Rethinking Contact Center KPIs – Part 1

The way most contact centers measure performance is wrong. I’ve met a lot of managers who argue that they use KPIs to measure customer satisfaction, while that is actually rarely the case.

When deciding which contact center KPIs to measure, many are decided upon from the point-of-view of the company and don’t reflect actual customer satisfaction. We all need to be more conscious and conscientious about our use of KPIs – which ones do you measure and how do you use them in communication and reporting to the rest of your organization? Which ones are the best indicators of productivity and performance and which ones are the best indicators of customer satisfaction?

Things have changed in the past 10 years in customer service, and how we treat our customers has now become a differentiator in most industries’ competitive landscapes. To excel from a business standpoint, now is the time to truly put the customer at the center. In order do that, it has become necessary for a lot of contact centers to revisit which KPIs you measure and why. That’s not to say that some KPIs are useless, in fact most of the well-known ones have their uses. However, I do believe that you’ll most likely improve your customer experience and help your business at the same time if you rethink your KPIs.

In the following, I’ll go through each of the commonly measured KPIs and have a closer look at some pitfalls and fallacies in regards to their relationship with customer satisfaction specifically.

Service level

Is answering 80% of calls within 30 seconds good customer service? Not necessarily. Is it a reflection of customer satisfaction? Only very rarely will it correlate well with customer satisfaction. What is it then? It’s mainly an internal KPI to measure the performance of your call center. For that purpose, and that purpose alone, measuring and following up on your service level is definitely a good thing, but don’t make the mistake of thinking you are doing so for the customer’s sake.

I’ve seen many contact centers make strategic, tactical and operational dispositions based almost solely on service level results in conjunction with number of contacts and cost per contact. This paradigm is exactly what now leads to bad customer service – something that most businesses can no longer afford as customers become less loyal.

Like I said, most KPIs have their fair uses, and service level does as well. One case is when service level drops dramatically. When this happens either one of two things (or both) happened:

  1. You had fewer agents available than needed – due to workforce planning or employees not showing up for work, whatever their reason.
  2. You had more customers contact you than expected.

If it is indeed 2, then you will be the first in line to collect valuable feedback. Taking that part of your job very seriously is a great way to improve not just customer service (and the cost of it) but also other, crucial parts of your business and product. Exactly how to go about this task easily takes up as much space as this article, so in the interest of rethinking KPIs, I’ll move on with a promise to return to this subject later.

Average waiting time

When looking at Average Waiting Time (AWT), firstly, you won’t have an adequate measure of AWT unless you ask your customers if they experienced the waiting time as short, adequate, long or too long. Most companies do not ask their customers this question and, sadly, without customer feedback, AWT doesn’t reflect any customer value in and of itself.

One of the reasons for this is that local culture and the type of product or service you sell create very different expectations. In the Nordics (I’m from Denmark) there’s a big difference between expectations for an acceptable waiting time amongst customers in Denmark and Sweden, in spite of the fact that we’re neighbours and so alike in many ways that most other nationalities can’t tell us apart. I once did a customer survey in which we asked our customers how they experienced the waiting time on the phone to get through to customer service. In Denmark, there was an average waiting time of 30 seconds and the majority of the respondents felt the waiting time was long or too long. In Sweden, there was an average waiting time of two minutes and the majority of respondents felt the waiting time was adequate. Similarly, different products carry different expectations for an acceptable waiting time. As a rule of thumb, the more complex the product and the higher the perceived value, the longer wait time people will find acceptable.

Personally, I have almost always worked with a goal of answering 80% of all offered calls within 30 seconds (for telephony). The rationale behind that goal being that a short time to answer equals higher customer satisfaction. I have since learned that this is not always true; in one case, my department went from an AWT of 30 seconds to an AWT of 2 minutes without any noticeable change in customer satisfaction.

As it turns out there are factors at play when reducing wait time that are much more valuable than just a short AWT. One of them is routing customers to a person that is able to solve their issue with as little effort and as quickly as possible. If given the choice, most customers would rather wait longer and get their issue resolved with the first contact than get through quickly to an agent who is unable to resolve the issue. And that’s reflected in customer satisfaction. I guess the lessons here are:

  1. Never compromise your first-contact-resolution rate on behalf of a lower AWT, at least not if you value customer satisfaction.
  2. Don’t standardize your AWT across different cultures and products/services.

Answered calls

Answering a call from a customer directly creates customer value. An abandoned call means that a customer gave up and that’s always a bad experience for the customer. And it’s bad for the company, since it can be a missed opportunity to make a sale or retain said customer.


Tue Søttrup

Tue Søttrup

Tue brings over 20 years of experience in customer service to his role as VP CX Excellence at Dixa.

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