People who work in Customer Operations know of the “Alphabet Soup” of customer service performance metrics. There’s the old-school customer satisfaction (CSAT) score, i.e. simply asking customers if they’re satisfied. Then there are the productivity metrics, like Average Speed of Answer (ASA), Average Handling Time (AHT), and After Call Work (ACW). Some focus on the customer’s call experience by measuring Customer Effort (CE) score, which considers transfers, hold-times and channels they used to resolve their concern.

Many companies also turn to Net Promoter Score (NPS) after Fred Reichheld identified in the early 2000’s that this key metric is heavily correlated to company performance. This is a fantastic metric, if this correlation is true for your organization. In stark reality, NPS is interesting although not necessarily actionable. If your scores aren’t where you want them to be, how do you know what you need to do to improve them? You’ll need to analyze demographics, customer tenure, geographic segment, product choices and more.

So what is the most important metric? We’ll get to that in a bit.

I met Brian Powers at a at a SOCAP event (yet another acronym – Society of Customer Affairs Professionals) in Michigan. He spoke about reinventing customer service with a fun, interactive presentation, based on his consulting and personal experience managing contact centers.

Brian’s perspective is based on overseeing 300+ Verizon team members at two centers, followed by fifteen years of consulting. He knows first-hand the ins and outs of the critical Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and how each one impacts performance, based in the 100s of centers he’s advised.

“Focusing on KPIs has the net effect of squeezing a proverbial balloon,” he told us. “When we improve on one, assume there can be a corresponding change to another.”

Brian shared a story of a leadership team that wanted to focus on handling time, intending that shorter handling time would help ASA and possibly allow them to put fewer reps on each shift shift. The Quality Assurance monitoring saw an immediate deterioration in performance as Reps skipped critical closing statements, bypassed account security or provided incomplete answers to customer questions. They satisfied the goal of lower AHT but customer experience suffered and compliance risks increased.

So what’s Brian’s take on all of these KPIs? The best measure of a company’s customer experience is support needs (self-service, IVR, app, phone, email, chat, etc.) per year and especially during the first 30 days. He said, “The idea is to create a frictionless customer experience where the customer needs are anticipated and satisfied before it becomes an issue.”

Companies that buy into this philosophy use their data. They analyze feedback and call disposition records to identify missed expectations, then use an empowered cross-company customer experience team to improve collateral, ensure a consistent omni-channel sales message, and properly set expectations from day one.

This is especially important in today’s subscription-based economy where so many of our purchases are services with renewable contracts – consider cable/satellite TV, cellular phone plans, music streaming services and shopping memberships like Costco and Amazon Prime. A majority of customers who switch decide to do so in the very first month of service. They wait for their earliest opportunity to change and they’re gone!

Another reason to adopt this approach? Younger consumers overwhelmingly prefer resolving issues themselves. Today, 67% of contact centers are investing in live chat options. Before a call to service, 72% of customers will search your website for answers, so be sure it’s set up to help customers help themselves. A growing trend is enabling them to help each other by setting up user portals or monitored sites to let them collaborate to resolve common issues and share user best practices. And – bonus – those sites also provide valuable insights to the company on what ails customers the most.

In summary, the most important KPI is customers seeking support over a certain time period. Document your customer’s typical experience to identify pain points and moments of truth. Turn to your employees to help identify ways to improve processes. They truly want to handle complex issues and help you automate mundane tasks. As for the alphabet soup of KPI’s, choose the golden few and ensure the focus on the ones you pick doesn’t degrade other KPI’s to an extreme.


Lori Jo Vest is the co-author of “Who’s Your Gladys?” and “Taming Gladys!” Learn more about Lori on LinkedIn: Lori Jo Vest, Consultant/Author

Brian Powers is certified in customer experience by the CXPA and is a keynote speaker & blogger on the industry. He’s passionate about customer experience and completes every survey opportunity he ever receives.

Consider the following resources to support your team’s customer service efforts:

Who’s Your Gladys? How to Turn Even the Most Difficult Customer into Your Biggest Fan by Marilyn Suttle and Lori Jo Vest  – a blueprint for client service success

Taming Gladys! The Busy Leader’s Guide to Creating Fierce Customer Loyalty is filled with activities you can do with your staff to keep customer loyalty strong.

The Customer Service Roadmap is an in-house customer service training program designed for employees who have front line customer contact, face-to-face, telephone, email, chat, forums, etc. It’s a series of short, bite-sized courses focused on developing 7 core customer service skills.

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