First Contact Resolution (FCR) is one of the most important metrics you’ll utilise in the customer service environment. Customers want to have their problems resolved at the first time of asking and typically consider any customer service that requires multiple interactions to constitute poor service. This means customer satisfaction often depends upon FCR. Consequently, we thought it would be a good idea to take an in-depth look at how you can improve your first contact resolution rate in 2019.
Ensure you’re measuring the right thing by developing a working definition of FCR
If you’re going to try and improve your FCR rate, it’s absolutely essential that you establish a working definition of FCR and provide criteria that allow employees to accurately determine when a call is “resolved.” Without such a definition, it’s impossible to measure, analyse, and improve with any accuracy. In other words, if you don’t define your metric, there is no guarantee of accuracy and no way of knowing whether you’re improving your customer service.
A working definition of FCR will always take into consideration the specific characteristics of your customer service environment. For example:
- How are customers most likely to contact your business?
- How realistic is first contact resolution in your current system?
- Why are customers opting to use certain channels as a means of first contact?
However, there are general definitions that can be adapted to specific workplaces. For instance, FCR is often described as “the percentage of contacts that are resolved by the service desk on the first interaction with the customer.”
Historically, before alternative communication channels emerged, the phone call was king and customer service centres used the term ‘first call resolution.’ This has now been changed to ‘first contact resolution,’ as text-based, live chat and other internet technologies have increased in importance. In the past, first contact resolution would have been defined as, “properly addressing the customer’s needs the first time they call, thereby eliminating the need for the customer to follow up with a second call.” (SearchCRM)
This distinction between ‘contact’ and ‘call’ is vital, as businesses need to understand that customers expect their problems to be resolved as quickly as possible, no matter what channel is used. If a customer service department is still prioritising calls over other channels, it’s not playing the same game as its customers and will offer an unsatisfactory service.
Increase first contact resolution by understanding where the process can be improved
In order to improve something, you first need to identify and isolate problem points. If your first contact resolution rate is low, it’s unlikely that your entire customer service system is broken. Instead, there will be a few isolated areas in which your team is underperforming. Identifying, isolating, and understanding these troublesome processes is absolutely necessary if you’re to implement measures that impact positively on your first contact resolution rate.
One of the key ways in which you can better understand the failures of your customer service system is by following up on those occasions when customers express dissatisfaction or when there is no first contact resolution. This means introducing a process by which agents or digital systems identify and flag repeat contact.
There are various ways to achieve this. For instance, filters can be set up to ensure that calls originating from the same telephone or account number are automatically flagged if they occur within a certain period of time. Likewise, speech and text analytics can be used to identify specific phrases that are indicative of repeat contact. This may include phrases such as “called before,” “last time I called,” “repeat problem,” or “return policy.”
Feedback mechanisms, such as customer satisfaction surveys, are also an excellent means of determining where your service can be improved. These are particularly useful when used at the end of a call, as they allow a customer service department to confirm FCR. It’s often good practice to ask a customer directly whether their issue has been resolved, as it reinforces the idea of ‘resolution’ in both the agent’s and customer’s minds. Surveys also give customers an opportunity to provide further information as to how and why their problem has not been resolved.
Improve FCR by limiting the occasions on which a client can be handed off
One sure-fire way to sky-rocket your FCR, lower costs and keep customers happy is to effectively answer high-volume simple queries using Chatbots or IVR. A human agent does not need to answer the question: “when is the next council bin collection?” or “what is your returns policy?”, when all the enquirer needs is a quick answer. Making sure your valuable human agents are deployed in the most appropriate areas keeps everyone happy.
For those queries when a customer service agent is required, make sure you identify the times when they feel they have to pass a customer onto a colleague or refer them to another source of information. It’s instances such as these that push first contact rate in the wrong direction. Ensure your human agents have the skills and resources required to resolve as many core customer issues as possible, or that your phone tree sends them to the right expert, first time.
Businesses can equip their staff in the right way by taking three factors into consideration. They are;
- Staff must be given as much independence and authority as possible
- Staff need to be able to go ‘above and beyond’ to meet customers’ needs
- Staff need to be presented with the ‘right’ problems
Human agents are often limited in their ability to resolve issues by a restrictive bureaucracy or hierarchy. By this, we mean that agents often aren’t able to resolve customer issues because department protocol requires them to escalate certain issues to a superior. If first contact resolution is to be improved, agents need to be provided with independence and authority – they need to be trusted to perform their role.
This also ties in with our second factor – staff must be encouraged to use their initiative to think beyond the confines of scripted or pre-defined responses, to offer innovative and unique solutions to customers’ issues. If you limit a human agent by placing them within a restrictive and inflexible customer service system, you are robbing them of their most valuable traits – their ability to empathise, adapt, and make exceptions.
Finally, a business’ customer services system needs to be set up so as to identify and funnel particular problems to particular agents. An effective response system will utilise customer service technologies to try and identify the purpose of the contact and push it towards the most suitable department or individual. In this respect, Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technologies are particularly useful.
