assign the right code quickly—and accurately. This was a critical step to allow analysts to determine root cause (six sigma works well at this level) and drive changes across the company.

Which brings us to the third improvement: The functional groups outside of customer service finally got timely and useful data to figure out how to serve customers better. In this way, marketing understood how their errors caused led to contacts—and how many. IT knew clearly the frequency of contact whenever the web site hiccupped. And finance could finally determine the cost of credit card errors.

CPX, this driving force metric is based on CPO (contacts per order), a metric I inherited when I arrived at in early 1999 and enhanced via contact code simplification and these basic components:

  1. Ownership by departments outside of customer service (which, after all, except when giving out wrong answers, doesn’t actually “cause” customer contacts and, actually, fixes other groups’ errors)

  2. Root cause elimination
  3. Deflection to high-completion self-service on the web and IVR (interactive voice response).

During my almost three years with Amazon we reduced CPO by 70 percent, markedly contributing to the company’s reputation for excellent service. As Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos remarked in the company’s 2005 annual report,

We do continue to drive customer experience. … Our most sensitive measure of customer satisfaction, contacts per order, saw a 13 percent improvement [year over year].

And our client has seen similar improvements. Its customer service team has contributed to its gaining the top position in its industry. Satisfied customers no longer need to contact them for service but, instead, can help themselves online or via voice automation or better yet, never need to bother to contact the company at all, thanks to a relentless focus on cutting CPX.

Bill Price

Bill Price is the President of Driva Solutions (a customer service and customer experience consultancy), an Advisor to Antuit, co-founded the LimeBridge Global Alliance, chairs the Global Operations Council, teaches at the University of Washington and Stanford MBA programs, and is the lead author of The Best Service is No Service and Your Customer Rules! Bill served as's first Global VP of Customer Service and held senior positions at MCI, ACP, and McKinsey. Bill graduated from Dartmouth (BA) and Stanford (MBA).


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