Call centers metrics have long focused on categories like cost per call and average handle time. But are those the right metrics?
They weren't at Dell. In a half-hour webcast at DataInfoCom, Dick Hunter, the former VP of global consumer support services, discussed how Dell shifted from measuring call time to measuring how often problems were solved during the first call. He said:
It's always cheaper to solve a problem in the first call than to try to do it in multiple calls.
That makes intuitive sense. Yet companies tend to focus on average handle time because it's easy to measure and to tie directly to call center costs, Hunter said. It's about finding the right balance between efficiency and effectiveness in the call center, said Pete McGarahan, founder and president of consulting company McGarahan & Associates, when I interviewed him in 2007. He said:
Metrics stuff is so intricate and complicated. If you are not aware of the effect of one metric on another, you could create behavior that allows you to achieve that metric but sacrifices some other type of important behavior. ... the emphasis on quantity sometimes sacrifices the quality of the experience. You need a quantity/quality balance, an individual/team balance, a cost/effectiveness balance, and of course you need to look at the efficiency and effectiveness of your agents as well.
When Dell told its agents to focus on solving customer problems rather than the length of time they spent on calls, the average time of a technical support call not surprisingly increased from 22 minutes to 32 minutes, said Hunter. But the number of incidents resolved on the first call rose from 44 percent to 65 percent. Though it took some time for the move to pay off, Hunter said it did because total call volume fell. In addition, customer satisfaction scores increased. Instead of cost per call, Dell began measuring cost per resolution.
More interesting takeaways from the webcast:
I was so taken with Hunter's webcast that I tracked down some other information about his efforts at Dell. Well worth a read is a three-part interview with Hunter from 2007 that appears in Dell's Service Untitled blog.