The Emperor’s Customer Service Metrics for IT Support

Nearly every customer service company publishes or presents some metrics. Internally they display them, report on them, and use them for determining who is and isn’t doing their job. Externally they use them to show prospective clients how great their service is, and report them to existing clients so they know they’re getting what they’re paying for.

Unfortunately the typical customer service metrics are BS, proxies for good customer service that are well meaning at best, downright misleading at worst, and nearly always easily gamed. Here are some metrics we see in the IT support industry all the time, and why they’re almost meaningless.

First contact resolution: This is typically expressed as some percentage of issues that were resolved on first contact, and seems valuable. No one wants to keep going back and forth with a support rep while they try stuff, we want the first person we contact to fix our problem, preferably right now. Trouble is, who determines the “right” percentage? Is it 50%, 60%, 70%, higher? But once the goal is published, it becomes a game, and so the level one technician you end up with may keep you on the phone for hours while he Googles the right answer, or consults with others. “No it’s okay, I’m going to go work on this other thing while you look into it” is not something he wants to hear, he doesn’t want to call you back because that makes his metrics look bad. Or worse, if it sounds too difficult he might just hang up on you and not log the ticket and when you call back you’ll get someone else in the vast pool of level-one techs.

Daily ticket updates: The theory here is that if you’re working on something for someone, that person wants an update at least daily until it’s resolved. So you get a daily email that basically says “still working on it” to pollute your inbox. Setting expectations is harder, because it often requires making guesses and having conversations. But in my opinion it’s way better to tell someone “This is a tricky problem so I’ve asked for help from my senior network engineer. He’s available Monday so I’m blocking out 2 hours to look into this with him, and I’ll let you know what we find.”

Average resolution time: How long should a problem take to resolve? Could be 0 minutes (on more than one occasion I have answered a call only to hear “I figured it out while the phone was ringing!” or “It went away by itself!”). Could be 37 days. Could be never, totally unresolvable (how does one factor “infinity” into an average?). Like first contact resolution this one assumes that someone knows what the right average is. They don’t, and this one gets gamed like everything else. Your ticket is mysteriously closed even though your issue is not resolved (which leads the company to add a “ticket re-open” metric but that one is also easily gamed). I know some companies that change a ticket’s status to closed as soon as they reply. You have to re-open the ticket if your issue is not resolved or your question unanswered. I bet they have excellent average resolution times, because most folks will just give up and leave it closed.

In a nutshell, all of these metrics are attempts to codify “good service” into numbers that are easy to report, but also easy to manipulate. We can fill a room with inexperienced, low-wage support people, keep and reward those who are smart enough to game the metrics, let the rest go, and have “great service” in very short order, the kind we can report to every unhappy client to demonstrate that they’re actually getting good service.

Instead I would propose that you start with client satisfaction first. At Ripple, we like the Net Promoter Score, and we survey all our client contacts quarterly with one question: “How likely are you to refer Ripple to a friend or colleague?” The numbers and the commentary tell us a lot about how well we are performing. We are free to layer other metrics on later, to tweak and fine tune. But the first goal should be making the customer happy, and that requires a lot more than simply posting numbers on a wall.

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