How to Counterbalance Your Customer Support Metrics

Support Ops

Three metrics to use to measure your team's performance.

“Metric” is a magic word in today’s data-driven world. But while some SaaS metrics seem to cast a success spell that moves your business forward, others can curse you if not balanced carefully. This especially rings true in the world of customer support, where metrics have always been a crucial piece of performance evaluation and team goal setting.

The things you choose to measure inform your team as to what’s important have an impact on their behavior and morale and affect the way they treat your customers. Misleading customer support metrics can lead to unfair performance reviews and even encourage negative customer experiences. Make sure you’re not getting fooled by those tricky metrics by having counter metrics that give you a broader picture of what’s really going on.

Customer Support Metric #1: Average Handle Time (AHT)

Average handle time (AHT) is the total average duration of a single customer call or ticket. While AHT can be great for scheduling and forecasting, it’s not so great for encouraging people to take extra time for complex cases. Those cases may end up being passed over or rushed through when team members worry their AHT will be affected. 

It encourages focusing on speed, which is stressful for both team and customers. We’ve all been on one of those calls where the person on the other end is trying to get you off the phone as quickly as possible. It’s tense, terse, and certainly not the caring and hospitable treatment that your customers deserve. Focusing on AHT can even reduce your team’s efficiency when customers are cut short and need to call back to have their problem solved in its entirety.

The Customer Support Counter Metric:

It’s wise to only bring AHT into individual performance evaluations in extreme outlier scenarios, and even then, to make sure it’s part of a balanced assessment which considers the team member’s quality metrics and overall focus.The person in question may have a knack for picking up the most complicated tickets that simply take more time. In that case, don’t penalize them for it.

Consider instead focusing on next issue avoidance, where your team works to anticipate and resolve corresponding issues in advance. Will your initial response create additional questions? Do you know that a customer will have to take some other action after finishing the one at hand? If so, provide the information ahead of time. Not only is this a better customer experience, the extra few seconds it adds to your existing conversation helps you avoid future contacts, increasing your team’s efficiency. And hasn’t that always been the point of measuring AHT?

Customer Support Metric #2: Average time to first response

Yes, speed is important. And yes, 31% of customers expect an email response within 1 hour. But you know what else matters? The time it takes to resolve an issue. Incentivizing purely based on average time to first response can encourage your team to spend most of their time grabbing up the newest unanswered tickets instead of following through on existing open ones. 

Even if this is only a group target and not a measurement of individual performance, everybody feels pressure to meet the goal. As tickets in the middle of the queue age, the likelihood of them being picked up by anyone decreases. Eventually, you end up with a small subset of ancient inquiries that no one wants to touch. Since everyone’s answering most tickets almost as soon as they come in, your average could be skewed, and you’d never know that you’re leaving a lot of other customers hanging for far too long.

The Customer Support Counter Metric:

Track average time to resolution alongside average time to first response to make sure they’re balanced. If there’s a huge gap between the two, you might have a problem.

You can also check on the spread of your first response. What percentage of your volume is answered within an hour? How old are the oldest tickets and what percentage falls outside an upper limit like 24 hours? Knowing the answers to these questions will help shed light on outliers and give you a clearer picture of what every customer is experiencing, not just the average.

Encourage your team not to avoid aged cases by building a bonus metric into your scorecard: the percentage of the oldest tickets that were answered by each team member. That is, take a look at the oldest 100 tickets and who answered them to calculate contributions from each individual team member. Recognize and reward those who close the highest portions of the oldest inquiries.

Customer Support Metric #3: Customer satisfaction (CSAT)

Measuring customer satisfaction is a noble cause. But as with time to first response, beware of being blinded by your average. Every customer’s experience counts. When you’re talking to hundreds or thousands of customers a day, it’s easy to forget about the handful of low ratings on the board. But remember that those low ratings represent individual customers who perhaps will only ever have one interaction with you. And while positive feedback is great, it’s the critics who give you the feedback you need to make the business better.

The Customer Support Counter Metric:

Make sure you’re paying attention to the low end of your satisfaction ratings. Follow up with individual customers where you can and use negative feedback to make things better for everyone.

Wrapping up

Don’t be so bewitched by metrics that you’re blind to their shortcomings. Starting with the three mentioned here, critically consider how each of them incentivizes your team behavior, affects your customer experience, and may hide the full story of your performance. Then take measures to balance your perspective, and you’ll always be safe from the curse of deceitful metrics.

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