August 6, 2020

How to build a metrics-driven support culture

We hear a lot about metrics in customer support, but what does it take to create a metrics-driven culture?

It can be tempting to delay setting and tracking metrics for your team. When the team fits around a table (or on a single video call) and there’s always more work to be done, metrics may seem like an unnecessary distraction from the important work you’re doing. But as your team grows to 10 agents, then 100, then 1000; and as you expand from email into realtime channels, the ad hoc monitoring processes start to break down. What was once a manageable backlog quickly balloons unexpectedly; top performers scramble to keep up but there’s no clear source of the issue or an end in sight. Response times and service levels suffer as a result and it’s reflected in the company’s bottom line.

Setting metrics in line with wider priorities

The solution is to consistently measure the key metrics you identify and make the necessary staffing and process decisions in response. Choosing the customer service analytics you measure provides a clear message to your team and to leadership: these are the things we care about and these are the things that we’re unwilling to compromise on. Whether you’re looking at granular metrics like response time by quartile and average handle time (AHT) or you’re just starting out measuring the number of cases or customer satisfaction (CSAT), these numbers can and should feed into the decision-making process in a defining way.

Take Zappos, for example and their "Happiness Experience Form." Each and every customer interaction is graded on a scale of 100—not for efficiency, but instead for the agent's ability to establish an emotional connection and deliver a "WOW" experience [0]. By making this metric a top priority, Zappos has shaped the way their customer service team interacts with their customers. The message is clear: take your time, focus on WOW. Other metrics, like occupancy or handle time take a backseat to WOW. And the results speak for themselves; Zappos has won awards for their "fanatical levels of customer devotion" [1] and consider it to be a core component of who they are as a company [2].

At a base level, metrics are measurements which we believe indicate the relative success or failure of an endeavor and which we repeatedly return to assess the progress of an endeavor over time. Metrics are not a panacea for unorganized operations but until something is measured over time, you can’t reliably detect problems in the magnitude or direction of your key measures. Watching and tracking the team’s trends over time should give you a clear case for additional headcount, modified scheduling needs and product or process changes, among others. When you do make a change to one of these key levers, you can clearly see the effect it has on the measures that you care about.

Metrics help clarify tradeoffs

At the heart of it, operational excellence in support comes down to tradeoffs. Maybe you're already familiar with these personas:

  • Exec: "I want a 1 second response time and 99% efficiency."
  • Agent: "Why do we have to work on the weekends?"
  • Team lead: "I'm not sure how person X is performing."
  • Exec: "Why are Monday morning response times so bad? People need to work harder!"

You can't have it all! So the clearer you can see your current situation and the direction it's trending, the more effective you'll be at navigating your team to its ideal future. And importantly, you'll have the vocabulary needed to communicate to the rest of the company how and why you're making certain trade offs along the way.

Set a metrics-driven culture as early as possible

Setting a metrics-driven cultural tone as early as possible is critical. Not every metric or process will scale with the team but the idea of consulting metrics in decision-making and establishing set processes in response to customer needs will. If you don’t set this tone from the start, early teammates will increasingly feel disconnected from the support culture when metrics and more formal processes become necessary. This only becomes harder to implement as the team grows and habits become increasingly ingrained. Google famously adopted Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) in its very early days and still uses them to orient their business strategy today [3]. What you measure may change as your company grows, but why you measure your performance in the first place should remain constant.

Ultimately, metrics shape the way in which we view our own work. Taking the time to ensure that we’re measuring the things we want to improve and that those measurements feed into future decisions means that we can shape our workflows and processes in accordance with our own goals and the goals of the company at large. Expanding this mindset to the whole team ensures that the process takes hold and becomes a part of our daily work.





Photo by Nick Hillier on Unsplash

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