super balance

All Superman had to do was jump over tall buildings. You, by contrast, must boost your facility’s operating performance, reduce costs, increase reliability, improve cycle time to market, and ultimately meet and exceed customer requirements. And oh, by the way, you need to make your call center support all those corporate objectives, especially the mandates to improve performance. Plus, don’t forget to cut call center costs and meet service goals at the same time. Where’s a superhero when you need one?

Today’s call center manager is certainly expected to perform extraordinary feats. But rather than calling upon superhuman powers, the best way to accomplish what seems like the impossible is to use a well-designed performance measurement and management system and understand what you should measure, when you should measure it, and how you should report the information.

The following is a three-step process to create and implement a performance measurement and management system that will provide the information required to improve your call center’s policies, procedures, processes, and systems to enhance customer satisfaction and loyalty.

  1. Strategy

    A performance measurement and management system (PMMS) is a powerful methodology that allows management to plan, monitor, and manage the business. A PMMS must be built around a framework for understanding the customer experience. Managers must be flexible and quick to respond to the situation at hand. To adapt effectively, they need to have access to timely and relevant information, insight into root causes and solutions, and the ability to communicate results.

    A successful PMMS must also be built around an interrelated set of financial and nonfinancial metrics designed to provide managers with vital information about the current state of their facility and its future opportunities. Every PMMS should support the enterprise’s strategic plan. First, understand the enterprise’s business strategy and objectives; second, create department objectives linked to that enterprise strategy; and third, identify specific performance measures. As you strive to align your call center objectives with those of the enterprise, keep in mind that you should analyze how the facility’s performance affects your company and its customers. It’s critical to your career to hold yourself accountable for goals that support the company’s overall objectives.

    ‘Balanced scorecard’ strategy: It’s vitally important to have a template that helps you organize your thoughts and determine what, when, and how you will measure. If you haven’t looked at the framework of your PMMS in a while, we suggest reviewing your current structure to ensure that you measure critical aspects of performance; link those measures to corporate strategy; and communicate a balanced view of what’s important in the organization.

    Harvard Business School professor Robert Kaplan and Renaissance Solutions president David Norton recommend a framework called the “balanced scorecard.” The balanced scorecard incorporates both financial and non-financial factors. Their model:

    • helps align key performance measures with strategy at all organizational levels;
    • provides management with a comprehensive picture of business operations;
    • facilitates communication and understanding of business goals and strategies at all levels of an organization; and
    • provides strategic feedback and learning.

    Take a minute and reflect on your call center measures. Using the guidelines listed above, what does your center measure in each of the four areas? If you are struggling to list even one goal, perhaps you need to realign your objectives to achieve a balance across your organization.

  2. Measures

    Developing an integrated set of measures that correlate with each other is at the heart of designing a measurement system. And it’s important to keep in mind that just because you can “count” it, that doesn’t mean it’s a measure that counts! And the measures that really count in terms of service and profitability may not be easily counted.

    One way to think about key performance standards is to think about the three groups of call center “stakeholders.” Who are these entities? Just think about the three groups of people that you as a call center manager have to keep happy every day — customers, senior management, and frontline staff.

    Now think about what matters to each group. What do you need to measure for each of these stakeholders? Customers care about service, senior management cares about efficiency and revenue, and agents care about their workloads, career paths, and schedules. What, then, are possible measures to keep you on track in each of these areas? We’ve frequently been asked to pick the top twenty measures most often used in the best-of-class call centers. Some of the most common ones are listed at left.

    Of course, your call center’s performance measures will be unique. At right are sample lists of call center standards for a cable company and a catalog mailer. In reviewing these measures, think how they might be different still for a technical help desk or an airline reservation center. Then think about how your own list of measurements would be different and why. For instance, the catalog call center’s primary focus is on making the most of revenue opportunities. What is your company’s primary focus and how do your call center measures reflect that?

    As another example, let’s take a look at a firm that has been losing customers to the competition over the last two years. One of this company’s primary business goals for the year is to retain customers. How would this translate into call center objectives, and more specifically, into a system of performance measures? Here are some possible yardsticks:

    • Abandonment rate
    • Customer satisfaction
    • Busy signals or blockage
    • First-call resolution, or “one and done”
    • Escalated calls

    Each of the above is a critical factor that affects customer satisfaction and retention. Now take a closer look at just one of these factors — escalated calls. How could we develop a call center objective based on this factor? First, we need to know what our current performance is for escalated calls. Let’s assume that in our call center, escalated calls represented 30% of a supervisor’s workload last month, and that each call also indicated a customer who was not completely satisfied by the interaction with the agent. The call center objective could be to reduce the number of escalated calls by 3% within the next six months.

