Greatest Myths Series: The Best Call Center Metric

by Penni McLean-Conner, Northeast Utilities

As part of an ongoing series of exploring the myths of utility customer service, it is important to explore popular utility call center metrics of first-call resolution and average handle time (AHT).

Many professionals hail first-call resolution the best metric although it’s a relatively new metric. AHT, on the other hand, is a tried metric many call center managers swear by. Companies focused on high firstcall
resolution tout that this measure is a driver in satisfying customers. Moreover, high first-call resolution also implies efficient processes that avoid the rework associated with handling repeat customer calls.

AHT is a fundamental element required for many call center staffing models. Companies often drive lowering average handle time; reducing AHT yields fewer resources required.

Savvy utility executives know hope is not a plan when it comes to delivering consistent customer service. Measurement of the customers’ experience is critical. In a utility call center, which metric should a call center manager pursue: AHT or first-call resolution?

First-call Resolution

First-call resolution is properly addressing a customer’s need the first time he or she calls and eliminating the need for the customer to call again.

Customers are more satisfied when they can solve their issues with the first person they contact. At NSTAR, a gas and electric utility serving eastern Massachusetts, transactional research illustrated the power of first-call resolution. More than 90 percent of customers handled in the first call are satisfied with their customer service experience. This percentage dropped to 59 percent in situations where a customer had to contact NSTAR again. These results are not unique. Many companies have discovered the power of first-call resolution on customer satisfaction.

In addition, first-call resolution is indicative of effectiveness. Resolving an inquiry during the first call prevents rework and repeat calls. Why don’t all call centers pursue first-call resolution?

It is hard to measure. Research by Chartwell indicates there is no set standard for measuring first-call resolution in the utility industry. As a result, companies have several methods of measuring first-call resolution that range from measuring the percentage of calls transferred to measuring a sample of calls
monitored to asking customers during a transactional survey if their requests were handled in one call. Because there is no standard measurement, comparing results or defining good performance is difficult if not impossible. As a result, many call center managers do not try to measure first-call resolution.

Average Handle Time

AHT is the conversation and aftercall work time a customer service representative (CSR) spends working with a customer. For most call center managers, this metric is fundamental. Many call center managers can tell you how many full-time equivalents a 30-second reduction in AHT will create. Consequently, there is a large focus on AHT in call centers. Call center leaders measure AHT not only on an overall perspective, but by team, call type and CSR. This measure is monitored closely as a productivity indicator. AHT is an important driver in overall staffing models. To lower staffing and reduce costs, initiatives to drive down AHT are common.

Which measure is best to pursue? Neither measure should be pursued in isolation. Both are important and together create a balanced focus on productivity and quality. Take, for example, a situation where first-call resolution is low, and so is AHT. This trend will raise an alarm with savvy call center managers. These managers will analyze why callers need to call again and will address, even if it means a longer AHT with the first call. They know the benefit is reduced overall call volume and an enhanced customer experience.

Smart call center managers are measuring first-call resolution although it is hard to measure and difficult to compare. But these managers also measure AHT and understand this important metric on their call center staffing and customer experience. Greatest Myths Series: The Best Call Center Metric by Penni McLean-Conner, Northeast Utilities Some customer service myths in the utility industry used to hold water, but now they’re losing value as operating principles.

Penni McLean-Conner is the chief customer off cer at Northeast Utilities, the largest energy delivery company in New England. A registered professional engineer, McLean-Conner is active in the utility industry serving on several boards of directors including CS Week and the American Council for an Energy Effcient Economy. Her latest book, “Energy Effciency: Principles and Practices,” is available at Reach her at penelope.

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