Measuring call center performance is both an art and science. It takes a mix of tracking and tactics to ensure the best possible member service while adjusting to changing realities in the marketplace.
Credit unions who run their own call centers can benefit from the experience of the big organizations that specialize in that service, operations that devote considerable time and resources to providing and measuring member service.
For example, although many organizations look at service level — defined as the percentage of calls answered within a given timeframe, typically 30 seconds — and the average speed to answer (ASA), targets can vary widely.
“Some might want 70% of calls answered within 20 seconds and others want 80% within 60 seconds,” says Carol Cline-Parton, vice president of CO-OP Member Center, which serves approximately 280 credit unions through its centers in Texas, Michigan, and California.
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According to Cline-Parton, the experience level a credit union wants to provide is what determines the service level they choose, which in turn drives staffing needs. And Cline-Parton knows what she’s talking about — her operation’s 300 staffers spend approximately 1 million minutes a month handling about 280,000 calls.
Those minutes are another matter of measurement.
It’s critical that handle time goals are not set at the agent level, because poor service may result when agents do whatever’s necessary to hit their goal, such as ending calls too early, which results in incomplete resolution of the member’s problem.
“Consumers today are looking for fast, efficient service,” says Aimee Dunn, director of operations for TMG Financial Services, the Des Moines, IA, cardmember contact center that currently handles approximately 130,000 accounts. “They want to accomplish as much as possible without having to talk to anyone. If they must speak to someone, they expect their problem to be solved inside that call.”
But taking care of all that in one call has gotten more complex, as member inquiries now go beyond the simple “what’s my balance” and “did the check clear?” questions. This change in consumer behavior is evident in another popular metric: average handle time (AHT).
“Over the past five years we’ve seen handle times increase as the transactional calls are replaced with more complex, technical calls involving mobile and online banking,” says Frank Kovach, principal, contact center and operations consulting for PSCU, the Florida-based CUSO that provides card, bill pay, and other services to more than 18 million accounts.
Kovach says a typical AHT is now four to six minutes with high sales centers atop the list.
That jibes with what Dunn at TMGFS has observed.
“Actual numbers vary based on the individual credit union’s goals,” she says. “For instance, credit unions with a high sales culture might prioritize outcomes over call times.”
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What Matters, What Doesn’t
Other commonly used metrics are telephone service factor, average speed to answer, and average handle time.
Also referred to as service level, telephone service factor is percentage of calls answered within a specific time frame; for example, 80% of calls answered within 30 seconds.
“TSF is a vital measurement as it provides management with a mathematical-based metric that can assist in pinpointing service deficiencies,” Kovach says.
Monitoring service factor allows managers to quickly spot when service levels drop for reasons such as an agent not being available or an unexpected spike in calls.
Strategies For Contact Center Success
Aimee Dunn, director of operations for TMG Financial Services, offers this list of must-have features and strategies for any successful contact center.
Interactive voice response (IVR) that can manage a large amount of consumer needs automatically.
One-call resolution staffing that empowers one well-trained representative to address a range of questions and problems.
Personable staff with strong soft skills.
Representatives knowledgeable in all aspects of product functionality.
The ability to understand and use cross-sell or promotional offers during calls.
A strong training department in which regulatory compliance is prioritized.
Recorded phone calls and recorded call retention.
Strong quality control department with representatives who listen and grade phone calls based on any compliance or knowledge gaps.
“With this capability, the call center manager can make necessary adjustments to improve performance,” Kovach says.
Average speed to answer, meanwhile, measures the time a caller waits in the queue for an agent to answer. There needs to be a balance here, the call center pros say. Members can quickly lose patience if they wait too long, but staffing up too much can drive up expenses unnecessarily.
“Although excessive wait times of more than three to five minutes might try your members’ loyalty, very short ASAs might point to overstaffing with a need to reanalyze work schedules and agent deployment,” says PSCU’s Kovach.
According to Kovach, credit unions have averaged wait times from 50 to 110 seconds over the past several years.
Then there’s average handle time. AHT generally includes talk time, hold time, and after-call work time. The mix of calls coming into the call center, the credit union’s sales focus, and the alignment of the core and other systems an agent needs to access all influence handle time. For example, an emphasis on sales will naturally drive higher AHTs because of the time it takes to cross-sell.
Kovach recommends setting an AHT goal for the department and then managing individual agents to that average through coaching and additional training when needed.
He adds, “It’s critical that handle time goals are not set at the agent level because poor service may result when agents do whatever’s necessary to hit their goal, such as ending calls too early, which results in incomplete resolution of the member’s problem.”
Most call centers measure abandon rate; however, Kovach says that might be the most meaningless of metrics. Abandon rate provides little guidance to indicate whether a problem really exists and if so, how to fix it. That’s because the credit union has no control over a member who hangs up 20 seconds into a call, and in fact, usually doesn’t even know why.
“Unlike service level, there’s no mathematical foundation to help understand where the problem might lie or how to mitigate it,” the PSCU contact center consultant says.
Instead of holding agents and managers accountable for abandon rate, Kovach encourages call centers to use a well thought-out service level goal to provide more effective service for members.