First call resolution – Measure then Manage
by Dick Bucci, Pelorus Associates
First call resolution has become one of the most important metrics used today to measure the performance of the contact center. There are two very important reasons. First is basic economics. By reducing the number of repeat calls by only five percentage points, from 25 percent to 20 percent, an inbound contact center with 250 agents can save approximately $230,000 annually, or the equivalent of seven full-time agents. This analysis considers only direct labor costs. Factoring in network services costs, seat licenses, service contract fees, hardware, training, internal IT support costs, facilities, and supervision adds substantially to potential savings. In addition, repeat calls often require supervisor or subject matter expert intervention, at a substantially higher labor cost than agents.
The second important reason is customer satisfaction. Callers do not like having to make repeated efforts to get answers to their questions. According to research conducted by the SQL group, customer satisfaction drops 15% with each callback.
So why don’t more contact centers track FCR? The facts supporting the need to track and monitor are compelling. Yet according to ICMI (International Customer Management Institute) and other sources, only about half of contact centers currently measure FCR for phone calls handled by live agents. Undeniably, there are some challenges with FCR. First, is the basic question of how do we even define first call resolution, (or is it first contact resolution)? Let’s start with the notion of “first.” From the standpoint of the consumer – who is the final arbiter of FCR - first can mean personal as well as channel contact; the sales clerk at the department store, the teller at the bank, or the fellow that drops by to read the meter. If we are unable to track (at least not economically) the first personal contact then our definition must start with the first identifiable contact. Next, there’s the question of what exactly is a “contact.” Telephone is the predominant identifiable channel but customers can use email, web chat, and even social media messages. “Contact” should mean exactly that. Finally, when exactly is a contact “resolved?” Since this is largely in the eye of the beholder we must conclude that a contact is “resolved” when the caller tells us it has. A more comprehensive definition would be; “In the caller’s opinion the question or issue that prompted the initial query was fully resolved with the initial interaction.”
Beyond the basic difficulty in even defining FCR, finding a mechanism for accurately measuring the metric is an additional challenge. There are at least nine methods used today, ranging from the very simple - like tabulating from ACD reports the number of calls from the same number that occurred within a specified period of time - to sophisticated specialized software that uses speech analytics to determine the reason for the call. The most common approaches are quality monitoring, post call surveys, and agent self-reports. Every method has pluses and minuses. An ideal method would consider contacts from multiple channels and would further be able to distinguish the purpose of the call. Systems that simply rely on ACD metrics would not be able to make this distinction. Voice of the customer surveys are able to measure first contact resolution, the data can be collected on a very timely basis, and results can be calculated at the agent level. However, there are significant issues with response rates and cost.
The critical point is to choose a method that works for you. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. What’s most important is that the method be consistent. Changes and individual variations are more important than absolute numbers.
It is very important that FCR targets not unduly impede the achievement of other objectives. Like all metrics, goals need to be tailored to the situation. For example, there will be a trade-off between FCR and AHT. You don’t want to annoy callers and drive up costs by keeping callers on the phone for an extended period while the agent looks up documents and contacts subject matter experts.
The time it takes to resolve questions and problems on the initial contact can be significantly shortened by providing quick and easy access to information. Development and management of a comprehensive knowledge base is an essential requirement for improving FCR. Content will vary depending on the type of business and skill set of the agent. Advanced software solutions harmonize information from disparate sources and make the data easily searchable by the agent and easily updated by the systems administrator.
In the absence of a custom knowledge base or quick access to an SME it may be preferable to call back or send an email message after the agent has researched the answer. FCR should not be pursued for its own sake.
Finally and most importantly, management needs to determine the causes for repeat calls. Only then will it be possible to take corrective actions. You will invariably find that business policies are in a source of repeat calls. Credits, returns, shipping charges, billing cycles, late charges, promotions, and warranties are all examples. If certain policies are causing a disproportionate number of repeat calls as well as engendering ill-will on the part of customers, contact center management needs to escalate the issue. If changes cannot be made then every agent must fully understand them and be able to clearly explain the policies without having to consult with others.
Another common reason for repeat calls is the agent’s lack of authority to amicably resolve disputes on the spot without escalating the call up the chain of command. Empowering agents to do something as simple as granting some free minutes or waiving shipping charges costs the company little and does wonders for both customer satisfaction and agent morale.
Finding a way to measure FCR is only half the battle. The most important question is what do you do next?.