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Your call centre… What’s the most important KPI?

Call Centres and Telemarketing

In the past six years over 2,500 delegates have attended my ‘World Class Call Centres – Key Strategic Issues” seminars.

If you have been one of these delegates then you will recall that one of my first seminar slides shows five arrows representing my view of the five most important drivers that every contact centre professional must keep in focus – every single day.

These are: Reduce of Cap Costs. Increase Efficiencies. Increase Revenues. Reduce Risk. Increase Customer Satisfaction.

I’m always enthralled when I put up that particular slide because virtually every delegate in the room starts enthusiastically nodding in agreement. 

But my next question flaws most delegates – even well-seasoned call centre professionals. I simply ask: “Who can give me to the nearest 10% the actual cost per call minute by call queue and by call type? And while you are about it, give me the cost per completed process or the cost per minute, per process.”

Usually there’s a kind of a stunned silence. We all agree that to cap or reduce costs is probably the number one driver – yet not one in a hundred managers can give any more than a thumb-suck estimate of what his or her calls actually cost. Now there’s a frightening reality!  

The battle in the boardroom for budgets is based on the most important KPI of all… ROI.

Where I’m coming from on this issue is that in a recent article published on (UK), I read the results of an on-line survey in which readers were asked to rank the top ten contact centre KPI’s; the most important metrics needed to do their job professionally. 

And here they are in the order that they were ranked in the survey:

  1. Quality Scores
  2. First Call Resolution
  3. Customer Satisfaction
  4. Service Level
  5. Average Handling Time
  6. Right Party Connects (For outbound)
  7. Net Promoter
  8. Forecast Accuracy
  9. Revenue (Collections and Sales)
  10. Utilisation
And then here’s an addition list of KPI ‘Favourites’ that didn’t quite make the Top Ten cut. These include:
  • Calls per hour
  • Conversion Rates
  • Employee Engagement
  • Promise-to-Pay (Collections)
  • Abandoned Rates
  • Speed to Answer
  • Customer Effort Score
  • Non-value-added Calls (Where customer could have self-served)
(I highly recommend that you read the actual posting. It’s fascinating

But nowhere in either of these lists is there any reference whatsoever to costs!  I’m shocked.

We could probably go on all day with constructive debate around KPI’s and which ones are more important than others. But I firmly believe that only when the operation gets totally in control of the financials will it have any chance whatsoever of addressing any of the other metrics.

Why? Let’s face it, there’s only one set of metrics that gets any attention in the boardroom, and that’s the financials. Tragically, as most contact Centre professionals have learned, in the boardroom our call centre operations are widely believed to be nothing more than a very expensive “pain-in-the-whatzit”.

And although we are glib with the prolific use of contact centre acronyms, there’s only one that will get us anywhere with executive management; that’s ROI!

If we turn it around for a second and re-look at the classic KPI’s (the list above, for example), every single one of these can be dramatically improved given the resources to do so.

For any experienced contact centre manager it’s not rocket science. “Give me more experienced agents. Let me pay my middle managers what they’re worth. Give me better and more advanced technology. Allow me to incentivize my staff. Let me train my staff and give them a longer-term view of their career. Let me outsource part of my operations. Let’s move to a hosted platform.”

And the fact of the matters is that every one of these arguments can be won in the boardroom as long as the financials make sense.
What if… I could divert 20% of my callers into sophisticated IVR and web-based self-service portals?
What if… I could move to a flexible staffing model?
What if… I had a Workforce Management tool that would help me to achieve highly accurate scheduling?
What if… I could use Interaction Analytics to ensure that my QA is producing business intelligence instead of just dumb stats relating to a mere fraction of my calls?
What if... I had a workflow tool that tied my front office and my back office into an interdependent ‘whole’ and that the SLAs were made to really work?
What if… I was able to invest in making sure that my agents; team leaders, supervisors and QA’s were adequately paid, trained and motivated?
What if ... I could dramatically reduce my call handling time by providing my front line agents with a powerful knowledge management or performance support solution that would simultaneously produce phenomenal FCR and customer satisfaction?

No. It’s definitely not easy to get to the real cost-per-minute/second or to the cost-per process. It’s a long, hard and very frustrating process very often needing to dig deep into the internal (and often somewhat secretive) financial workings of the greater corporate structure.

And initially, one will frequently have to base some cost elements on assumptions and guesses. How extensive should the exercise be? Very! Put it this way, a call centre costing tool that I have been developing together with various analysts and Excel ‘guru’s over the past five years currently has over 400 entry fields and variables.

But it’s necessary if one wants to win the “What if? – ROI” game. It’s also necessary – in my opinion – if one wants to be able to claim to be in control of one’s contact center. Period!

Here’s a practical example: It’s a hypothetical 50 seat inbound call centre taking an average of 55 calls per agent per day and having a five minute average call duration and a one minute after call wrap-up. With productivity at about 70% and a cost-per-call-minute of R3.62 we can calculate that it actually costs the operation R21.69 per call to provide a particular type of customer service. Or let’s look at the total annual cost of the operation at roughly R15,750,000.

Now what if…? We could divert 15% of calls to IVR and web-based self-service portals? For starters if we would drop our agent headcount from 50 to 42 this would represent an annual saving of roughly R2.5 million. The estimated cost of the additional technologies would be probably well less than R1,000,000.

Now what if… We could deploy a workforce management solution and simultaneously move to a flexible staffing (outsourced) model the combination of which would dramatically reduce our shrinkage and give an 80% productivity factor?  We would save a further R1.5 million to R1.8 million per annum. And the estimated cost of the appropriate technical solution? Something in the region of R600,000 to R700,000.

What if…? We could dramatically increase agent productivity by providing better training and a knowledge management solution that will shorten call duration by 10%, dramatically increase First Contact Resolution and simultaneously, increase customer satisfaction, loyalty and probable spend? That’s another massive saving in direct operational costs; it could be in the region of R1.5 million. We could safely estimate the cost of these interventions to be well under a million.
So, potentially, in this hypothesis, the operation could cut a massive R5,000,000 to R6,000,000 off its annual operating budget for an investment of probably not much more than R3.5 to R4 million.  Now THAT’s ROI talk!

Bottom line… Unless the contact centre manager has the actual, real costs of his or her operation down too the last decimal point and – of course – accurate stats on all other ‘normal’ KPI’s, it would be pretty near impossible to convince the boardroom to mandate the investments and change in strategy for the contact centre.

It has been said that true power is the possession or the control of a scarce resource. In this case, the contact centre manager’s true power will be in the knowledge of his or her real operating costs and the skills to construct rational ROI models.

For more information about this vital subject, or for professional assistance to build a customized costing model for your contact centre please contact me. I will refer you to the most appropriate member of the Independent Contact Centre Consultants Association – ICCCA.  See

Rob Jones
Lonehill, Gauteng

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