There are three distinct areas that have the greatest impact on customer satisfaction for technology services customers; Response time, Resolve time, and Status updates. We define Response Time as ‘the time it takes for a customer to reach a qualified support rep” and Status Updates is defined as “keeping the customer informed about the status of open cases in a timely fashion”. Although these are simple definitions we can almost always understand what their true meaning is. Where we run into problems is in defining “Resolve time” and agreeing upon that definition. One example would be “the time it takes to resolve a customer’s issue to their satisfaction”. This is not a bad definition but there are so many different interpretations of “resolve”, “issue”, and “satisfaction” that we sometimes get confused about how we can measure resolve time.
One thing that we know for sure is that measuring our effectiveness at resolving customer issues gets a lot easier if we can fix problems the first time the customer requests assistance. This “First Call Resolution (FCR)” could be the single most important thing that we do every day. Think about this for a moment, if the customer calls, or emails, or submits a case via the web, and we jump on the issue and fix it the first time, everyone’s life gets easier. There are no callbacks, no passing of cases back and forth, and no need to constantly provide the customer with open case status updates. The problem here is that this is easier said than done. In fact, first call resolution is extremely difficult to achieve. So why is this? What are the reasons that it is so difficult to fix a customer’s issue the first time? Well, it is a complex question with plenty of complex issues so let’s take a look at the fifteen factors that affect FCR.
- Logging each and every case
If we don’t log and track each and every customer request then we will see false FCR results. For example, if a customer calls in with several unique issues, do we really open up separate cases for each request? Probably not! When we do not log the simple, easy to answer requests we do not get credit for multiple first contact resolutions.
- Complexity of the environment
The more complex the environment, the more difficult it is to isolate the issues on first contact. If we end up having to re-create the issue then it becomes almost impossible to resolve anything on first contact. If your products reside in a complex environment then you should anticipate lower FCR results.
- Complexity of the product
If your products are extremely complex, there is a good chance that your focus is not on FCR. Complex products typically require complex responses and this takes time and resources that may extend out of your direct control. Complex products that run in complex environments create even bigger challenges but that does not mean that we abandon the FCR metric. We still need to measure and monitor our effectiveness in this key area.
- Definition of a “fix”
Based on your internal definition of a “fix”, you could have a built-in impossible situation for success in FCR. Is a fix an answer to a question? Is a fix only defined as some type of coding solution? Your definition will determine when you consider the issues resolved and affect FCR measurements.
- Metrics – When do you start and stop counting?
The issue of the day has everything to do with how FCR is measured. If we are trying to count the times we effectively resolve a customer issue on first contact, then what do we consider a contact? What if we receive the service request via email? How about web-generated requests? What if a customer talks to a non-technical person? Should we count that as a first contact? How we measure FCR determines our overall effectiveness. Today there seems to be about a dozen ways that our members are using for FCR calculations. We need to reach some agreement on how FCR is measured.
- Skill set of customers
Based on the knowledge and experience levels of your customers, FCR can swing drastically up or down. The more skilled your customers are, the more likely they have done their homework before calling for service. If customers have already started the problem isolation process the entire resolve time flow is shortened and FCR is improved.
- Skill set of your people
Having the correct technical skills in place shortens the FCR process. It just makes sense that the people with the best possible knowledge of the issue should be the ones that work with the customer through resolution. But, this is not an easy task. Even with Skills Based Routing in place it is virtually impossible to get the exact match of technical skills applied to every issue that comes through the door. The more effective we are at skills matching the more we will see the FCR rate increase.
- Effectiveness of self-service
There is a strong argument within our association that one reason for the drop in FCR over the past five years is due to customers using self-service via the web. Essentially, customers go to the web and get the “easy” issues resolved through self-service. This means that the “hard” issues are handled via the phone and the FCR is reduced because of the degree of difficulty of these more challenging problems.
- Customer usage of “outside” forums and sources
This FCR Factor is similar to the one above with one exception; customers are using online forums that are not supported by your company. These forums could be peer-to-peer, informal networks where technical information is exchanged about your products. The greatest risk here is that your customers could be getting some really bad advice and when they mess things up they call you for help. Unsanctioned forums can be very useful but they also have a downside when your company does not control reliable data.
- Tools available to your people
Technology in tech services has made us more efficient and effective and the better our tools are the more likely we are to resolve customer issues on first contact. By using knowledge management tools and “closed case” databases, we are certain to quickly find known issues and pass the fix on to customers when they first reach us. There is a direct correlation between the reliability of our service tools and the effectiveness of FCR.
- Training on tools usage
Having great service tools does not mean much if your people don’t know how to use them properly. CRM tools in particular are becoming more and more complex and loaded with features and functions that your people don’t even know how to use. With the proper training on the service tools in place today, first contact resolution rates will increase rapidly.
- Problem solving & trouble shooting skills
The best technicians use proven methodologies for isolating and resolving technical issues. Why is it that some of your tech reps are better “fixers” than others? Well, experience has a lot to do with it, but developing problem solving and troubleshooting skills will ensure that problems are resolved in the most efficient manner possible. The good news is that these skills can be trained into your people and there are plenty of methodologies and approaches to problem isolation that can be adopted to increase FCR.
- Service Level Agreements (SLA’s) for response & resolve times
Most Service Level Agreements (SLA’s) in customer contracts have wording that is focused on your guarantees about response time and not resolve time. You usually guarantee how long it will take you to address the customer issue but almost never commit to how long it will take you to fix it. So why is this? Why don’t you make a firm commitment to fixing things in specific time limits? The answer is simple; we just don’t know how long it will take us to fix every possible issue that might come our way. But, if you are using resolve time SLA’S, they will directly affect FCR as management monitors the effectiveness of your contractual commitments.
- Expectations of management
Management can pressurize the service environment by placing emphasis on certain parts of the delivery supply chain. We see this clearly when we push our people to handle more calls and to get off the phone quickly. The result is that customers feel rushed as your techs are looking at their watches and trying to move on to the next call. The same thing can happen to FCR. If we push our people to fix every call the first time, they will spend hours on the phone trying to do exactly what we have asked them to do. Management expectations need to be balanced between realistic resolve times and expectations of FCR.
- Matching customer experience levels to tech experience levels
This FCR Factor may seem to be the same as one I discussed earlier but there is a major difference. We are not talking about a customer’s technical expertise, but rather, the amount of experience that they have in their current position. When we get a “new” customer and pair them up with one of our most experienced technical support reps we are just asking for trouble. In a perfect world only experienced customers would talk with experienced support reps and new customers would talk to junior reps. This match up rarely happens so FCR suffers because the customer and the support rep are not speaking the same language based on their experience levels.
At this point you should be about as confused as me about First Call Resolution and the numerous factors that contribute to the complexity of fixing customer’s issues the first time. This is a very complex issue and requires more in-depth research to really understand what is going on in your company and in our industry. To that end, I am putting together a focus group to start the process of studying resolve time in general and FCR in particular. If you are interested in joining me just drop me a note at BRose@TheSSPA.com .