The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand.”
Sun Tzu, The Art of War
In business it is vital to plan and prepare for the future. As a manager within the call centre industry this may seem like a daunting task however due to the ever increasing abundance and sophistication of IT reporting and management systems the act of collecting information has become much easier; the real challenge for the contact centre manager is to understand what is important from the plethora of measurements available, how to interpret that information and then leverage it to increase performance and customer satisfaction.
Within the industry, measures produced by the contact centre are known as contact centre metrics (CCM). Amongst the most well known and arguably most important metric is AHT (Average Handling Time), the average amount of time an agent is on the phone to a customer. As we have said before, there can be no definitive statement as to what is good AHT, as every customer situation, organisation, industry is different. As a rule of thumb, however contact centres generally favour low AHT as on an individual basis and across the contact centre it can be a sign that staff are efficient and provides an indicator of the amount of calls that a contact centre can handle.
However, one should be wary when placing too much emphasis on low AHT as this could be a symptom of low adherence to procedure, (ATP). Agents might choose to break procedure in order to lower AHT thereby lowering the quality of resolution. While contact centre platforms can provide excellent performance metrics they are not enough to provide a complete picture; in order to establish the ATP and gain a better idea of overall service quality you would be well advised to use an external research organisation to track the satisfaction of customers or set up a research department to measure quality within your contact centre. In our experience one of the most effective means to collect such information is through an outbound post service survey asking the customer how they felt about the quality of service received.
We touched on ATP earlier here as an essential metric in understanding the performance of your contact centre; ATP is a measurement of how your agent keep to procedure. It highlights whether your agents utilise scripts and call guides, follow security procedures, uses appropriate greetings and farewells and is a general measurement of whether they adhere to company protocols. As discussed, such adherence to policy can lead to higher AHT however following such protocol can often result in better service quality. Utilising qualitative measurements of performance such as ATP may mean a little more digging to find the answers as the information is usually not so readily available but the extra work is well worthwhile. In research, quantitative measurement will tell you what is happening, qualitative research will help to explain why it is happening.
In addition to the use of customer satisfaction survey another viable research method is to listen to recorded customer calls and review those calls with the agent, as part of a structured coaching session. Utilising recent innovations in technology can provide a more accurate measurement of ATP and help the agent to recognise blind-spots. Some contact centre platforms now come preloaded with software which can differentiate between words in an audio format. Such a platform can be used to trawl through past customer calls identifying trigger words like ‘complaint’, ‘happy’ and ‘dissatisfied’; this information in turn can be used to either identify stretch targets with the agent or by quality management, surveying calls used to compile a matrix for scoring resolution.
Planning for the growth of your contact centre requires accurate information on its operational performance. In addition to measuring agent behaviours to ensure service quality, it is also essential to monitor traffic volumes and average queue times. One important metric to track such figures is ASA (Average Speed to Answer); ASA tracks the average time which it takes for a call to be answered. This can represent everything from the time it takes for a customer to queue and speak to an agent, to the time in which a chat message is responded to. ASA can give a good indication as to how well your call centre is coping with the volume of calls/messages it receives. Low ASA is often an indicator that you will need more staff to cope with peak traffic periods when abnormally high ASA can be an indicator of too many agents working in a relatively quiet period.
As with earlier examples ASA should be understood and used in conjunction with other key metrics in order to better plan for the development of your contact centre; For instance if we find that we have low ATP and high ASA perhaps it is time to consider the procedure within your contact centre in order to help stream line the process for staff and customers.
Metrics are absolutely vital in understanding and ‘calculating’ your next move and as Sun Tzu says:
It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperilled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperilled in every single battle.”
Sun Tzu, Art of War
The better we understand ourselves and our customers the better service we can provide for our customers.