How to choose a call center: Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

photo © 2008 Nathan | more info (via: Wylio)
The first steps in choosing a call center required you to understand what type of center you need. Once you’ve figured that much out, you can start looking around for specific companies who can deliver what you want. But how do you compare them to determine the best fit? Price is of course important. It always is. But so is the relationship between them and your team… and your clients. Your call center will be your company’s personality to your clients, and you will also be dealing with the management team there on a very regular basis. This is where issues such as language and culture become major considerations. If you sense problems during this initial exploratory phase, it’s a good indicator that you’ll be seeing more problems as the relationship ages. So make sure you have a very nice fit.

Beyond these general factors, you’ll need to compare the actual work quality of competing call centers. Their Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) — also known as Performance Metrics — will tell you how well they perform day in and day out. It’s important not to put too much reliance on these, as we’ll mention later. But for now, let’s take a look at a few of the most widely watched KPIs.

  • Average Talk Time (ATT): the average conversation time of each call.
  • After Call Work (ACW): Also known as NR- Not Ready Time (NR), this is the time an agent spends handling the “paperwork” or data entry for calls, as opposed to actual time speaking with callers.
  • Average Handling Time (AHT): the average total time spent dealing with each caller. It is calculated by adding together the ATT and ACW.
  • Calls Per Hour (CPH): the average number of calls handled each hour.
  • Average Speed of Answer (ASA): the average time a caller is kept waiting before being answered.
  • Service level (SL): the percentage of calls answered within a defined amount of time. This might typically be set at 80/20, meaning the call center has a target of answering 80% of their calls in 20 seconds or less. The target will often vary from one center to another, and even for each client. While in a perfect world you want calls to be answered as quickly as possible, setting too high a service level would be very costly, since it would require more agents to be hired in order to reduce the wait times by even a few seconds. Generally, the Service Level might be seen as the opposite of the Average Speed of Answer (ASA). As one goes up, the other goes down.
  • Average Wait Time (AWT): the average combined time a caller is kept waiting to be first answered or is put on hold during a call.
  • Abandon Rate: the percentage of calls where a customer hangs up before having his or her call answered. This is often seen as a sign that not enough agents are being assigned to that account.
  • First Call Resolution (FCR): the percentage of calls that resolve the caller’s issues, so that the caller does not need to call back on that topic, or at least not for a reasonable amount of time. Some people suggest this is the most important metric of all, since it is the most likely to reflect a caller’s ultimate satisfaction with the service provided. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to accurately determine due to a number of challenges, such as measuring whether subsequent calls are related to the same question.
  • Agent Turnover: also known as the Attrition Rate (AR), is the percentage of agent positions that get refilled each year. Turnover is a huge challenge in the call center industry, with agents frequently lasting just a few months or even weeks — or days! — before quitting due to the stresses that are often associated with this type of work. A high turnover rate is invariably bad news, but particularly for companies handling highly technical or sensitive calls. New agents will require more training and increased supervision, usually resulting in higher costs and reduced KPIs and customer satisfaction until those agents get “up to speed.”

There are of course many other parameters that can be used to assess and compare call centers in detail, but these cover the main points of comparison. Care must be taken though in order to use these measurements meaningfully. Call centers handling highly technical calls will always need more time to resolve callers’ questions than those handling very basic issues, so be sure you understand some of the details of the work being handled.

Also, keep in mind that KPIs such as Average Speed of Answer, Service Level, and Average Wait Time are all directly related to staffing levels. Even a call center with exceptional service standards will see less-than-optimum metrics on a given contract if the client has specified a lower staffing level than the volume may have warranted. The effects of this can often be even more pronounced in a shared-agent environment. So again, be sure you see the big picture surrounding a center’s work rather than relying solely on its performance indicators.

Now that you have a general idea of the types of call centers available and the most commonly used key performance indicators, you’re ready to consider how to complete a proper comparison. We’ll cover that in our next post. Until then, let us know if you have any questions related to KPIs and your call center needs, either by commenting below or contacting us directly.

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