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Tony Steiner | December 22, 2020

5 Ways to Improve Agent Metrics for Better Customer Service

Good customer service starts with supporting the people who provide that service. But, in contact center environments, much rests upon analytics and key performance indicators (KPIs). These seem like conflicting ideas: supporting people who provide a service while also analyzing how they spend each interaction with a customer – but they actually work together to create a cohesive and consistent customer experience. With this in mind, when trying to find ways to improve the customer experience, one must consider improving KPIs.

Term Definitions

Before we dive into the ways to improve metrics and thereby customer service, it is important to understand the common terminology.

A few common KPI metrics used in contact centers include:

  • Average Handle Time (AHT)
  • First Contact Resolution (FCR)
  • After Call Work (ACW)
  • Customer Effort Score (CES)

These terms are fairly self-explanatory and encompass the amount of time spent working through a customer issue, the amount of time taken after a call to wrap up the interaction before moving on to the next customer, and how much effort was put into each customer.

For the purposes of this post, however, we will focus on improving FCR and AHT, which subsequently translate to the improvement of ACW and CES. Improving these impacts more than just the bottom line and the cost-per-contact. It gives employees more control over their time, creating a better experience and overall better environment.

What is FCR

First Contact Resolution, or FCR, refers to the ability to resolve a customer’s issue or query within the first interaction, whether this is through a call center, live chat, chatbot, or another channel. This is an important metric and is a key factor in building customer relationships, because it leads to less frustration and higher levels of satisfaction.

For an example of FCR in action, think of a scenario in which you must contact your internet provider to resolve a billing issue. When you call or reach out via another medium, you expect the problem to be handled by speaking to one representative. If you are forced to hang up and wait for a call back, or speak to multiple people over multiple calls, it can quickly become frustrating. For this reason, it is important to measure FCR – if the FCR rate is too low, that is indicative of processes that may be too confusing or need to be changed.

What is AHT?

Average Handle Time (AHT) is one of the most commonly measured metrics in any given call center. This metric refers to the average duration of an interaction with a customer, spanning across hold times and transfers.

AHT can be increased due to a variety of factors. For example, long hold times because the agent is having difficulty finding information can cause higher-than-expected AHT. Or, scattered information or seeking answers from coworkers or managers can cause an increase. When several people are involved or calls or tickets are transferred to several teams, AHT can skyrocket. A high AHT can indicate to management that policies are too cumbersome or answers too scattered. And of course, high AHT can lead to frustration for the customer.

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Ways to Optimize FCR and AHT

As mentioned earlier in the post, optimizing your agents’ FCR and AHT can have many benefits. The average cost-per-call will decrease while customer satisfaction will skyrocket when these numbers are low, and both agents and customers will experience a more streamlined process.

These five methods can help you improve the customer experience while improving metrics at the same time.  

Method 1: Analyze and Understand Your Customer’s Needs

The first, and perhaps simplest way, to improve AHT and FCR numbers is to take time to analyze and reflect on your customer’s needs to better understand each touchpoint in their journey. Through a careful analysis of your customer’s needs and behaviors, you can better allocate resources, information, and additional channels that will ultimately lead to better metrics.

You can do this through a few methods. Using technology to create simple analytics, you can analyze and help predict customer’s needs. Going beyond using technology, ask agents what customers ask them the most, what the most common problems they face are, and create an actionable plan using input of both people and technology. When you fully understand the customer’s needs and pain points, you can better anticipate which areas to improve.

Method 2: Create a Knowledge Management System to Support Employees

One of the best ways to help your employees optimize their metrics is by providing in-depth knowledge to help them problem solve. This can come in the form of a knowledge management system or strategy.

Put simply, knowledge management is the process of creating, sharing, using, and managing the knowledge and information of an organization in a multi-disciplinary approach. This knowledge can be leveraged to speed up onboarding and help employees solve a variety of issues on their own.

The creation of knowledge articles should include both management and stakeholders, like customer service agents who have an intimate knowledge of what the customers need the most. This should be an ongoing, shared project, continually being innovated by a community manager who shares expertise and skills among the team and stakeholders (those who use it the most).

Method 3: Utilize a Self-Service Portal for Employees

Allowing employees to solve their own problems through a self-service portal, especially in concert with a solid knowledge management system, can help improve a wide range of metrics.

A self-service or self help portal is a webpage or app that allows employees or customers to assist themselves when it comes to their need for help. A customer support self-service tool has major benefits. For example, a customer support self-service tool can streamline the knowledge database, taking the strategy from a collection of disorganized articles in a folder to something more comprehensive. This can increase productivity overall, which is a major win when trying to improve contact center metrics.

To learn more about how to get the most benefits out of a self-service tool in a customer support environment, check out this recent post.

Method 4: Increase Automation Options

Never underestimate the power of automation. Automation can be leveraged in obvious ways, for example a chatbot to power self-service initiatives, and less obvious ways, like automated workflows.

Workflow automation software and automation technology are becoming increasingly popular for companies looking to recover and grow in a post-COVID landscape. In fact, Gartner predicts that 69% of routine work currently done by managers will be fully automated by 2024.

By automating workflows and providing automation linked to the CMS, you take the guesswork out and provide a more consistent customer experience. Furthermore, you benefit by creating a more streamlined experience for agents, answers are located faster which translates directly into lower stats including AHT and FCR.

Method 5: Empower Agents with Autonomy

It is time to face the facts: customer support agents are HUMANS. But that doesn’t keep managers and leadership from sometimes forgetting this simple fact when it comes to reviewing metrics. It would be simple to provide a script to every agent in order to tweak and time each interaction, but that does not always create better results.

Scripts can be helpful during onboarding, but as agents become more comfortable in their roles it can be beneficial to allow them to break the script and be human to their customers. This ability to work more flexibly, rather than within the parameters of a strict script, can allow more seasoned agents to have more autonomy and ownership over their work which leads to better employee satisfaction, better customer interactions, and better metrics in the long run.

There are several ways to empower your agents with autonomy, including providing self-service directly to customers to remove some of the “busy work” for agents. Using analytics, you can also predict call times by using if/then scenarios to help model when/then decision making. Giving your agents autonomy doesn’t mean giving up on monitoring calls for quality, nor does it mean that you will no longer have a clear vision of the amount of time spent per interaction. Rather, it means that your agents will feel less like robots and more like humans who are appreciated, and your customers will get to know your agents in a positive way, which can lead to shorter or more thorough interactions.

Take the Next Steps 

All of these methods boil down to one thing: lowering your contact center metrics requires supporting your agents in a meaningful way. Equipping agents with the tools they need, for example, a self-help solution that directly communicates with a customer database (like Salesforce Service Cloud), will improve metrics which in turn create a better customer experience.


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Tony Steiner

Tony Steiner joined EasyVista in 2018 as the Senior Director of Customer Service and Support. Steiner is an IT & Operations veteran with 20+ years of day-to-day operational experience who achieves organizational transformation through process excellence, measurement and maturity. He is a strong customer advocate and is committed to delivering value by supporting the customer’s needs and aligning them with business strategy. Steiner also serves as EasyVista’s Security Officer for North America. Prior to EasyVista, Steiner was the Global Director of ITSM Tools and Enterprise Monitoring for Western Union.