Call Center Metrics: Don’t Overemphasize Productivity

In any contact center, productivity measurement requires balance and optimization. In last week’s article, we discussed balancing productivity with quality. Now we’ll move on to developing a balanced and optimized productivity measurement for agents.

But first, let’s review the characteristics of all good metrics:

• System-focused: Performance measures should assess the progress toward achieving the strategic goal and objectives for the entire corporation. There should be a clear line of site from the first level measure to the corporate objectives.

• Limited: The number of performance measures is limited to focus on the most important indicators of success and to avoid diluting the influence of individual measures.

• Understandable: Performance measures are as simple, straightforward and as easy to understand as possible.

• Avoid unintended consequences: To the extent possible, performance measures avoid unintended consequences.

• Cost-effective: Performance measures justify the cost of collecting and retaining the
data.

• Efficient: Performance measures are streamlined to utilize existing data sources, reduce data collection burdens, and avoid asking for information that can be obtained from another source.

• Reliable: Performance measures are reliable so that when the same measure is used in the same circumstances, it will obtain the same results.

• Valid: Performance measures are valid so that they actually measure what they are supposed to be measuring rather than something else.

• Informative to managers: Performance measures provide information to managers in a timely manner and emphasize aspects of performance that are under management control.

• Informative to decision-makers: Performance measures inform evaluative, planning and policy decisions.

• Clear: Employees are able to see a clear link between what they do and how performance is measured.

• Valuable: Everyone is able to understand why each element of data is collected and see the value of sharing that information.

• Promote continuous improvement: Performance measures promote continuous improvement.

Measuring productivity

When putting together an employee performance measurement system for the first time, we have found that productivity is often the first metric managers want to implement. But we recommend you save it for last.

We’ve found that agents respond much more positively to a quality measure than they do to a productivity measure. By implementing quality first, the agents have a chance to experience what it’s like to be held accountable.

Agents understand that the measure is used to help them learn and grow (rather than being used as a hammer). They begin to trust the measurement system. These quality measurement milestones help to ensure the successful introduction of a productivity measure.

Another caution: Don’t have productivity as your only metric. Keep it balanced with other metrics—for example, quality and time utilization) to ensure you are not motivating undesired behaviors.

Research has proven:
• When quality practices are implemented, productivity performance also increases.
• Companies that institute a measurement and feedback system can increase productivity by 43%.
• Companies that institute a measurement, feedback, and incentive system can increase productivity by 64%.
• And if you overemphasize productivity, there can be detrimental effects.

What sort of detrimental effects? We know of a contact center that told agents they had to take 120 calls in each eight-hour shift. All the agents ever heard from management was the 120-call standard.

Some agents, in order to meet the standard, figured out they could pick up calls and immediately disconnect them to add calls quickly to their call count.
Others adopted call-handling techniques that shortened their talk time so that they could take more calls, but these techniques were not necessarily customer friendly and often caused rework.

Maybe it’s happened to you: You’ve called a company with multiple questions, but the agent was so rushed that you started to hurry through the call. By the end of the call you were so flustered that you disconnected without asking getting half of your answers.

So what do you do? You turn right around and call back. Or you decide to go to a competitor.

Lesson? That the overemphasis on productivity in a contact center never achieves quality results.

Kathryn E. Jackson, Ph.D, is president of Ocean City, NJ-based contact center consultancy Response Design Corp.

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