Inputs Driving Poor First-Call Resolution

Part one in a two part series on First-Call Resolution

For most contact centers, nearly one-third of inbound calls are repeat callers who weren’t satisfied the first time, and more often than not, the antiquated switches that contact centers leverage, just do not do that great of a job reporting on the true FCR (First-Call Resolution) in a given center…Why? Think of the iceberg analogy than Lean practitioners often use to explain COPQ and the hidden costs that fall below the water line. What rises above that line is easy to quantify…it is the lowest hanging fruit though highest on the berg, so to speak.

Below the line, especially in contact centers are things like repeat callbacks, which is the opposite of FCR.In the old call center mentality pre-six sigma for service days, FCR was a blue sky, nice to have metric, but nothing that managers held agents accountable for achieving. Instead, they opted for metrics focusing solely on time, like AHT (Average Handle time = talk time + post-call wrap up and any hold time during the call) or ASA (Average Speed of Answer = how fast you pick up the phone).

What these metrics actually do is incite bad behavior, i.e. the kind of behavior that you do not want your agents to learn. For example, an agent can keep AHT low as well as ASA by picking up the call and immediately hanging up on the customer, something most of us have experienced should we had to have called a call center (something I would rather cut my left leg off or will spend hours online searching for rather than having to call).

The agent AHT is an average of the daily AHT for a given time period, so naturally if they hang up, they will have a few second AHT. Mix that into the normal AHT of an agent, and suddenly, their monthly stats look the lowest of any other agent. See what I mean by ’incite bad behavior’? We like to call this ’Agent Badness’ though personally, I think it is more of a sign that the agent’s are not getting adequate coaching, but that is for another blog.

Handpicked Content:   Distracted By Too Many Six Sigma Projects

And, AHT is influenced by multiple, equally likely root causes, so pinpointing improvements will only frustrate your black belts (I do not suggest contact center AHT projects for Green Belts ever, unless they are working on addressing a component of a larger Black Belt project). By shifting your objective to improving FCR, you will have a much easier time proving and sustaining your results, namely reduced Cost of Goods Sold and improved customer satisfaction ratings.A focus on FCR will also reduce customer churn and improve agent morale.

First, it helps to understand the inputs that drive poor FCR performance:

  1. Agents frequently don’t have the authority to resolve an issue, even when the solution is obvious (EMPOWERMENT). This results in call escalations to a higher tier, with increased hold time and abandons. It also means the next callback will be an escalation call that ties up supervisor time.
  2. The agent may not have sufficient coaching time or ability to effectively deal with the customer call. (COACHING, NOT TRAINING, as the latter has been proven to not move the needle at all whereas the former, is very successful at driving higher FCR rates).
  3. Agents need to find information more easily to provide answers or actions for customers. When the information is difficult to access or unavailable, sometimes agents will guess at the answer or fail to provide an answer, both of which can lead to a callback.
  4. The back-end systems might not be up to the task. If the agent makes an address change, but it doesn’t propagate through the systems, then the customer will call back.
  5. You need clues into customer perceptions and behaviors and why the repeat calls are happening in the first place. This can help, for instance, when you discover customers are calling back trying to get a different result if their account is being suspended.
Handpicked Content:   "On Time" for Your Walk on the W.O.W. Side

Part two will list the steps to getting started with a Six Sigma project…

Comments 13

  1. Vasundhar

    I found your article very interesting, and I think this is a typical Example of Digital Six Sigma Application in real time scenarios.


  2. robert thompson

    My personal experience surrounds Manufacturing applications of quality systems and also lean six sigma. I’m fascinated in how six sigma can be applied to a nonmanufacturing environment? Organizations such as financial service providers, health care systems and educational facilities are asking this question. I guess the focus would be more on people and less on product? What transactional six sigma techniques are available to quantify human variation in a process?


  3. Andrew Hillig

    Hi Laura,

    Great topic. I am currently working in a project in my healthcare organization that is similar to a call center. Essentially, it is a scheduling center that schedules patients for procedures in 140 different departments across the organization.

    We are struggling with two things: 1. employee empowerment. How do we get these people to realize that putting in an 8-hour work day is not their only function? How do we get them to work as a team when they are so used to working as indivduals on these calls? 2. What performance measures (both individual and departmental) have you put in place? The current measure of performance, per employee, is accuracy percentages with the goal of 98% accuracy. Obviously, from a six sigma world, percentages are a no-no, but what do you measure in your call centers for individual and departmental performance. And again, once you’ve rolled out these performance measures, how do you get the staff to buy-in to them and not see them as another way to add control and regime over their workday?

    Any help would be great.

