ZCR (Zero Contact Resolution): Getting it Right the First Time


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In my last column decrying “Average Thinking” I touched on the importance of measuring first contact resolution (FCR) across the entire customer population, not just on the average FCR metric. Customers keep telling us that FCR is essential for them to keep doing business with your company, often rating it in the 80% range as the #1 priority.

Let’s use the expression “failure rate” to describe when you are not resolving an issue the first time, defined as follows: If you are hitting 70% FCR in your contact center, this means that you are not resolving issues 30% of the time, so there is a 30% failure rate – clearly a disturbingly high number! There are a number of root causes for not meeting FCR and suffering high failure rates including:

  • Assigning customer service agents to handle issues for which they are not properly trained;
  • Insufficient coaching and mentoring of those agents, often by supervisors who themselves were not very good at FCR;
  • Outdated “knowledge bases” that don’t cover current issues and solutions (more on this in a future column on “Knowledge Sharing”).

But there is another root cause that you might need to address, namely broken systems or processes that plague the entire customer service operation, e.g. billing system errors or data entry mistakes that don’t capture a customer’s reissued credit cards. While it is very important to resolve these issues when customers complain, isn’t it far better to make sure that the issue never had to happen in the first place? Getting it right the first time will lead to what I have always called ZCR = Zero Contact Resolution. ZCR is the premise of our 1st book (The Best Service is No Service1 ) and is followed by many of the Me2B Leaders that we profile in our 2nd book (Your Customer Rules!2) in two of the 39 Me2B “Customer Sub-Needs” that we profile:

  • “You get it right for me first time — or if not, fix it once and for all.” — part of the Me2B Customer Need “You make it easy for me”;
  • “When you fail me, you do more than just fix it.” – part of the Me2B Customer Need “You surprise me with stuff that I can’t imagine”.

A recent kerfuffle close to my home outside of Seattle seems to fit this ZCR challenge, and also hits more of the Me2B Customer Need “You make it easy for me”: In the short article “Over 3,300 I-405 toll-lane drivers overcharged”3, soon after this new toll was imposed on the Interstate highway the system

“Sent an incorrect message that certain passes and license plates could not be read”, so that “a customer service representative then billed those vehicles not knowing they had already been billed.”

OK, stuff like this happens and so what would you expect the State of Washington’s Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to do? Email, call, or text these 3,300 known customers to advise them of the double-billing, and tell them that it was fixed? Alas, the article concludes with this:

“Anyone who sees suspicious charges on their bills is asked to call WSDOT for a refund.”

Clearly not ZCR thinking! Inviting “anyone” to call the center with questions is also fraught with more failures and inabilities to hit FCR targets, as well as overall service level KPIs.

Getting it right the first time might not be easy, but it’s far better and cheaper than awaiting customer complaints or inquiries and trying to fix them on the fly, especially given the root causes of “failure rates”, of not achieving high levels of FCR.

1. The Best Service is No Service: Liberating Your Customers From Customer Service, Keep Them Happy, and Control Costs (Wiley 2008)

2. Here are the 7 Customer Needs that Lead to a Winning “Me2B”Culture:

  1. “You know me, you remember me”
  2. “You give me choices”
  3. “You make it easy for me”
  4. “You value me”
  5. “You trust me”
  6. “You surprise me with stuff that I can’t imagine”
  7. “You help me better, you help me do more”

3. “Over 3,300 I-405 toll-lane drivers overcharged”, Seattle Times October 15, 2015, page B10.

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 Amazon.com'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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