In the world of contact centers, the telephone has always reigned supreme. No other channel has rivaled its efficiency and power.
But times are changing fast, and the metrics measuring agent and contact center performance must change with them if businesses are going to deliver the best possible customer experiences.
Within five years, the number of social media interactions at contact centers will be equal to the number of phone interactions, according to a new report released by DMG Consulting LLC in West Orange, N.J. Of those social interactions, 70% to 80% will be service-oriented and require attention, the report said.
"Contact centers are more than just about handling phone calls," said Donna Fluss, president of DMG. "But many are still struggling with how to handle all the new channels."
Breaking from the past
Part of the struggle for contact centers is how best to use agent metrics to ensure efficiency, productivity and quality in contact centers as more and more customers use new channels to meet their customer service needs.
For more on contact center metrics
Contact center agent performance stressed, not metrics
Not that long ago, a call center -- as it was known -- fielded only telephone calls from customers who had concerns about a product or service. With only one channel to measure, a call center agent's performance was measured by time per call, how many calls handled a day, a customer satisfaction score and other hard data.
Now, as the name implies, a contact center uses many technologies to connect with customers. As a result, contact centers not only analyze phone interactions but also email, chat and social media exchanges on Twitter and Facebook to gauge an agent's performance.
But just like phone calls, Fluss said, these new customer interactions should be treated like formal channels with formal key performance indicators (KPIs) applied to agents who handle new customer channels. (KPIs evaluate factors that are crucial to the success of an organization, and these can differ per organization. In business, for instance, KPIs may be net revenue or a customer loyalty metric, while government might consider unemployment rates.)
"Some KPIs can be applied to multiple channels, and some are specific to social media," she said.
New contact center metrics
The metrics that gauge social media and other new channel interactions, however, are fundamentally different from those used in traditional customer care, and each should be used accordingly, said Vit Horky, co-founder and managing director of Brand Embassy Ltd., a customer service consulting firm with offices in London, Prague and Berlin.
Contact centers should apply a set of KPIs for customer care that includes not only traditional customer service metrics, like first-response time, solution time and volume of conversations, but also social media-specific metrics, Horky said. Those include resolution ratio (the number of conversations solved in a public space versus those turned into private conversation) and sentiment analysis (the number of positive versus negative social comments).
But because many businesses haven't incorporated new channels under the contact center umbrella, these channels aren't measured with the same discipline as traditional phone interactions, and often without consistent KPIs and key metrics, said Kate Leggett, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.
There is a lack of standardization across channels, Leggett said. "You want to measure all [channels] together. You want to understand the success of all interactions -- why one channel is working better for certain kinds of interactions, for example."
It's not the channel; it's the resolution
While many experts agree that using new customer channels will only increase as mobile devices and social media become more commonplace in people's lives, others are not convinced adopting a new set of metrics is necessary or effective.
"I'm a skeptic of newer metrics," said Art Schoeller of Forrester. "We're used to [seeing contact center metrics] reports that are very black and white. But newer channels get into shades of gray."
As self-service becomes more popular, he said, only the toughest customer service interactions make it to an agent. As a result, "many contact centers are softening up on metrics like the speed of answering and other hard data. Instead, they are focusing on good, quality interactions and good empathy by the agent during complex interactions."
Besides, customers look for a lot of the same attributes in a customer service interaction regardless of the channel, Schoeller said. "To some extent," he said, "it's universal."
Mary Murcott, CEO of the Dallas-based Novo 1, agreed. "Actually, the metrics are the same," she said. "It's really about quality and effectiveness, or first contact resolution and productivity, no matter what channel."
It's the ability of the contact center representative to solve a problem on the first interaction that matters above all else, according to Murcott. To be sure, some measure of efficiency must be accounted for as well, she said. So KPIs such as contact handling time, time to answer and idle time play a role; it doesn't matter if the agent is responding to a chat, an email or a phone call.
Time will tell
Whether new channel-specific or one-metric-fits-all, relevant KPIs and best practices for social, chat, video and other new channel metrics are still emerging and evolving. Despite great pressure for customer service organizations to develop these new channels, enterprises are only just starting to adopt and deploy programs, according to a report produced by Telus International, a contact center outsourcer based in Vancouver, B.C.
Metrics should ensure that contact center agents are achieving their potential and that operations are efficient and productive across all channels.
As Leggett of Forrester said, "If you're a customer, you don't care about channel. You just want answers."
This was first published in February 2013