By Craig Barbakow, Kepner-Tregoe

A call comes into the service desk and the incident is instantly resolved. Is this always a sign of success? First Call Resolution (also "First Contact Resolution" or “FCR”) has long been a critical metric for judging the health of a Service Desk or Call Center. It’s generally accepted that a high First Call Resolution (FCR) rate is a good thing – the higher the better!

FCR arguably has a more significant impact on customer satisfaction than any other Call Center metric. Numerous studies have consistently demonstrated that there is a high correlation between FCR and customer satisfaction (i.e. fewer delays, call backs and handoffs = fewer customer complaints). Level 1 agents tend to be paid less than more skilled 2nd and 3rd level support teams, so improving FCR also tends to lower operational costs (i.e. fewer escalations = less $).

For all of these reasons, FCR metrics are important to get right. However, there are three (3) main reasons why your FCR data could be giving you the wrong idea about your performance.

Reason #1: Many organizations do not clearly define and document FCR criteria. Even a clearly defined FCR metric can still be calculated in a way that does not make sense for the organization.

With a metric this important, you’d think there would be a clear definition for how to calculate FCR. However, you may be surprised to find out that there’s no industry standard for FCR. Not even the ITIL books provide a definitive definition for FCR.

So different organizations define this Key Performance Indicator (KPI) in different ways. Various FCR metric considerations include:

  •  Does FCR include both Incidents and Service Requests? Or are those calculated separately?
  •  What if the issue is resolved without the need for a call back, but an escalation or handoff to another agent was required?
  •   Does the FCR calculation include “call abandonment”? (i.e. the customer hangs up after waiting too long before speaking with an agent)?

Many other factors could be considered before deciding on the way your organization measures FCR. You need to know what you are measuring and why you are measuring it. How can you make good management decisions if you do not really understand what your data is telling you?

So before we jump into the details, let’s first define our terms. First Call Resolution is most typically described something like this: “The percentage of incoming calls that are incidents and can be resolved at first contact while the customer is still on the phone without the need to transfer the call to someone else (i.e. without the need for an escalation, call transfer or call back).”

Reason #2: Even if you do a good job of clearly defining FCR criteria and understanding your data, FCR can be a misleading KPI metric. FCR is generally high when a Service Desk is dealing with a lot of repeat calls for issues where the incident is recognized and there is a known workaround. However, a high FCR rate for this reason can be a symptom of poor proactive Problem Management. A high FCR rate may indicate that true “root cause” is not being sufficiently determined for recurring problems and that Known Errors are not being dealt with appropriately.

The real value of any IT department should be measured by its ability to eliminate repeat calls by identifying and removing the root cause from the IT environment (i.e. remediating Known Errors). A lower rate of FCR may actually be an indication that the Problem Management team is doing its job successfully because only new issues with unknown causes are reported to the Service Desk.

Reason #3: It’s true that effective reactive Problem Management will improve your FCR. But this is only a good thing if you are looking for temporary “Band-Aid” fixes to your issues (i.e. workarounds). Working this way, the Service Desk recognizes the call as yet another repeat incident, looks up the accepted workaround, and then applies the appropriate procedure for the customer – scoring one for the FCR metrics! However, the real goal should be to find and remediate root cause, thus eliminating repeating errors / incidents and any future calls related to it.

Consistent use of effective Root Cause Analysis (RCA) in Problem Management has the potential to provide real business value. The elimination of small, annoying issues that prompt regular Service Desk calls can have a large cumulative impact on productivity.

In summary, FCR can be a highly misleading metric if you do not understand what is behind the data. First Call Resolution metrics should be viewed analytically. A high FCR may be a sign that your organization has excellent Incident and/or Problem Management processes with skilful and knowledgeable IT staff utilizing advanced automation and Knowledge Management tools. However, a high FCR could also be an indication that your proactive Problem Management process needs improvement. Conversely a low FCR also needs a second look. A low FCR percentage is not necessarily an indicator of an ineffective Service Desk. A low FCR may indicate good proactive Problem Management.

The most important measure of first call resolution is the customer’s perception of whether or not their issue was resolved on the first attempt. One of the best ways to find out is to ask them directly with an automated email and/or phone survey. Or better yet, follow-up with a courtesy call from a real person and then listen to what your customers are telling you. 

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