Every 1% improvement in First Contact Resolution (FCR) adds a point to Customer Satisfaction, so the story goes. But how do you measure and improve this key metric – and does it really help customers get their problems solved faster?

The SQM Group survey which found that 1% correlation between First Contact Resolution and Customer Satisfaction scores gets bandied about quite a lot. As does another statistic, from Customer Relationship Metrics, which suggests that customer satisfaction is 35% to 45% lower when a customer has to make a second call for the same issue.

So if those are the kinds of gains we can hope to get from improving FCR, let’s look at how to measure and improve it.

I say potato…you say, that’s the wrong call outcome code

Unlike wait time and handle time, which are empirical values your telephony or CRM system can just track and report on, there is no simple or fool-proof way to measure FCR. 

This is a problem for anyone wanting to make comparisons between the FCR rates of different organisations and sectors. Everyone defines it slightly differently, and has different ways of measuring it.

Sure, the formula is simple enough. It’s just cases resolved in first contact divided by total number of contacts. The tricky part is defining your terms: what is resolved issue, and who gets the final say on whether it’s really resolved or not? Ultimately the arbiter of that has to be the customer.

There are a number of standard ways to measure FCR, all of which can give a slightly different picture. For the most accurate picture it is probably best to combine a few.

  • Outcome codes: While lots of CRM systems still use these, they are generally only a rough guide to what the agent thinks the outcome has been. Probably gives you more insight into agents’ thinking processes than anything else.

  • Ask the customer: At the end of a call, email, or chat session, the agent just asks the simple question – Does that resolve your query today? – and logs the response.

  • Customer surveys: post-contact surveys conducted by email or phone, or which pop up at the end of a chat session are a valuable feedback tool, but mostly a small percentage of customers answer them. To keep things simple but get useful data, try single question surveys that users can answer with one click.

  • Quality monitoring: When supervisors and QA staff listen to calls or quality check transcripts they can approve the agent’s selected outcome code or set a different one.

  • Tracking repeat contacts: Actions speak louder than words, so if the customer doesn’t initiate a repeat interaction about the same issue it can be coded as resolved, usually after 48 hours. To give a true picture of FCR you should be able to track repeat contacts across multiple channels.

How can you improve FCR?

The most obvious way to start improving FCR is to start tracking it, if you don’t already. What gets measured gets improved, after all.

  1. Agent training and tools: The most powerful tool for improving FCR is to educate agents on what it means and why it’s an important goal. Encourage agents to resolve issues first time by giving them the tools to do so. First of all, this means empowering them to make decisions without escalating or checking with a supervisor.

    Secondly, it’s important to provide agents with the tools to do the job properly. What you’re asking them to do is problem solve, so access to detailed and historical data on the customer, some kind of knowledge base, and even dynamic scripting which can help with diagnostics are all going to help. Research by HDI suggests that contact centres using knowledge management systems improve FCR by 15%.

  2. Incentivise for it: To get agents laser-focused on solving every problem that comes before them in that first contact, you can base some bonuses around the individual and team FCR rate. Be careful not to target FCR to the exclusion of everything else though. Agents incentivised for FCR may well code contact outcomes incorrectly, or never transfer a customer to a better qualified colleague, just to keep their rating up.

  3. Eliminate pain points: Actually, this is one of the main reasons to track FCR in the first place. Using analytics and data mining, combined with dashboards, you should be able to spot which issues keep triggering repeat contacts. It could be something as simple as a broken form on your website, or a non-optimal business process, that keeps tripping customers up.

    Identifying these customer pain points and fixing them not only improves FCR but also the entire customer journey.

  4. Get rid of silos to reduce transfers: Specialists have their place, and there will be times when it takes a highly skilled and knowledgeable person to solve a customer’s problem. In cases like these, transferring from the initial agent is fine. In most cases, however, customers are transferred from team to team simply because the initial agent does not have access to the right processes or back office tools to complete the query.

    If the reason you have siloed teams that cannot multi-task is to do with the limitations of integrating legacy technology, there are plenty of API-enabled modern tools that can quickly and cheaply solve the problem.

Customers don’t care how you solve their problem, just that you solve it

So now we know what FCR is, how to measure it, and some steps we can take for improving it. But how important is it really?

While some studies have found that customers don’t even mind longer wait times and handle times if their problem is solved during that first contact, other studies have found almost the opposite. For some customers, it’s not about time or the first contact, but that their problem gets resolved with the least amount of effort on their part.

Messaging company IMImobile found that 78% of customers would prefer to have an agent get back to them later, as long as they received an acknowledgement their query was being dealt with, rather than wait around on the phone while their issue was dealt with. The need for the call back in these cases would dramatically lower the FCR rate, but customers tell us it would likely make them happier.

What we have to remember is that customer experience is what guides us. We are not in the business of meeting arbitrary KPI targets; we are in the business of solving customers’ problems in the best and most efficient manner possible.

Reducing customer effort, or making what effort they have to make as painless as possible, perhaps even rewarding, will pay off more than relentlessly focusing on percentages and targets. FCR has its place along with other KPIs, as long as we do not lose sight of the bigger picture.

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