Counterpoint: Why Service Level Isn’t an Ideal Metric

Contact centers are data-rich environments, with detailed information available from a multitude of systems on every minute step of each interaction’s progress. In fact, the vast quantity of available data is one of the industry’s key challenges, since it is often quite difficult to link the various data elements together to get a coherent picture of how well centers are being managed.

Consider the well-known service-level metric. This is usually measured as the percentage of inbound calls that are answered within a specified time, such as 80% of calls answered within 20 seconds, or 80/20. This is an easily measured metric, and many treat it as a proxy for overall service quality. But while excessive delays clearly can annoy consumers and lead to calls being abandoned and to the perception that service quality is poor, answering calls instantly does not guarantee a positive service experience. For example, many people would prefer to wait a moderate time for the right person, rather than being answered instantly by an unskilled person.

A metric that is emerging as a replacement to service level is first-call resolution, which is usually defined as the percentage of incoming calls handled to completion by the first agent who received the call. While this seems sensible — no one likes to be bounced around from person to person — it has even more problems than service level as a metric.

To begin with, it is by no means clear that first-call resolution is the right goal for every business. In some cases, it would be more cost-effective to have a staff of first-level agents who handle routine inquiries and perform triage on the more complex ones, making sure they go to the right second-level agent. This is common in technical-support and help-desk applications.

Also, it may be desirable for a call to be skillfully moved from one agent to another to better handle compound inquiries.

And finally, if the process is managed well, it is often desirable to take care of the initial part of an interaction and then proactively contact the customer after a short period of offline research to complete the task. In these cases, it’s essential that the customer is not made to call back out of frustration for lack of corporate follow-through.

Besides, even in those cases where first-call resolution is a valid goal, it is always difficult to measure, and easy to undermine, as a metric.

Brian Galvin is vice president, product management for Genesys Telecommunications Laboratories, a Daly City, CA-based provider of contact center software.

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