Improving Call Center FCR: Top Ten Best Practices

By Mike Desmarais

There is a significant difference between an excellent and an average call center’s FCR (first call resolution) performance. This difference represents a tremendous opportunity for the call center industry, given that only about five percent of the call centers are at the world-class FCR level. Achieving a FCR performance level of 80 percent or higher typically results in an average of 1.2 calls required to resolve a caller’s inquiry or problem. Compare that to the average call center FCR rate of 67 percent, which results in an average of 1.5 calls needed to resolve the caller’s issue.

When you improve FCR, not only do you achieve operational savings, you also reduce callers at risk, which is typically a savings opportunity that is five to ten times greater than the operational FCR improvement savings. More importantly, improving call center FCR performance creates a positive impact on C-SAT (customer satisfaction), operating costs, and the call center’s ability to retain customers for the organization.

Given these operational factors, below are the top ten best practices for improving FCR.

Management: Management and departments are committed to improving FCR performance by aligning all people, processes, and technology practices towards that goal. All major responsibilities are performed with the intent to improve FCR. It is important that the front line views management as customer-centric and that all employees truly know what it means to be customer-centric. Management should convey to all employees that the call center’s main purpose is to retain customers by resolving their concerns on the first call.

ROI Awareness: All employees should be aware of the business case to improve FCR performance. In the call centers that we benchmark, a one percent improvement in FCR equals $276,000 in operational savings. However, the real cost for not resolving a caller’s concern on the first call is that the caller stops doing business with the organization because of his or her call center experience.

Goals and Accountability: All employees are accountable for achieving VOC (voice of the customer) metrics, such as FCR and C-SAT. Calls centers with a bonus program using VOC metrics as the main component for bonus payout can help improve the call center’s FCR performance by as much as 12 percent, which can take place in thirty days or less. Aligning bonus and recognition practices to VOC metrics performance is the best practice for quickly improving FCR performance. The typical stretch goal for frontline and management is three to five percent higher than their current VOC performance. VOC metrics that world-class call centers typically use to create accountability include:

  • Overall C-SAT with the call center
  • Overall C-SAT with the CSR (customer service representative)
  • Call resolution
  • World-class call (combination of all the above metrics)
  • FCR (in considering bonuses, this is not used because the CSR cannot be held accountable for FCR performance).

Customer and Employee Surveying: The call center conducts post-call customer surveys and uses the feedback for retaining customers, reducing repeat calls, and creating accountability at all levels for VOC metrics. The best practice is to conduct at least five surveys per CSR per month. In addition, the call center conducts FCR voice of the employee surveys to determine if CSRs feel that all levels of management are focused on consistently delivering FCR. All CSRs should be surveyed at least two times annually.

Improvement Process: The call center uses a PDCA (plan-do-check-act) improvement process cycle (also known as the Deming cycle) for reducing repeat calls. This consists of:

  • Plan: Identify unresolved call types and reasons for repeat calls.
  • Do: Develop a solution and implement a test pilot to improve specific unresolved call type performance.
  • Check: Determine if the test pilot was successful.
  • Act: Implement a standardized improvement plan for improving unresolved call type performance.

Customer Quality Assurance: The CQA (customer quality assurance) evaluation is a process that the evaluator uses during a call for both customer survey information and call compliance information to assess call quality. The CSR sees and hears customer survey ratings, customer feedback recordings, the full call recording, and screen capture. This is one of the best practices for improving FCR and C-SAT. If this is properly implemented, improvement increases can exceed five percent.

Selecting CSRs: Hiring is based on having the necessary traits needed to provide consistent world-class service using the four-step world-class CSR selection process:

  1. Pre-Interview Selection: Review candidate’s resume and use an IVR to interview the candidate to determine if the candidate should go through further steps.
  2. Personality Test: Determine if the candidate has customer-centric traits.
  3. Job Simulation: Candidate and organization both gain understanding of job fit.
  4. Face-to-Face Interview: Determine if the candidate is a good fit for the job. The interview is the most important step. It is critical that the interview questions are designed to determine the ability of the candidate to provide world-class customer service.

Escalation CSRs: The effective handling of escalated calls and good service recovery is, for many call centers, the best opportunity for agents to demonstrate that they want to resolve the caller’s problem. It is also a good opportunity to show the caller that the organization really cares about their concerns. In many cases, escalation CSRs are the last resort for a caller to get their call resolved, so it is essential that the call center’s escalation practices achieve high levels of call resolution. It is critical that CSRs are given unfettered access to a support queue of trained escalation CSRs when they need help to resolve a caller’s concern.

The staffing of the escalation queue should consist of a minimum of one escalation CSR for every fifteen CSRs. Escalation CSRs should be located in a central area so that knowledge and trends are consolidated, and queuing is better managed. Escalation CSR performance should be measured by customer survey feedback of those callers assisted by an escalation CSR. Performance tracking should include an internal employee satisfaction measure based on the feedback from CSRs who used the escalation queue to help resolve a caller’s concern.

Concierge Service: ConciergeCSRs assist callers who need to contact other departments or organizations in order to resolve their concern. Specifically, the concierge CSR tells the caller that they will call the necessary department or organization on his or her behalf to get the information needed to resolve their concern. In most cases, the concierge CSR calls the other department or organization while the caller is also on the phone, and a three-way conversation takes place.

The caller feels like the organization has taken complete ownership to resolve their issue. In addition, the call center concierge service creates high levels of FCR and C-SAT performance because the caller does not have to make additional calls. Although the call takes longer when compared to the more common scenario of a caller’s issue taking two calls to resolve, the additional time spent on the call can be justified. The second call is eliminated, and the caller is more satisfied because the issue was resolved in just one call.

CSR Bonus: Bonuses are based entirely on VOC metrics, such as C-SAT. AHT (average hold time), QA (quality assurance), productivity, schedule adherence, and sales should not be included in the bonus payout. These metrics, however, can be used as qualifiers for the CSR VOC bonus payout. Seventy-five to 95 percent of CSRs should be able to achieve the qualifiers in order to be eligible for the bonus. It is important to have the vast majority of your CSRs to be eligible for the bonus program. If the qualifiers are too difficult to achieve, it will have a negative impact on the bonus program. The typical call center bonus payout is approximately $2,000 per CSR, paid out in quarterly installments, with 50 to 85 percent of CSRs receiving the $2,000 bonus.

Implement these top ten best practices, and you’ll soon begin improving your call center’s FCR – and reaping all the associated benefits.

Mike Desmarais is the president and founder of SQM Group.

[From the February/March 2012 issue of AnswerStat magazine]