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As the old business adage goes, "What gets measured gets managed." This is no surprise to SaaS CX leaders, who know plenty about measuring mission-critical KPIs like NPS and CES. But what happens when your goal is specifically to improve call center performance?

That’s where call center performance KPIs come in: metrics like first call resolution, average handle time, service level, and occupancy rate (all of which we’ll explore in this guide). Tracking these metrics closely has both long-term and short-term impacts.

The most obvious is the long-term impact. Data helps you make strategic decisions about how to design your call center processes, when to hire more agents, and whether to invest in new technology. But call centers are fast-moving, which means there are also short-term benefits from tracking call center metrics. For example, unexpected spikes or drops in stats like ‘average time in queue’ can point to an acute operational issue that needs to be resolved immediately.

All call centers want to outperform. There are many ways to do this: comprehensive training, careful systems design, smart hiring practices, or clever use of technology. But to do any of these things, you first need metrics to point you in the right direction.

Call Center Metrics To Monitor

Call centers have an inherent tension to manage: speed versus quality. Customers expect fast answers, but they also expect accurate answers. (And they definitely don’t want to have to call back again.) By focusing on the call center performance metrics below, you’ll help maintain the delicate balance between customer satisfaction and efficiency.

1. Average Handle Time (AHT)

Few things matter more to customers than getting answers quickly. Average handle time (AHT) is a direct reflection of customers’ need for speed: it measures the average time agents spend interacting with customers, from the beginning to the end of each call.

Average call center AHT, generally speaking, is a little more than 6 minutes. Keep in mind, though, that your business might not necessarily fit the average; it depends on your industry. Businesses with high product complexity tend to field longer technical service calls, while lower complexity businesses (like retail) often deal with quick phone calls about returns and order status.

2. First Call Resolution (FCR)

Your first call resolution (FCR) rate shows the percentage of calls resolved without the need for callbacks or transfers. This is vital to the customer experience: a Microsoft survey found that 33% of customers say that getting their issue resolved in a single call is the most important aspect of good customer support.

SQM Group recommends shooting for an FCR rate between 70-79%. Remember that each FCR increase of 1% can reduce operating costs by 1%, increase customer satisfaction by 1%, and increase employee satisfaction by 1%-5%.

3. Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT)

At the end of the day, call centers—like the rest of your customer service efforts—are about keeping customers happy. Customer satisfaction scores (CSAT) measure customer satisfaction on a scale (e.g., 1-10). High CSAT percentages indicate positive experiences, while low or declining metrics suggest customer frustration.

Use customer satisfaction software to gauge how happy customers are over time, or use the CSAT survey tools built into your contact center software. AI features can also gauge customer sentiment in real time, helping agents immediately understand their performance and giving call center managers a bird’s-eye view of performance. Shoot for a call center CSAT of 80% or higher; an excellent CSAT for individual agents is 85% or higher.

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4. Occupancy Rate

Your occupancy rate is the percentage of time agents spend in customer calls versus the time they’re idle. Too much idle time is bad, but you don’t want 100% occupancy either: that leaves no room for spikes in call volumes, which negatively affect other metrics like average time in queue. Industry standards for occupancy rate are around 80% to 85%.

5. Service Level

Service level is a contact center metric that tracks the percentage of calls answered within a certain time frame. For example, if you set a benchmark for agents to answer calls within 30 seconds—and 7 out of 10 calls meet that criteria—then your service level is 70%. (The average service level is around 81%).

Your service level works well as a barometer for call center health, giving you a window into both the customer experience and employee bandwidth.

6. Agent Turnover Rate

To keep your customers happy, you’ve got to keep your agents happy: satisfied employees perform 16% better than unhappy employees. But call center work can be difficult. Stress and anxiety are “high” or “very high” for 87% of contact center workers, according to a study by Cornell University.

Keeping an eye on your agent turnover rate is one way to gauge employee satisfaction. Use exit interviews and surveys to identify issues: poor training, a difficult work environment, or low compensation may be driving factors.

7. Average Speed of Answer

66% of customers say that valuing their time is the most important factor in good customer service. Answering the phone quickly is a good start. Average speed of answer (ASA) measures the average time customers wait before their calls are answered. A good target ASA is around 30 seconds or less. (Note that ASA only starts once the call is transferred to an agent.)

8. Average After Call Work Time (ACWT)

Agents can spend up to half their time on post-call wrap up, from summaries to next steps. Some after call work time (ACWT) is beneficial—especially action items that help agents deliver on promises made during the call. But much of your agents' ACWT can be automated with the latest call center software, which tends to have AI features that can handle transcriptions and action items automatically.

9. Average Call Abandonment Rate

Your average call abandonment rate is the percentage of callers who hang up before reaching an agent. Usually, this is a result of long wait times. While a percentage of callers will inevitably abandon their calls, it’s important to keep this metric low: 5% or less is a good target rate for abandoned calls.

Hiring more staff is one solution, but it’s not the only one. By tweaking your interactive voice response (IVR) system, fine-tuning your call routing, and enabling callback options and other time-saving technology, you can get this number down without changing your headcount.

10. Average Time in Queue

An American Express survey found that customers will wait a maximum of 13 minutes on hold, and one in five customers won’t wait more than five minutes. Meanwhile, 57% of customers say that long hold times are the most frustrating part of interacting with a business over the phone.

Average time in queue measures what’s typically the longest part of customers’ wait times: after they’ve navigated the IVR menu, but before they’ve been routed to an agent. During this time, they’re listening to hold music and wondering when (or if) their call will be answered—so obviously, less time is better.