Equip your business to succeed by investing in staff
Along with providing staff with the necessary independence and authority to perform their role, customer service departments also need to invest in them. This means earmarking time and money for training purposes and considering the ways in which you can improve employee performance through training. This is an essential aspect of any holistic approach to FCR rates – human capabilities are just as important as technological developments and the way the two interact will determine how successful the customer service system is.
Training is an important factor for three reasons;
- It broadens the arena in which a human agent can comfortably and successfully act
- It provides agents with the skills required to interact with different personality types
- It equips agents with the confidence and capacity to move away from a scripted response
The first of these reasons is fairly self-explanatory. Studies demonstrate that FCR rates improve when the same agent handles the issue from beginning to end. However, an agent’s ability to do so depends on the expertise they’re able to draw upon. If they’re trained in a wider range of topics, they’re more likely to be able to resolve an issue the first time around. Similarly, if your customer service agents are provided with the training required to interact with different personality types, they’re likely to feel more comfortable handling difficult customers.
Finally, scripted responses often lack the nuance required to truly satisfy customers. An agent who is able to move away from the script and interact with a customer and their specific circumstances is much better equipped to provide both a resolution and satisfactory service. Training is the principal means by which you give agents the confidence and ability to do this. It’s also a good opportunity to reinforce the importance of FCR to staff.
Make finding a solution easier by providing agents with all the information they need
The point at which human agents and digital technologies interface most regularly is the customer experience (CX) or customer relationship manager (CRM) platforms. These platforms help manage a business’ interactions with customers by providing agents with all the information they require to handle and process contact. Without a platform that is able to track contact across various different channels, agents will often go into an exchange with a less-than-perfect understanding of the customer, their history, or their particular problem.
Through these platforms, agents should have access to all pertinent information and data relating to the customer and stored by the business. Some organisations refer to this as a “360-degree view” of the customer. The platform should be quick and easy to access and navigate and needs to be designed so as to allow for intuitive use during contact.
Providing customer service agents with this information improves their ability to resolve complex issues and to do so in a way that satisfies the customer. Being able to see previous interactions (particularly text-based interactions) provides the agent with additional context and allows for a more personal conversation. Again, more personal interactions make for a more satisfactory customer experience.
Streamline customer services by automating simple tasks
Self-serve and automation technologies need to be implemented alongside human agents if a business is to provide high-quality customer service. One does not work without the other and both are necessary components of modern customer service provision. Automation of relatively simple tasks through the use of modern technologies like chatbots and IVR boasts various benefits. These benefits include, but are not limited to;
- Frees up human agents to focus on more complex issues
- Ensures human agents are more engaged with their work. This, in turn, increases the likelihood of first contact resolution
- Improves the probability of a customer being able to resolve an issue by themselves at the first time of asking.
Chatbots, in particular, are becoming an indispensable technology for improving FCR rates. Not only can they provide solutions to increasingly complex customer issues, but they’re also capable of gathering important customer data that can then be leveraged by a human agent to offer a solution. While automation technologies are a common feature of modern customer service provision, it’s also important that businesses don’t forget about simpler self-service features, such as FAQs.
Back your staff by developing a strong and easily understood support structure
While it is front line workers that typically interact with the general public on a day-to-day basis, there should be an effective support structure operating behind the scenes to provide them with all the assistance they need. Without such a structure, customer service agents are poorly equipped to handle large quantities of interactions.
A major characteristic of successful support systems is that they work to optimise the conditions in which agents operate. For instance, they’ll understand which teams are skilled in certain areas and which have developed expertise in others. This allows a business to develop processing procedures that direct traffic to the right agents, improving the possibility of resolving the contact first time. Similarly, a well-developed support structure will be able to provide the right resources and training to those who require it. It will also offer customer service agents a channel through which they can ask questions, raise issues, and request help, encouraging them to develop their own skills.
Ensure you’re getting it right by regularly monitoring customer satisfaction and FCR
Finally, regular monitoring of customer satisfaction and first contact resolution rates is an important means of identifying issues early on, before they begin impacting on the customer service team’s performance too drastically. If businesses attempt to resolve problems too late, they face a much greater challenge and could end up alienating a considerable number of customers. If monitoring figures are only published at the end of the month, it could be weeks before resolutions to customer services issues are identified and corrective action is taken. Consequently, if you’re to improve FCR rates, up-to-date monitoring technology that allows for real-time analysis is absolutely essential.
Improving first contact resolution rates depends on balancing investment and development of both human agents and digital self-service technologies. Neither is sufficient on its own and both are improved by their collaboration. Consequently, businesses should be looking to develop human agents’ skills and abilities on the phone, but also utilising digital technologies to optimise the way in which interactions are processed and, where possible, to offer solutions.
Have a question or want further information on increasing your first contact resolution rate? Our expert team have been providing customer contact solutions for over 25 years. Call us on 01344 595800 or drop us a line.