  4. Rick

    I think there are several errors or unsubstantiated assumptions in your argument regarding AHT. First, the quality of a call is not solely determined by it’s length i.e. a long call is not necessarily a "quality" call nor is a short call necessarily a "poor quality" call. I think many call center managers are under the false assumption that if you focus on reducing AHT the automatic (behavioral) result is that Call Service Reps will act irresponsibly and thus call quality will suffer. I believe and have demonstrated in past Call Center SS Projects that a focus on AHT does not necessitate a decrease in Call Quality or FCR. In fact significant AHT variation within group and between groups can be a sign of COPQ and an opportunity to positively increase call throughput, call center productivity and other quality KPM’s through appropriate training and use of technology. "Well trained" and "equipped "Customer Service Reps may have a significantly lower AHT than those that are "less trained" or "ill equipped". So, would it be wrong to establish an AHT and Standard Deviation Target based on the Mean of the High Performers and use these metrics to drive operational effectiveness and efficiency. I think not.
    In my opinion, a balanced focus on AHT reduction and Quality/Service improvement is the best approach to meet both the "Customer’s" needs and the operational (financial/productivity) needs of the business. Focus on quality, in absence of any focus on cost (productivity/AHT) has the potential to significantly increase cost and that will ultimately lead to customer dissatisfaction particularly in a commodity based business.

  5. Laura Gibbons

    Hi Bill,
    Sometimes human variation seems like climbing Everest while one is in define trying to scope their project. Let’s talk about measuring & managing human variation:

    1) Measure FCR by tier: one bucket is your mass agents (what we call Tier 1); the other are your premier escalation agents, or what some refer to as (Tier 2/3)- Don’t peanut butter these together. More resolution is always better.

    2) Graphical: Time series run charts are an effective way to differentiate seasonality from human variation in a given process. Next, parachute down one layer deeper and stratify your by agent within the tier, using multi-vari charts.

    4) Conduct time & motion on the top & bottom FTE by side by siding & most importantly, through remote monitoring (via phone and video). Create a VSM to identify bottlenecks, truely value added steps from BVA/NVA in call flow; eliminate the latter. Record Takt/ VA/Calendar/Work times on the VSM.

    5) Calculate PCE – Process Cycle Efficiency

    If your PCE is over 30%, then your target should be 50% (best in class) for transactional. Most service orgs are <= 10%, in which case, set PCE target at 30%.

    5) Retrain existing agents targeting the content to the tier in the areas where FTE need help. Tie this into QA to sustain process control & retrain offenders. Route calls dynamically based off QA scores by call type to a higher scoring agent until retrained.

  6. Laura Gibbons

    My Apologies – My comment was meant for Robert, not Bill

  7. Gerald Echols

    FCR can be increase by one thing and one thing only and that is making sure that customer service reps are well educated on products ,services, and procedures

  8. lorraine

    Hi All

    I am starting a six sigma project and looking at ways to reduce the AHT for our agents. Can anyone give me some good starting pointers & the most effective way to analyse this. We get paid price per ticket so the less time an agent has to spend on one call, the better.

  9. Rahul Iyer

    To add to Laura’s points I feel that the following factors also help in increasing FCR and also saving on AHT:

    * Being a Good Listener
    * Asking Appropriate Questions (Probing Effectively)
    * Setting Right Expectations with caller
    * Using first 30-60-90 secs of call to build trust

  10. dan

    I think they should not rely entirely on their scripts. A good agent must be naturally talented.

  11. philippine call center

    Very interesting article. Agents must also be well knowledgeable about their field and must very polite with their clients.

  12. call center philippines

    This will help improve the skill of a call center agent. Thanks for posting this article.

  13. Sanjeev S

    Empowering your agents may ease the burden of repeat calls and coaching agents to a point where they feel overwhelmed is dangerous territory on its own –
    Selecting the correct talent the best suits required needs is where Contact Centers should focus their energy along with the current talents ability to answer "the question being asked"
    Not a pre-scripted rebuttal.
    AHT Numbers increase significantly along with Customer dissatisfaction, when Agents simply cannot address the issue being presented as some tend to look for answers and a magic manual …
    Yet if faced in a situation out of the contact centre the resolution would be much simpler to find and that is the type of agent that is in demand in the most effective contact centers, not robots.
    As for driving down FCR rates, this is a very complicated issue especially for centers with various product types/services as each entity will drive its own rate, and how do you measure that rate?
    Determine for each entity what is acceptable 1 day 3 days 30 days etc… and why? Justify it don’t let the competition determine it for you determine it for them.
    Then based on all volume you will still have differing number unless the volumes you experience are exactly the same as the other guys for each entity – use ratio’s not overall FCR – Overall means squat.

Leave a Reply