Additional Call Center Performance Metrics

Other frequently used call center metrics include:

  • Calls answered per hour: The number of calls each agent answers in a one hour period.
  • Call arrival rate: The number of incoming calls received per unit of time, usually per hour.
  • Agent utilization rate: The percentage of time agents spend actively handling calls versus being available but idle.
  • Peak hour traffic: The hour of the day with the highest call volume.
  • Cost per call: The total costs for the call center divided by the total number of calls.
  • Call transfer rate: The percentage of calls that get transferred to another agent or department.
  • Repeat calls: The percentage of calls that are from customers calling again about the same issue.
  • Active waiting calls: The number of calls currently on hold waiting for an agent.
  • Average call duration: The average time spent by an agent handling a call.
  • Call availability: The percentage of calls successfully connected to an agent rather than blocked.
  • Percentage of calls blocked: The percentage of incoming calls that do not get connected to an agent due to high volume.

How to Improve Your Call Center Metrics

Once you’ve identified the call center metrics you want to track, it’s time to move onto the second step: improving your numbers. Here’s how to get started.

1. Implement The Latest Call Center Technology

When customers call contact centers, the experience isn’t particularly wowing on their end: they’re greeted with a welcome message, nudged through an IVR menu, and connected with an agent.

But behind the scenes, modern call centers are powered by impressive technology, from call routing to CRM integration to real-time analytics. And, of course, there’s the latest addition, artificial intelligence, which has opened the door to powerful tools like sentiment analysis and AI agent coaching.

For example, Dialpad’s call center software can show all current live agent calls along with the AI-analyzed sentiment scores, making it easy for call center managers to understand where to devote their attention.

dialpad screenshot of their support
Image from Dialpad

To make sure your call center is benefiting from the latest technology, focus on these areas:

  • Call Center Software: With all-in-one contact center tools, you can centralize omnichannel communications, call routing, CRM, and analytics. Built-in reporting eliminates manual tracking, and automated alerts are triggered when metrics fall below targets.
  • AI and Machine Learning: Speech analytics and sentiment analysis are among the big trends in AI call center software; by 2025 nearly 95% of customer interactions will be run through sentiment analysis tools. Real-time coaching and live CSAT scores are other features enabled by AI. Meanwhile, machine learning can handle compliance monitoring, automatic categorization, and predictive modeling.
  • Omnichannel Strategies: Aided by technology, today’s contact centers are increasingly omnichannel. That means in addition to calls, agents may also handle customer queries across email, chat, and social media to provide a higher level of service.

2. Continuous Improvement for Agents

Here’s a sobering fact: many call center training sessions just aren’t that effective. 58% of call center agents say they get “very little” benefit from the company coaching sessions they attend. The good news is that newer techniques like real-time coaching can improve performance (by as much as 12%).

Software can facilitate this. For example, Aircall’s call center software makes it easy to see active agent calls and click a “Coach” button to listen in and provide live assistance to your agents. This kind of real-time coaching tends to work better than training sessions (which deal in hypotheticals) or post-call feedback (which doesn’t give agents the opportunity for immediate practice).

aircall screenshot
Image from Aircall

When considering how to improve agent performance, start here:

  • Agent Training: Well-trained agents perform better on key metrics like first contact resolution and CSAT. Create ongoing learning plans covering product knowledge, soft skills, and feedback analysis. Consider implementing real-time coaching, aided by technology, to train new agents and upskill existing ones.
  • Incentives: Use performance-based incentives like bonuses or recognition programs to motivate agents—and make sure your incentives are tied to key performance indicators.
  • Feedback Loops: Your agents and customers are a goldmine of ideas to improve your service. Continuously iterate based on agent and customer feedback, using big picture metrics like CSAT to track progress.

3. Fine-Tune Your Call Center Processes

When call center inefficiencies and bottlenecks happen, it’s hard for agents to deliver satisfactory experiences. The answer? Optimize your behind-the-scenes processes so agents can focus on helping customers.

Here’s one example: Cloudtalk’s skill-based routing feature allows you to create advanced routing workflows. By automatically connecting callers to the agents with the best language or technical skills to help them, skill-based routing reduces inefficiencies (and makes life easier for customers and agents).

cloudtalk screenshot
Image from Cloudtalk

Consider the following areas for operational fine-tuning:

  • Optimize Call Routing: Poor call routing means more calls get transferred, customers get frustrated, and calls take longer. By matching customers to agents who have the skills (and availability) to resolve their needs fast, you can improve customer outcomes. You may also want to prioritize VIP customers via priority routing queues, or use CRM data to route customers to dedicated representatives.
  • Refine Scripts and Knowledge Base: It’s easy to understand why fine-tuning scripts, templates, and processes (such as when to transfer or escalate customers) might improve call center outcomes. But enhancing your knowledge base articles can also play a key role in call center KPIs like average handle time.
  • Staff For Your Busiest Times: Sure, you can add a welcome message that says “Sorry, we’re experiencing unusually high call volumes.” But customers have heard it all before; they still want answers fast. Look at historical data to predict peaks in call volume by day, week, and season. Plan agent staffing levels accordingly so hold times don’t shoot up when demand spikes.

Turning Metrics Into Better Customer Experiences

On average, call centers handle 4,400 calls per month. Every one of those calls is a chance to impact customer experience for the better—which means that the impact of a high-performing call center on your business’s performance is massive.

Without direction, though, the path to improving call center performance can be overwhelming. But with performance metrics like service level and AHT guiding you, it’s easier to embark on a project of continuous improvement—and correct course when needed. By meticulously tracking your call center metrics, you’re opening the door to a more efficiently-run call center, happier agents, and better customer experiences.

Ready to dive deeper into metrics? Check out our guides to customer service metrics and the top CX metrics. And don’t miss the chance to subscribe to the CX Lead newsletter for the latest from the brightest minds in the worlds of CX and customer service.

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