5 Steps to Define Customer Support Performance Metrics

Support Ops

Five steps to create a sustainable performance management system that supports your team.

Why and How to Implement Individual Support Metrics

In an effort to keep up with Service Level Agreements (SLAs) and ensure customer satisfaction, new and growing customer support teams are often focused explicitly on metrics related to overall team performance. There’s inarguably merit in those metrics, but while management is laser-focused on average customer hold times, CSAT, and churn, their teammates can suffer.

Unequal contributions among teammates breed resentment and undermine solidarity. Inadequate performance goes unaddressed and team members who need additional guidance and training are left to fend for themselves, struggling to equip themselves for the challenges they’re facing. Even high performers aren’t properly set up to learn, grow, and succeed. Any performance-related conversations are fraught with anxiety and end up being ineffective due to ambiguous definitions. Objectives are unclear and development pathways are obscure, leading to confusion, demotivation, and turnover.

People want a few things to know they’re on the right track:

- to know they’re operating in a fair system

- to understand what’s required in their roles

- to be rewarded for their achievements

- to be guided to set improvement goals that help them continue advancing their skills.

If you want your team members to be happy and productive, a systematic individual performance management process can facilitate the fulfillment of their needs, boosting morale and increasing overall output.

There are many ways to approach performance management, but one possible framework loosely follows the DMAIC cycle popular in the Six Sigma methodology. DMAIC stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control, and it’s used to optimize and stabilize all sorts of business processes.

DMAIC Step #1: Define

Einstein was onto something when he said, “If I had 20 days to solve a problem, I would take 19 days to define it.” Definition is an important, albeit time-consuming, part of the performance management process. Figuring out what good performance looks like to you will require some effort, but a solid definition sets you up for success through the rest of the steps.

There are some fairly universal performance management norms, like measuring ticket resolve output and CSAT scores, and you can search for benchmarks from other teams. But it’s also critical to thoroughly consider what’s important in the context of your organization, which metrics matter most, and what’s reasonable given your unique circumstances and existing team benchmarks.

These are the expectations that your team will be held to, that they will put their efforts toward, and that will ultimately affect not only your team experience, but your customer experience too. So make sure you choose individual metrics that align with your larger goals as a group.

As a bonus, defining performance standards, particularly around output, can go hand-in-hand with forecasting, which can help you stay ahead of growth and ensure a manageable workload. As you create your definition of success, beware of focusing too narrowly on any one metric. A holistic and balanced report for performance management should include efficiency metrics like volume output and quality metrics like CSAT. You might even include a reliability metric like schedule adherence.

A balanced report ensures that all the different elements of your service are balanced, and acknowledges the importance of diverse work styles and skills on your team. Involving your entire team in the process can establish a balance, while creating consensus and buy-in for the new system.

Whatever you decide to include, make sure your targets are explicit. The ultimate goal is to evaluate performance as objectively as possible, with little room for interpretation as to whether or not expectations were met. This provides fairness and consistency, limits surprises, and ensures that evaluations aren’t of an individual, but rather whether or not they have created specific results. In an environment where targets are clear-cut, individuals can rest assured that everyone is being held to the same standards, look forward to performance conversations knowing that they will be lauded for achievements and supported in areas for growth, and feel a tangible sense of accomplishment when meeting goals.

DMAIC Step #2: Measure

After defining expectations, you can measure the current state and get a baseline for each person. The practice of measuring current performance against what is desired is sometimes called a gap analysis. As you evaluate each individual’s performance, you’ll find some gaps where output falls below expectations. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be able to figure out why it’s happening and design solutions that help teammates improve. You’ll also be able to clearly identify top performers who may be long overdue for a raise or other reward.

It’s particularly helpful if you can find a way to track each rep's performance in a way that lets them follow on their own time, comment to add context to the data, and even set custom targets around personal goals. 

DMAIC Step #3: Analysis

Analysis allows you to dig into the problems you uncover during measurement, identify their root causes, and take action toward improvement. To figure out what’s really causing an individual’s underperformance, the 5 Whys technique can help you get to the bottom of things. The basic idea is to keep asking “Why?” a problem occurred until you reach a conclusion that’s actionable (it doesn’t have to be 5 times if you get there sooner). If someone isn’t meeting their ticket resolve target, for example, a series of 5 Whys could happen as follows:

Tina isn’t meeting her ticket resolve target.

Why? She’s spending too much time on each individual ticket.

Why? She doesn’t know how many minutes have passed while she works.

Why? She’s working in our ticketing system, which does not have a built-in timer.

DMAIC Step #4: Improve

Once root causes have been hypothesized, they should be addressed and eliminated. In the example above, a timer could be implemented within the ticketing system. Or, Tina could be instructed to add a timer app to her browser that she starts and stops with each ticket she completes until she gains an intuitive sense of how long she should be spending on each one. The idea is to design creative solutions for each individual, equipping them with tools that will help them develop. Improvements can be institutionalized through the modification of systems and structures for everyone. For example, adding a built-in timer to your ticketing system could very well drive up the productivity of the entire team.

DMAIC Step #5: Control

Control simply means staying up-to-date on how everything is running  —  making sure good performance continues to be good, and that solutions implemented in the improvement stage are working long-term. This should come in the form of regular reporting and check-ins that keep things on track. Data visualization can help everyone easily compare performance to targets, spotting small issues before they evolve and proudly acknowledging work that exceeds expectations.

A DMAIC-driven performance management process will give your team a well-defined sense of expectations, a clear picture of their performance, pride in their accomplishments, tools for development, an overall raised sense of security in their position, and confidence in their teammates. With this host of benefits and its straightforward implementation, the ROI for your efforts is well worth the work.

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