Customer Support Metrics to Focus on from Day One

Whether you are starting a new business or have a newly formed customer support function, it’s important to have a strong set of metrics on day one to get your operations off to a good start. Delivering high quality and efficient support to your customers is essential to keeping them satisfied and building customer loyalty that will lead to a positive reputation and future sales opportunities. A good set of metrics can help you understand how well your support processes are meeting customers’ needs and provide insights into improvement areas that will increase cost effectiveness and customer impact.

Customer Support Metrics Bring Consistency to Highly Subjective Tasks

While it might seem that customer support is highly subjective, due to the wide variety of issues that your staff will address, an effective support function should be driven by a clear and well understood process supported by objective metrics. Your customer support processes will address the mechanics of how support services are provided, enabling staff members to focus their attention on the customer’s issue. It’s like riding a bicycle – once the rider is comfortable with the mechanics of balance, peddling, steering, etc., they can focus their attention on where they are trying to go. Providing customer support is very similar.

The fundamental mechanics of customer support for most organizations are embodied in a set of processes and tools that the employee uses to aid them in providing support activities. Some examples of processes could include things like capturing information from the customer about their issue, reviewing customer contact history, using troubleshooting guides to diagnose issues, escalation to other support resources, and following up to ensure that the customer’s issue is fully resolved. Support agents will use tools like ticketing systems, knowledge management databases, customer contact systems and diagnostic tools to help provide them with information and resources to solve the customer’s issue more efficiently.

The wide variety of processes and tools available to employees may be helpful but can also be distracting – like having too many tools in your toolbox and not knowing which one to use for a job. This is where metrics come into play. Customer support metrics enable you to provide clear guidance to your employees about what needs to be done consistently and how their performance will be measured. This guidance can help them select the right approaches, processes and support tools to solve the customer’s issue effectively and efficiently.

Implement Customer Support Metrics Today but Prepare for Tomorrow

When starting a new customer support function, it may be confusing to figure out what metrics you need from day one. Your customer support function will probably start out small, with only one or a few team members responsible for addressing a broad set of customer issues. At the start, the team will probably need only a few, informal processes and some basic tools. You may think that metrics aren’t necessary at this stage, but this is the ideal time to put them in place. As your customer support function grows and you add more team members, processes and tools become an essential part of managing performance and ensuring consistent, high quality service to your customers.

While it might seem like establishing metrics is something that can wait until your customer support function starts growing, establishing the right core set of metrics from day one, measuring them consistently and using them to drive decision making can help set your team up for long term success.

  • If metrics are part of your support function from day one, employees will be less resistant when you evolve and expand them later
  • Measuring from the start of operations can show how performance is improving over time.
  • Customer support metrics can help you understand capacity utilization and plan resources effectively
  • Strong metrics can help your customer support function grow and mature faster

Like many other operational metrics, customer support metrics need to be clearly defined and well understood to be effective as a management tool. Good customer support metrics should follow the SMART guidelines:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound

Developing a Well-balanced Set of Customer Support Metrics

Your customer support metrics portfolio should be deliberate and focus on those aspects of the support function where consistency adds the most value to your organization. For most companies, there are 3 aspects of customer support where metrics are most helpful:

  1. Productivity: Understanding the amount of work being done
  2. Performance: Understanding how long it takes to resolve an issue
  3. Quality: Understanding the impact you are having on customers

The key to a successful customer support function is to keep productivity, performance and quality all under control and well balanced as it is common for changes in one area to impact another. Tracking these dimensions consistently can help you understand when things are going awry and adjustments may be needed in your operations. For example, increased work volumes can cause resolution of issues to take longer. Or if support team members are too narrowly focused on resolving issues quickly, they may not address the customer’s issue completely, causing them to either be dissatisfied or call back to seek additional help.

A balance metrics portfolio isn’t just about what you are measuring, it is about what you use the information for. Metrics are a tool to provide insights to leaders and decision makers that result in operational change. Using this tool effectively requires an understanding about how the metrics relate to the support operations themselves and the impacts a change in one area has on another. Some metrics just provide insight into what is happening (such as the number of issues raised by customers) – there isn’t much that leaders can do to change these metrics, they can just understand them. Other metrics represent things that can be influenced or controlled – for example, the effort spent working on each issue can be improved through staff training. Understanding the difference between these two types of metrics can help the organization understand where the levers are that can be used to tune operational results.

Productivity Metrics

The most basic set of customer support metrics are productivity metrics – the things that help you understand the amount of work being done within your support function. There are 3 productivity metrics that every organization should track from day one.

#1 Number of new issues logged each day

This is a measure of your process input and the demand for support services from your customers. It is important to track not only the average number of issues logged during a period but also the specifics of when the request was received. This will help you determine staffing needs, working hours and gain a better understanding of your customers’ behavior. For example, you may find customer return requests are more common on certain days of the week and/or product setup questions are more frequent during certain time periods.

#2 Number of issues resolved each day

This is a measure of your process output and the most-simple indicator of the capacity of your support function. If the number of issues resolved each day is consistently less than the number of new issues that are coming in, it may indicate that you are developing a backlog of work which could cause customer issues to be delayed. Conversely, if all the issues that come in during a certain day can be resolved, this could be an indicator of excess support capacity.

