Keith Dawson's Analyst Perspectives

Contact Centers Should Revisit KPIs for Strategic Relevance

Posted by Keith Dawson on Nov 2, 2022 3:00:00 AM

Traditional key performance indicators used for performance measurement in contact centers are no longer sufficient. These outdated standards don’t reliably inform mid- and upper-level leadership about the true impact of agent work and behavior. Organizations should begin to expand the notion of what’s important in order to make the contact center a stronger organizational institution, more closely tied to others who impact the customer experience. Outside the contact center, people are keen to understand the relationship between what’s being spent and what’s coming in: revenue and growth.

Standard contact center KPIs (like handle time, speed of answer, or after-call work) tell you a lot about the activities that have occurred, but not about the outcomes of those activities. For instance, knowing that you are handling interactions within a certain number of seconds, or closing cases at a certain rate does inform you about individual or team performance, but it doesn’t tell you the impact on customers – whether they are more loyal or inclined to repurchase or recommend.

These KPIs tell you about agent and technology behavior in the form of call or interaction handling functions. They answer the fundamental question of whether your organization is responding quickly enough to customer-directed volume.

What is missing is the context that helps explain what else is going on that impacts the interaction or the overall customer relationship. Are agents using the interaction as a pivot point to create loyalty or create some kind of response? Are you – or whoever is designing the interactions – looking for moments of influence or leverage in the interaction to make something useful happen?

Focusing solely on the typical stats found in contact centers can hamper an organization’s ability to prepare and respond to change, or to foster improvement. You need to include metrics that describe a different kind of performance.

Traditional KPIs also function as a silo that isolates the contact center and its leadership from their peers. Increasingly the center has to coordinate with other departments, including marketing, sales and commerce, and with executives like chief customer or experience officers. In many cases, those stakeholders don’t have a context to make sense of what standard contact center stats represent. Sharing call detail data doesn’t help leaders understand why they should be advocating for resources and supporting efforts in the contact center.

Good KPIs provide real-time insight into real-world conditions. They are a snapshot of facts that allow people to act quickly when activity gets out of alignment. They also describe performance to standards critical for agent training and compliance.

But just as important, centers need metrics that provide a longer-term road map for understanding the broader context, answering questions like:

  • How do you allocate resources, especially new types of resources like those impacting digital channels or more complicated interactions?
  • How do you calibrate one department’s performance against another?
  • How do you detect trends that affect the entire organization?

Standard KPIs work very well in the first two cases. No one would argue that standard performance measures don’t tell you what you need to know in the moment to manage the center’s operations.

VR_2022_Contact_Center_Assertion_4_SquareBut that changes when we look past tactical reactions and start to plan strategically. And that’s one of the reasons why advanced analytics systems are so important now – the need for predictive analytics, scenario planning and what-if analysis are very high. By 2024, three-quarters of organizations will try to apply revenue-centric metrics to contact center operations on top of existing activity- and efficiency-centric measures, to better understand how service operations contribute to profitability.

This argues for tailoring the things a center does report to the format and goals that make sense to other people, establishing a common framework for discussion and broader planning. This is an interesting moment for metrics, as a lot of people are trying to extend the traditional KPI framework to accommodate new interaction types as well as the new configurations of the workforce stemming from work-from-home.

Marketers, chief marketing officers and sales teams are asking themselves different questions related to customer experiences, like, who exactly are customers and how do we find more people who are a lot like them? Or, what do those customers care about? These teams need feedback about the totality of their customers’ experiences with the organization, not just on the latest interaction or problem. These outside peers need details on sentiment, loyalty and propensity to reengage, among other things.

They need to know where customers are in their journey. Is a set of customers having issues? Then don’t market to them. Have they paid their bills? If not, don’t send them promotional offers. If they like product A, will they like product B as well? What do we know that’s going to help us move them along the customer journey? These are the things outside teams need insight into, and fortunately the contact center does track some elements of these questions. The answers to those questions are floating around the organization’s data structures, but likely haven’t been ferreted out and put together in a coherent story that describes how the contact center delivers all that value.

To move forward, contact center leaders should apply their existing data to wider questions about how much it costs to acquire and retain customers, what their value is over a lifetime, and where to attribute revenue (especially when it is the contact center agent that delivers the revenue opportunity).

These are relevant to contact center performance measurement because a lot of the factual basis upon which they rest happens in the contact center. People looking to change or improve those metrics can find solutions in the center, which is new for them.

But if the service leadership isn’t helping them use and interpret the data coming out of the center to answer some of those questions, the answers won’t be complete, leading to disconnects, silos and fragmented customer experiences.

And a lot of the new things centers are asking agents to do are tied up in these kinds of metrics. Agents are being asked to look for and respond to upsell opportunities, and as a consequence, managers need to measure which skills relate to revenue generation. Centers are also finding ways to counter the increase in call length that’s stemming from the growing complexity of interactions. One solution is to emphasize the revenue impact of those longer interactions.

If organizations act in a silo, measuring performance department by department, then they may never have a coherent picture of what’s happening, and therefore never have adequate control over the levers they can pull to produce better customer experiences. Better CX leads to more revenue, growth, internal employee satisfaction (and therefore retention) and, ultimately, to better performance along the metrics you care about inside the center. The goal should be to marry activity-based metrics with outcome-based metrics, have them reflect the needs of the various personas involved and be able to make meaningful decisions about the future based on real knowledge.

Contact centers should view metrics, at least as they are reported outside the center, as a way to tell a creative story about the role the center has in executing organizational strategy, especially as it relates to generating revenue, sales and the likelihood of keeping valuable customers for the long haul. That’s how you keep the contact center relevant and proactive as a driver of customer experience.


Keith Dawson

Topics: Customer Experience, Voice of the Customer, Contact Center, agent management, Customer Experience Management, Field Service, customer service and support

Keith Dawson

Written by Keith Dawson

Keith leads the expertise in Customer Experience (CX), covering applications and technology that facilitate engagement to optimize customer-facing processes. His focus areas include: agent management, contact center and voice of the customer and technology in marketing, sales, field service and applications such as digital commerce and subscription management. Keith’s specialization is in natural language and speech tools with intelligent virtual assistants, multichannel routing and journey management, and the wide array of customer analytics. He is focused on how businesses can break down technology and operational silos to provide more efficient processes for two-way engagement with customers. Keith has been an industry analyst for more than a decade and prior was the editorial director of Call Center Magazine. There he pioneered coverage of cloud-based contact centers, speech recognition and processing, and the shift from voice to multichannel communications. He is a graduate of Amherst College.