    Now that we have finalized the objective, how do we communicate it to the facility? We need to let supervisors and front-line staff know what the objective is and why. For example, inform your staff that by reducing the number of escalated calls to the supervisor, they are helping the supervisor become more available to assist frontline staff. If supervisors are spending less time on escalated calls, they can coach agents, which in turn should improve the service provided to customers and increase customer retention rate. We may also need to give agents more authority or access to information so that they can satisfy more callers themselves.

    As you evaluate what to measure, consider the relevance of the goals you set. Take, for example, a speed-of-answer goal of 30 seconds. Do customers care that the average was 30 seconds or that the period in which they called lasted 30 seconds? Would customers care if the ASA were 10 seconds longer or shorter? What about 30 seconds longer or shorter? Would the tradeoff be worth the savings or expense? Business objectives for the enterprise change. Shouldn’t call center goals be changed to match?

    Agents should see Management should see
    Average handle time Workload handled
    Talk time Workload forecast
    Wrap-up time Resource utilization
    Schedule adherence Quality measurements
    Percentage of calls transferred to supervisor Costs
    Quality scores Revenue
    Customer satisfaction Customer satisfaction

    The call center acts as a central repository of data. Don’t be data-rich and insight-poor! Are there things in your call center that you can measure that might enable you to strengthen your relationship with other departments, such as marketing or product development? What about functions you can quantify that might allow you to be proactive and initiate action, such as evaluating the success of various marketing programs? As you select the measurements for your call center, keep in mind that your ability to demonstrate value to the enterprise will assist you in getting the resources you need to do your job.

    In deciding when to measure, keep in mind the two distinct time categories of real-time and historical measurement. Real-time data provides specifics for the “right now.” Historical data comprises statistics over time, such as weekly, monthly, quarterly, or cumulative results. Cumulative numbers identify trends and fluctuations in performance. When you collect information, the following criteria are important to remember:

    Historical reports

    • focus on trends for planning;
    • identify performance against set goals; and
    • develop data to predict the future.

    Real-time reports

    • monitor developments;
    • focus on areas that change quickly;
    • identify adjustments to affect results; and
    • identify trends as early as possible.
  3. Reporting

    Reports inform management and employees about performance and will help identify if corrective action is necessary or if changes to measures or goals are required. When developing a reporting strategy for your call center, your focus should be on providing information upon which decisions can be based. An effective reporting strategy will provide a complete review of the current state of performance measurement in your call center and should give you the means to identify gaps in performance, evaluate your strengths and weaknesses, and help you take steps to improve the center’s performance.

When you present the results, employ more than just graphs or charts. Make the information tell a story. In a briefing to senior management, one call center manager used a visual “dashboard” to illustrate his facility’s performance. This tactic came out of the need to show the most critical information within the company as an at-a-glance display, much like the one on the dashboard of a car. The graphs that the manager used were accompanied by a simple narrative explaining the values that appeared as first, second, third, or fourth gear. Viewing their significance was all that was needed to give senior management a comprehensive view of the call center’s performance.

What type of data you should report depends upon your intended audience and how the data will be used. For example, are you presenting results to agents? Or to senior management? Plan and structure your report emphasizing the key facts. Make sure to present good news first and bad news last.

The medium used to communicate the results and the frequency with which they’re presented are also important considerations. Here are some options:


  • Reader boards/displays in real-time
  • Paper reports
  • Charts on the wall
  • Intranet
  • Verbal presentation and discussion


  • Agents: daily or weekly
  • Customers: monthly (or as contract dictates)
  • Senior management: monthly or quarterly

In summary, it is vital to focus your call center or customer service facility on achieving the goals of the enterprise and contributing to the overall success of the organization. Using the three steps described above as your guide, you can determine viable objectives for your call center and its agents and develop a performance measurement plan to reach those goals. And having accomplished that task, you may find it just a little bit easier to balance on that tightrope.

Maggie Klenke and Pamela Trickey are founding partners of The Call Center School, a Nashville, TN-based consulting and educational company that offers traditional classroom courses, Web-based seminars, and self-paced e-learning programs for call center professionals. For more information, visit or call (615) 812-8400.

Call Center Top 20

Call blockage
Cost per call
Hold time
Abandonment rate
Service level or ASA
Schedule adherence
Agent occupancy
Ratio of scheduled to actual staff
Self-service percentage
Average handle time (AHT)
Transfer percentage
Error/rework percentage
First-call resolution (‘one and done’)
Successful sales percentage
Successful upsell percentage
Quality monitoring scores
Employee retention
Customer retention
Employee satisfaction
Customer satisfaction

Catalog Marketer

Revenue per call
Sales per agent
Successful sales percentage
Successful upsell percentage
Quality monitoring scores
Customer satisfaction
Customer retention
Hold time
Abandonment rate
Average handle time

Cable Company

Self-service percentage
First-call resolution
Error-rework percentage
Transfer percentage
Cost per call
Service level or ASA
Agent occupancy
Employee retention
Quality monitoring scores
Customer satisfaction