One of the most common metrics that service teams obsess over is first contact resolution. It’s a hot metric because it’s a driver of customer satisfaction and a measure of the team’s efficiency. However, it’s not the be-all-end-all, and if teams get too laser-focused on FCR, they can actually damage the customer experience.

Managing to a metric can be a dangerous game. As fans of The Wire know, this is known as juking the stats, and it causes trouble. When a team is incentivized to improve just one metric, they will do so at the cost of other performance issues. Think about it: if someone tells you, “Make sure you are never late to work in the morning,” you might start going to bed earlier. But eventually, you’ll stay up a little later, and you’ll get less sleep. Or you’ll stop doing your morning stretches. Or drive a little too fast to work. Or forget to feed your dog. You start cutting corners in other parts of your day because the only thing that matters is not being late.

This can happen in customer service if you don’t have a balanced view of your performance.

Watch Out for Reopens

One of the ugly side effects of a myopic attention to FCR is the dreaded reopen. Remember that an FCR assumes that the customer’s problem is solved when the case is closed. If service reps focus more on the “first contact” part than the “resolution” part of the metric, you will start hearing from the same customers again. This is a bad customer experience, and it erodes the trust and loyalty customers may have for your business. Not to mention, it’s very inefficient to have to work cases twice, which is what a reopen effectively means.

First contact resolution is meaningless if you’re not actually working towards a resolution. Your primary responsibility is always to deliver an exceptional customer experience that keeps them coming back. Don’t worry about efficiency until you’re consistently delivering good service.

Do What’s Best for the Customer, Not the Metric

Sometimes, teams get so obsessed with FCR that they redefine the metric in a way that allows them to drive improvement at the cost of the customer experience. Think about a phone-based call center. If a customer calls in, routes through the phone tree to reach a rep, and, after a 10-minute conversation, has to get transferred to a different rep for a resolution, is that a first contact resolution? Well, it’s debatable.

On one hand, the first service rep couldn’t solve the problem, so the customer had two points of contact. On the other hand, the customer got a resolution before hanging up. Some teams would say this qualifies as an FCR. However, it’s a more generous definition that leaves room for some degree of customer pain and less efficiency. What if the customer had to be transferred 6 times? Sure, it’s one continuous call, but at that point you’re a long way from “first contact.”

When you are defining first contact resolution, you should do so in a way that aligns with the customer’s expectations for quality service. If the structure of your team allows for lots of transferring, put a time limit on FCR eligibility. Don’t keep broadening the definition just to say you have a better FCR. You’re only fooling yourself.

Don’t Inflate Your Case Count with Easy Wins

One of the best ways to improve your first contact resolution is with better documentation. If customers are asking the same types of questions, write an article that reps can easily include in their responses, and watch that FCR rate climb.

Or not. If the question is that predictable, why should a customer have to open a case in the first place? The answer should be publicly available, and you should empower customers to help themselves. When it’s done well, self-service is very gratifying for customers, and&#8212obviously&#8212very good for efficiency. Instead of shooting for first touch resolution on every case, find the cases that could be candidates for no touch resolutions. Once again, you should always be guided by what’s best for customers, not your metric.

After Customers, Time is Your Most Precious Resource

As we’ve seen, poorly defined FCR can mask inefficiencies in your team workflow. Consider two scenarios: (1) A customer sends an email, and receives a resolution response 2 hours later. (2) A customer sends an email, and receives a response within 15 minutes with some follow-up questions, and another 15 minutes later receives a resolution response. One qualifies as an FCR, and one does not, but which is better?

The second one is undoubtedly more efficient, and arguably a better customer experience. The customer waited less time for an initial response, and received a solution in less time. That’s great. For the rep, that’s an efficiency improvement of 400%. In these conditions, the second rep can close 4 times as many tickets as the first.

Here’s the bottom line: You can change the number of cases a rep handles in an hour, but you can’t change the number of hours in a day. When service teams plan for growth, it boils down to capacity: how many cases can reps close per day? If you can increase the cases closed per rep per day without hurting satisfaction, you’ve just put off the need to make a new hire and made the team significantly more efficient.

First contact resolution is a popular metric because it’s meant to align with what customers want: fast response times and resolutions to their problems. Don’t lose sight of that in pursuit of a flawed vision of success. You’re always better served thinking about what’s best for the customer. You can be data-driven without being handcuffed.

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