Is your measurement system holding you back? Thoughts on a call center



Too many indicators focus on "how" to do the work, writes columnist Eric Michrowski. This can create a false sense of solid operations and financial management and don’t help build alignment with the right successful outcome. Here's why.

In my last column I wrote about the importance of building a common understanding of what success looks like and how team members can contribute to driving this success, highlighting the pitfalls of shifting away from a dialogue on "what needs to be achieved" (successful outcome) to "how it needs to get done".

There is probably no better way to illustrate this point than through a call center example. In most cases, the primary focus of a call center should be to ensure the delivery of a successful outcome with the highest value for money. In telecommunications, that successful outcome is the ability to reliably connect people with people and content. In financial services, the successful outcome is the use of the funds or proceeds associated with the financial instrument in question.


What's the right way to measure?

But when it comes to call centers and delivery of successful outcomes, there are 6 common problems.

Problem #1: Call centres are typically not measured on their ability to deliver the outcome and are instead measured on the call transaction. In many cases, they are so far removed from the actual fulfilment of the real transaction and have very limited ability to influence the outcome and as such are often not aligned with the end outcome.

Call centers have some of the most impressive list of operational metrics to assess the true performance of each transaction. A few of the common indicators that are measured are Average Handle Time (average time an agent spends on the phone), After Call Work (average time an agent spends completing follow-up work while not on the phone) and Credits (total compensation that the agent has provided to customers to address issues - if they are empowered to do so). Luckily there are typically Quality indicators such as Customer Satisfaction scores, Transfers (total times an agent has to transfer a call to gain resolution to an issue) and Repeats (total times the same customer has to call back regarding the same issue).

While I am simplifying a bit, this does provide a fantastic way to predict cost to serve. The challenge is that we’ve also removed complete Alignment between the team members and the end outcome and have introduced a significant customer pain point and hidden cost.

Let me illustrate:

Problem #2: Average Handle Time theoretically should encourage team members to drive to the fastest resolution to a customer issue. Unfortunately, in the time that I’ve spent working on programs to improve call center performance or job shadowing agents I’ve come to realize that often it drives attempts to (1) get rid of the customer as quickly as possible and (2) in the worse case scenarios flush the call as soon as you get it (which I’ve seen happen right in front of me!)

Problem #3: After Call Work should theoretically drive efficient processing of requests to maximize utilization. Unfortunately, too often I’ve seen the result drive behaviours that drive (1) faster processing that result in missed commitments or actions needed to complete the transaction fully or (2) keeping the customer on hold longer as the necessary background work is completed, resulting in added customer effort. As one agent once explained to me, it becomes a numbers game that they need to manage throughout the day to balance their AHT and ACW results!

Problem #4: Customer Satisfaction Scores that measure the individual call transaction should be great quality indicators. Unfortunately, too often, I’ve seen a significant disconnect between (1) the agent Customer Satisfaction Score and (2) the end to end experience Satisfaction Score. The reason being is that the customer usually doesn’t fault the agent for a poor experience but rather blames the company or the process. In other words, this score still doesn’t help us get to the right successful outcome.

Problem #5: Credits are often reduced as an easy way to save money. While that is in fact true, do we know the impact of not resolving an issue appropriately? I can recall a personal example of an airline that preferred not to resolve a $60 issue and instead lost $0.5M in future revenue.

Problem #6: Transfers and Repeats are often seen to be the perfect quality indicator but as I’ve learned by sitting on the floor, they can also be gamed.

These indicators focus on "how" to do the work, create a false sense of solid operations and financial management and don’t help build alignment with the right successful outcome.

So is there an alternative? Indeed. In my next column, I’ll talk about a way to build alignment at the agent level against two simple levers (1) delivering a successful outcome and (2) at the highest value that money can buy. When effectively implemented, the outcomes on Customer Satisfaction, Customer Effort, Cost and Employee Engagement are beyond belief.

Have you seen other examples where your measurement system is limiting your potential to excel? Have you seen leaders that did an exceptional job in creating alignment between activities and organisational vision?