Originally published in Contact Center Pipeline, May 2012
Have you ever picked up the phone to call a business, all the while thinking "I sure hope they are unable to handle my issue during this call and I need to call them back at least once to get this resolved"? Of course not. Any contact received from a customer comes with a set of expectations, and surely one of those is that the issue will be completely resolved by the time the contact ends.
First Contact Resolution (FCR) is our way of measuring this characteristic, and many in the industry count this as one of our most important metrics. In fact, I was reading through a research paper not long ago and FCR was described as the "holy grail of call center satisfaction". That may be going a shade too far, but anyone that has worked in the industry would be quick to agree that high FCR is a key ingredient in a well-run center.
Finding Your FCR Opportunities
Where a metric like customer satisfaction is somewhat vague in terms of improvement efforts, FCR is quite the opposite. At a high level, there is no secret about how it needs to improve - determine the reasons why inquiries are not handled at first contact, then address each one. The trick with FCR is in figuring out what specific efforts you need to make to get the highest payback.
In driving up your FCR rates, there are a couple of reports that are great starting points. Start your research with your CRM/Call Tracking system. If it has been well designed, there is a status code associated with the contact that indicates whether the contact is closed or still open (it may be manually entered by the rep, or auto-filled based on the delivery of the case/service request to another area). This may not perfectly match your customer's perception regarding closure, but the open cases represent an excellent opportunity to improve FCR.
In researching the open cases, your focus is on the "why". Start creating categories that define the reasons why a contact is not resolved. A typical list may look something like this:
Information not available in the systems the rep can access
Rep not trained to handle this type of call; specialists handle via callback
Rep not authorized to make financial adjustment requested by customer
Issue too complex to handle during an inbound call
Tracking the number of instances by reason will provide you with the direction you need to determine the biggest opportunities. If, for instance, the most common problem is the request for a $75 adjustment when reps are only authorized for $50, you can now weigh an advantage (higher FCR) against the financial risk that increasing an authority limit can bring.
And what about the closed cases? On first glance, it seems unlikely they would be a good source for finding FCR improvement opportunities. Remember, though, that the status is reflective of what the rep thought at the time, and there are a number of situations where this perception could be incorrect. Customers calling back on previously closed cases represent the most important FCR opportunities. While few contact centers do it, a best practice is to allow the second rep to change the status, and have that change immediately trigger an alert that forwards the case to a specialist for review.
Outside of your CRM system, you can also get critical input from your ACD reports. Here, the most important statistic is the transfer rate (the percent of calls transferred divided by calls answered). Viewing this by rep may prove illuminating, as it is common to find a few reps with a transfer rate two or three times the group average. It is also helpful to look at transfer rates by skill groups, as an imbalance here could be an indication that call routing menus/scripts need to be adjusted.
Beyond reporting, an escalation desk is a great place for FCR research. Better run escalation desks do a very thorough job of documenting each call, whether it is a transfer or a request for guidance. Within this documentation lies the information needed to determine what causes escalations, and in researching the cases you may often find a string of contacts that were never effectively handled to the customer's expectation level.
As is often the case, your quality monitoring program is another input source for improving FCR. QA specialists are in a better position to evaluate a contact for FCR than the rep, and it is easy to construct feedback tools that track reasons why calls were not resolved right in a monitoring form.
The Transfer Question
When discussing FCR, there are different opinions concerning transferred calls. Some believe that if a call has to be transferred, then it does not meet the definition of FCR. Others would argue that as long as the second rep can complete the inquiry, then the customer experienced FCR.
The impact of transfers on FCR is more an issue of "how" rather than "if". When a company routinely engages in cold transfers, and the customer needs to start the call over from the beginning, it will not feel like FCR to the caller. A well-handled transfer, though, where the second resource answers quickly and the first rep stays on to make an introduction and ensure a smooth transition, feels quite a bit different. The more a transfer feels like three way conferencing, the stronger the argument that it meets the FCR definition.
Purists will likely always consider a transfer as a failure in FCR terms. They may have a legitimate argument, and the strength to this approach is that the organization will work to weed out unnecessary transfers. The potential drawback, though, is that there is less motivation to install the very best transfer procedures - "it will not meet FCR, so just drop it into the queue cold and focus on the next caller". Yet customer friendly transfer processes are important and clearly add to customer satisfaction. Regardless of your treatment of these in relation to FCR, your contact center is better off with well defined, customer-friendly transfer procedures.
FCR suffers from the same plight as all contact center metrics: it is only a piece of the puzzle. A customer that has to negotiate a poorly designed menu and then wait a long time for an unmotivated CSR will not be placated by first contact resolution. Yet customers continually stress the importance of "one and done" service, and high FCR rates do not happen by accident. Developing the reports and processes that shed insight on FCR opportunities will increase customer satisfaction levels while decreasing call volume and operating costs. When everyone is a winner, the effort is worth it.