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The elusive metric of first-call resolution

First-call resolution or, more broadly, first-contact resolution, is a mantra that can be hard to ignore. What could be simpler than the idea of making a customer happy by getting it right the first time?

Well, it turns out that as much as first-call resolution (FCR) is an object of desire for call center organizations, it can be hard to achieve -- and still harder to measure. Although basic measurements are common across the industry, more advanced practices differ widely -- as does measurement effectiveness.

What could be simpler than the idea of making a customer happy by getting it right the first time?

The reason for all the buzz about FCR is that a lot of organizations want it to be their "uber metric," said Justin Robbins, manager, training and development at International Customer Management Institute (ICMI)."From a common-sense perspective FCR is all about getting it right the first time; that’s why so many people care, and it’s a good thing to care about," Robbins said.

Getting it right the first time

But FCR can be difficult to measure given its entrenchment in the specifics of each organization.

Accomplishing FCR means effectively getting employees or contractors to fully serve customers whether that is through solid processes or making sure to empower individual agents. Measuring first-contact resolution, though, is very much tied to the priorities of individual organizations, he noted.

"How they want to measure that will depend on what they consider one contact to be," he noted. Some call centers, for example, may deem the issue resolved if the customer doesn't call back; others may define FCR as simply routing the call to someone else for resolution. Some may even require a later callback -- to provide a customer with detailed information or some kind of resolution conducted over time.

Regardless, though, Robbins said that measuring success is important, and measurement of any kind is better than no measurement at all. Robbins said that many organizations use customer surveying, whereby customers receive a survey by phone, email or regular mail after the interaction that asks whether their issue was resolved.

But customer participation may be limited or the accuracy of the results may be in doubt. "If that is the only way we measure, that could be a problem," Robbins said. "It could be that the customer spoke to an agent who sounded competent, convincing them that the problem is solved, but they really did everything wrong and that won't be obvious until days or weeks later. Yet you may think the problem was solved based on the survey," he explained.

That's why Robbins says a simple satisfaction survey is just a "first insight" on the way to fuller understanding. For example, he noted, FCR can be further examined by asking a customer whether he or she had already tried another means of resolving the problem, such as through email.

Another technique to consider is periodically scanning call records to see whether the same customer number has called again within a certain time period. Typically, Robbins noted, you may know you have not resolved a problem if they have called again within 48 hours. Then you need to determine whether the call involved the same issue or a different one.

"To deal with that, some organizations track issues by a ticket code to see whether it is referenced again," Robbins aid. Besides the basics, "FCR metrics should measure additional things such as how you are measuring errors and reworking and defining what resolution looks like," he added.

Keeping the customer in mind

Fundamentally, though, it is important to examine things from the customer's perspective. And that's a focus of expert; Rosanne D'Ausilio, a consultant and customer service expert, and Jodie Monger the founding associate director of Purdue University's Center for Customer Driven Quality and President of Customer Relationship Metrics.

Call resolution goals often become a lose-lose proposition because handling calls costs money.

D'Ausilio said that the state of customer satisfaction today is poor; only 3% of consumers surveyed said they got "excellent" service. "That speaks volumes not only for existing customers but also for potential customers, because in today's business environment, what differentiates one company from another is the relationship with the customers," she said.

For many organizations, call centers and call resolution goals often become a lose-lose proposition because handling calls costs money. But "the people that have that awesome responsibility are usually among the lowest paid people in the organization," D'Ausilio noted.

D'Ausilio said that call centers need to measure better and dig deeper. For example, many organizations measure the length of the call. But this may create false incentives, where agents may decide to transfer a call that takes too long, which creates higher costs, customer frustration and poor first-call resolution. On the other hand, she noted, some call centers penalize call transfers, regardless of the reason, again, potentially creating poor FCR.

Having customers drive those decisions is key, but not through simplistic measures, such as survey questions that just ask, "Was your problem resolved?"

"Someone may have already tried email or may have made multiple calls first. You need to know that," D'Ausilio said. Set up measurements that make sense for your process and your goals and then start benchmarking your organization over time, she advised.

Monger emphasized that call centers too often look at internal metrics -- whether a case is closed, for example -- without also looking with care at the customer. "Organizations have blind spots; they need that external quality monitoring," she added.

Measure responsibly

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Among the lessons Monger has learned are that organizations need to be clear about what they are measuring. Inquiry calls, for example, need to be handled and evaluated differently from calls that are focused on resolving a problem because the customer expectations are so different. She says customer evaluations should be solicited immediately and linked to a specific experience both to ensure that impressions are fresh and clear and to ensure that customers don't inadvertently offer responses based on multiple contacts with the organization.

Monger said that when it comes to analyzing FCR, it's a matter of doing your homework. "Many call centers aren't really doing good research, they do perform post-call surveys but they are not well designed or executed, which leads to what I call 'survey malpractice,'" she explained. She said that surveys must be carefully designed and monitored to produce the most meaningful information, and that information should then drive agent behavior, key performance indicators and everything else that the call center does.

Alas, Monger said that call centers are often given inadequate resources and good analysis is rare. "There is a science to this, but it is not often executed properly," she added.


This was first published in February 2014

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