The Social Customer Service Blog

Stephan Delbos on April 22, 2016

4 Ways to Think about Customer Service KPIs

Every once in a while we here at Brand Embassy are lucky enough to be part of a conversation on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook that takes on a life of its own, attracting commentary and debate from interested individuals around the world. It's these interactions that remind us of the power of social media to create a space where ideas can be shared instantly. That's awesome! 

Our recent blog post from Ondra Synek, "Why AHT Is a Dead End and How to Do Better," really touched a nerve, and it seems like everyone had an opinion to share. As the conversation developed, it became clear that there are four distinct ways to think about customer service KPIs, and a great deal depends on the way digital customer service is changing the way contact centers work. Ondra argued that the industry norm of evaluating contact center agents on total number of calls per hour, also known as Average Handling Time (AHT), doesn't help brands deliver great customer experience. Of course, not everyone agreed.

Now let's have a closer look at those four ways of thinking about customer service KPIs, shall we?

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Group 1: AHT is a dead end

The concept of our original post was, as the title suggests, that AHT is dead end and so it should be superseded by KPIs that pay more attention to empathy, thus allowing each customer service agent freedom to create real relationships. 

Those who agreed with us said that too much attention has been paid to AHT, and as a result we have lost sight of the customer's real needs

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And here's a great suggestion: what if we changed the meaning of AHT from "average handling time" to "appropriate handling time?"

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The group that agreed AHT is a dead end was also one of the most diverse, as it was made up of both customer service managers and agents in contact centers, as we can see from the comment below.  

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Group 2: AHT is absolutely useful

Not everyone agreed with our opinion that AHT is a dead end, however, and that's exactly what made this discussion so valuable. There were several people who emphasized the contact center's bottom line, saying that it's just not practical to encourage agents to stay on the line as long as possible. 

This group argued not only that it's still useful, but that AHT is invaluable to measure call center efficiency. According to this line of thought, an approach that doesn't consider efficiency and the actual daily working life of a call center is too agent-centered. This group insisted we've also got to think from the management's perspective.

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Our AHT post inspired the most detailed response from Dennis Adsit. 

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Group 3: AHT must be balanced with other KPIs

A third group emphasized that AHT shouldn't be thrown out altogether, but that AHT should be balanced with less traditional KPIs, giving managers a clear view of how their team is doing, without basing the entire operation on how quickly agents get customers off the phone. 

This group promoted a well-rounded approach that doesn't completely ignore time-based KPIs, but uses them in combination with KPIs that are more concerned with how the customer feels. 

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One interesting idea that came from this group was the possibility that contact centers should keep AHT as a KPI, but not for employees.

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Group 4: KPIs depend on each individual case

Finally, a fourth group believed that it's impossible to apply any KPI solution across the board, simply because every company, every customer and every case is different. 

This group tended to be more balanced, preferring an approach that takes the customer into account, but also acknowledging that having agents chat indefinitely is not always the best option. While it's important to be friendly, it's more important to be result-driven. 

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