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Imagine a situation in which a customer calls for help in solving a computer issue, receives some quick advice from a support technician, and is sent off to try a few things on their own. Average handle time remains low but where does this leave the actual customer?

The support technician only spent a small amount of time on the phone and receives a ‘thumbs up’ from his boss for keeping his call time below the minimum goal. Unfortunately, that customer’s problem wasn’t necessarily resolved and, after a few frustrating minutes and a lot of grumbling, a second call was required to get the problem solved.

Now consider a similar support situation, where the first call technician spends a little more time with the customer diagnosing the issue and works through a couple of options, resolving the issue before hanging up. This first-line technician may not fix every problem, but his service scores are much higher than those of the other individual. It all sounds simple, but the two situations illustrate the dramatic affect one artificial number —first call times— can have on the customer satisfaction rankings and profitability of an organization.

Consistently Strong First Call Resolution Rates (80% +) lead to Satisfied, Renewing Customers!

While the technician in the first case met his assigned goals, he may have failed appreciably in the eyes’ of his employer’s customer. Not every issue can be resolved in a single discussion with technical support, with an astounding number of potential problems based on the complex systems that businesses employ. But first call resolution success requires the team to address each customer’s needs as often as possible with the initial call, eliminating the need for further support.

Talk time (the average time of a call with a customer) is a common performance metric for support companies but that number must be balanced with each customer’s business needs. How do your clients feel when their productivity suffers because their problems aren’t resolved quickly, and their employees’ time is taken up with numerous calls to your support team? Metrics such as ‘first call resolution rates’ can easily skew the discussion, since it’s simple to ‘close’ an issue following a conversation. But was the customer’s problem actually resolved? Subsequent calls related to the original problem may not be classified as a second contact, instead labeled as a new issue; not necessarily on purpose. Service providers need to dig deeper and look at the quantities of related calls from each customer and frequently review the issues being reported. A common best practice is to perform a frequent service surveys (quarterly or bi-annually), to reconcile their perception of service levels with their clients. Customer satisfaction is the real measurement for call quality and support.

According to Cornell University research, approximately 20 to 42 percent of customer problems require multiple contacts to resolve, leading to high operating costs for the support organization and low service grades. Call and email volumes increase, as well as customer complaints. In general, satisfaction with customer support and minimal call times can both be achieved with proper escalation procedures in place.

Every MSP Help Desk should spend more time focusing on call time averages, rather than the quickest phone time. Low call times are not desirable if accompanied by poor first call resolution rates—an obvious sign that your customers’ problems are not being addressed adequately. Call center managers have to scrutinize follow-up calls to ensure each customer is satisfied with the initial call response and the business’ overall support quality. An increase in second-tier support needs means a greater demand on the company’s more experienced (and generally more expensive) technicians, ultimately requiring a boost in overtime or new hires. So reduced first call times that lead to additional demand on second-line team members can actually drive up the company’s overall personnel costs; a counterproductive measure.

Now consider what happens if a customer has to reach out three times or more to your support team. In most situations, that is considered a service failure. Making repeat calls to resolve a problem, no matter how complicated, is a major source of customer dissatisfaction and defection. As demonstrated in the second call example, it can definitely be a drain on your resources. Support companies generally accept a trade-off; modest increases in talk time averages leading to improvements in first call resolution rates.

Addressing these factors and reducing handling times can have an immediate impact. Improvements in first contact resolution typically increase your customer retention by as much as 30 percent. This helps the support business gather testimonials and referrals that allow them to drive new business. It also leads to a reduced call volume on your second-tier support team, with an overall decrease in personnel costs or the ability to redeploy some of those personnel.

So how do you make improvements to your first call resolution rates, in a cost-effective manner? There are a number of options that I’ll cover in more detail in my next article, but the first step is to make sure you evaluate your current call performance measurements.

Is your current process providing the results that meet the needs of both you and your clients? How are you confirming this?