#3 Effort (active time) spent on each issue

Measuring the active time spent working on issues can provide two important insights. It can help you understand how much capacity you have for resolving customer issues, so you can know when training and/or additional hiring is needed. It can also provide you a baseline for setting expectations with customers on how long it will take to address their issue. You don’t want to commit to having issues resolved within 30 min if it takes an average of 2 hours to address them

Performance Metrics

While productivity metrics focus on the amount of work taking place, performance metrics focus on how much time it takes for certain activities to take place. Depending on the complexity of your support processes, there may be quite a few activities that you could measure, but there are two productivity metrics that all customer support teams should measure from day one. It is important to note that both metrics are evaluated from the customer’s perspective, not the support team’s perspective.

#4 Response time (sometimes called time to engage)

This is the time that elapses between the customer alerting you that they need assistance and your support team member actively engaging with them. For in-person support, telephone support and chat-based support, response time may need to be measured in seconds or minutes as the customer expectation is to receive an immediate response. For support issues submitted through email and web-forms, response time may be measured in hours or days. In either case, the support timer in the customer’s mind starts running as soon as they alert you to their need. Understanding and improving response time can often have a large impact on the quality of your support function.

#5 Resolution Time 

This is the elapsed time from the customer alerting you to their need until that need is met. It is important to know how quickly you are resolving issues as this is the most basic indicator of how well your support team is doing and meeting customer needs. Please note that resolution time is different from the effort metric discussed in the productivity section above — the resolution time counter doesn’t stop when an issue gets transferred between support agents, is pending input from a 3rd party or outside of the company’s business hours. The counter stops only when the customer need is met.

As your customer support operations grow and become more sophisticated, you may find it necessary to add more performance metrics to help evaluate the impact that individuals, teams and/or activities are having on the overall response time and resolution time metrics. Those second level productivity metrics will be highly dependent on the unique needs of your organization and the questions you are trying to answer. The supporting metrics should not replace response time and resolution time in your metrics portfolio but rather help you understand them better.

Quality Metrics

The reason you have a customer support function is because your customers have needs that you are trying to fulfill. Quality metrics are those that help you assess how successful your support function is executing their mission. While some of these metrics have the element of time attached to them, they should not be confused with the performance metrics discussed above. Here are five quality metrics focused on customer sentiment that all organizations should measure.

#6 Call wait time

This is a measure of the time customers expect to be actively engaged with your employees but are “on-hold” or otherwise disengaged. Call wait time occurs at the beginning of the support interaction (in queue waiting to be connected with someone), or during the interaction as the support agent goes off to research something or transfers the issue to someone else. Excessive call wait time can cause customer frustration and an agitated tone to the interaction – leading to a poor perception of the support process. Call wait time applies to chat, email, web and other forms of digital engagement (not just telephone) as well as time spent waiting in line for in-person support.

#7 First Call Resolution (FCR)

Engaging customers multiple times (or by multiple agents) is both inefficient as well as frustrating for the customer. While your company may view each call, each ticket, or each support queue as independent engagement with it’s own set of SLAs, for the customer there is only one issue that they are trying to have resolved. Measuring first call resolution helps you understand how efficient your team is in addressing the customer’s whole issue.

#8 Number of escalation requests

This metric is both an indicator of customer sentiment as well as support team member effectiveness. Escalations are indicators that the support agent does not have the knowledge and/or resources to resolve the customer’s issue on their own. Tracking escalation requests can help you identify areas where additional training and resources can be applied to increase agent effectiveness.

#9 Customer Satisfaction (CSAT)

This is most frequently measured using post-support surveys which ask the customer to rate their satisfaction with the service received. The scores from these surveys provide a general sense of customers’ happiness, but more importantly can highlight opportunities for continuous improvement of the support function.

#10 Net Promoter Score (NPS)

While CSAT focuses on general happiness and actionable feedback, the Net Promoter Score is one of the simplest (and most accurate) indicators of the impact the customer support experience has on the customer’s overall perception of your company. It can be assumed that a customer is happy with your company when they make a purchase from you. If the NPS indicates that they are not likely to recommend your business to a friend or family member, it is an indicator that either the underlying support issue (problem with the product) or the support experience has tainted the customer’s overall perception.

Benchmark CSAT customer service

Pro Tips to Find Out Customer Support Metrics that are Right for You

Keep it simple 

When your customer support function is just getting going, remember that less is more. Pick a few meaningful metrics that you know you will use instead of measuring things just because you can. Choose metrics that are easy to track and measure. If measurement is difficult or complex calculations are necessary, focus will be drawn to the mechanics of measurement and away from the operations you are trying to improve. Use the reporting tools you have already – the best measurements are those that can be derived from normal day-to-day operations and don’t require any additional overhead activities on the part of your support teams.

Focus on actionable insights

The reason companies capture metrics is not to have them, but to use them to make decisions to improve operations. Whether it’s evaluating staffing levels, driving process improvements, influencing customer perceptions or identifying self-service opportunities, the key is ensuring that the things that you measure are convertible into insights that drive action.

Use Customer Support Metrics that are Scalable

Expect that as your customer support function grows, you will outgrow your metrics portfolio and need to expand it to measure some things in more depth and other facets of your processes that your initial metrics don’t capture. The reason you are establishing a set of metrics from day one is to create a starting place and foundation for future growth. Don’t hesitate to re-evaluate your metrics as new questions arise that require insights to answer.

With the right set of processes, the right set of tools and right set of day one metrics to get you started, you can get your customer support operations off to a strong start – providing the insights you need to execute today and prepare for tomorrow.