Article

12 call center metrics to track (and how to improve them)

Call centers play a key role in creating great customer experiences. Track these key call center metrics to measure performance and achieve customer service success.

By Peter Alig, Contributing Writer

Published June 12, 2018
Last updated March 17, 2022

With the rise of new support channels such as live chat and messaging, you might expect the number of phone calls to decrease. But this isn’t the case. According to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report, phone volume increased by 24 percent over the past year. And many customers still prefer to contact customer support by phone.

Efficient inbound call centers are the backbone of excellent phone support. Managers can use call center metrics to track the productivity of agents and the quality of support customers receive. From there, teams can identify concrete ways to meet call center goals and showcase wins to higher-ups.

Depending on their company size and industry, call center managers may measure different metrics and KPIs. In general, though, they will track call center metrics in three categories:

  • Customer experience
  • Agent performance
  • Call inception

We’ve broken down the 12 most important call center metrics to track across these categories so you can evaluate agent performance and improve the customer service experience.

What are call center metrics?

Call center metrics are key performance indicators (KPIs) that measure the success and efficiency of a call center. Call center metric examples include time to resolution, number of tickets solved in a day or a week, average handle time, schedule adherence, and talk time.

Customer experience metrics

A support agent may feel like they had a good phone call with a customer, but you can’t fully gauge the experience from their opinion alone. Send customer surveys regularly to better understand and assess the quality of your customer support.

1. CSAT + QA scores

Customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores indicate how satisfied customers are with the support they received.

CSAT is calculated using customer satisfaction surveys. Questions could be framed in different ways, such as:

  • Were you satisfied with ___? (Yes/No)
  • On a scale of 1–10, how satisfied are you with ___?
  • How would you rate your satisfaction with ___? (Unsatisfied, Somewhat Satisfied, Very Satisfied)

To find your CSAT score, divide all positive responses (e.g., “somewhat satisfied” and “very satisfied”) by the total responses received. Then, multiply that result by 100.

CSAT score

While helpful, this metric on its own doesn’t give you enough information to understand the root cause of poor customer experiences or customer churn. This is where QA scores come in handy.

Quality assurance (QA) scores measure the quality of an agent’s interactions against a QA scorecard. The call center manager listens to an agent’s conversation with a customer and then fills out the scorecard to grade different aspects of the interaction.

“QA is like a meta-metric,” says Isaac Lee, demand generation manager at MaestroQA. “The health of each metric you choose to track shows up in your QA scorecard. When one of them falters, you immediately know where and how to fix it because a QA analyst has identified that area of opportunity and flagged it.”

To determine QA scores, managers assign points to specific questions related to customer interactions on the scorecard. The final score is a percentage of the total points an agent earns.

After collecting CSAT and QA scores, review customer interactions to see if your agents met internal support standards. For example, did the agents use proper grammar? Did they speak to customers in the right tone of voice? How fast did they solve customer issues?

Managers who view specific CSAT ratings in tandem with QA scores can pinpoint areas of improvement in their call center operations. Sarah Reed, former call center leader and now senior director of content and event marketing at Zendesk, says combining both metrics can help you “clearly correlate your agent expectations to the needs of the customer.”

How to improve CSAT and QA scores

Numerical ratings have their limits. An 8 out of 10 is a good rating, but what holds the customer back from answering with a 9 or 10? Consider leaving an optional text box in the CSAT survey so customers can explain their answers.

If you’re not receiving the anticipated number of CSAT survey responses, try reminding the recipients that the surveys are anonymous. This can make customers feel more comfortable taking the survey. You could also incentivize them with a 10-percent discount on their next purchase if they respond within a certain time frame.

To raise QA scores, consider giving your agents improvement goals. For instance, if an agent has an average score of 6 for their customer service, see if they can increase their score to an 8 after 30 days. When they reach their goal, acknowledge their achievement by giving them a gift or reward. Make one-on-one coaching a priority for agents who are particularly struggling.

2. Customer Effort Score (CES)

As Reed puts it, “Customer Effort Score indicates how hard it is for a customer to get their needs achieved—be it because of process, product, or tools.” For call centers, CES shows how much effort customers put in to reach a support agent and get their issue resolved.

Research suggests that customer effort has a direct impact on customer loyalty. Gartner’s Customer Value Advantage report found that only 37 percent of consumers remain loyal to a brand after a “high-effort resolution,” whereas 61 percent stay loyal after a “low-effort resolution.”

Only 37% of consumers remain loyal to a brand after a “high-effort resolution,” whereas 61% stay loyal after a “low-effort resolution."

To determine CES, begin by conducting a survey to ask customers about the ease of their interaction. The response choices should range from “very easy” to “very difficult.” It’s also a good idea to include space for optional comments. The optimal time to send a CES survey is after a purchase, subscription sign-up, or customer service interaction.

Once you have the survey results, add up the ratings and divide the sum by the total number of responses.

customer effort score

A high CES may point to a problem with your team’s communication processes or tools. Customers might have to jump through hoops and listen to endless voice prompts before reaching an agent.

How to improve Customer Effort Score

To lower your CES, make it easier for customers to reach agents by offering contact options beyond the phone, such as live chat, email, and messaging. Providing self-service resources—including an FAQ page, knowledge base, and chatbots—empowers customers to solve basic issues on their own and also reduces the effort they must expend.

Additionally, you and your support team can work together to answer questions like:

  • What processes or obstacles get in the way of reaching resolutions quickly?
  • What resources, workflows, or skills help enable faster resolutions?
  • Do agents have the tools and training they need to effectively find solutions?

Agent performance metrics

To evaluate a call center agent, you don’t just want to answer the question, “Are they doing a good or bad job?” Agents face various issues and deal with different types of customers, so it’s better to adopt a more holistic approach. Evaluate how much effort agents put in and how they resolve customer issues by monitoring these metrics.

3. Agent effort score

Agent effort score (AES) is a call center KPI that reveals how easy it is for agents to provide support for their customers.

According to Reed, AES pinpoints where agents meet challenges that hinder them from delivering top-notch support experiences. It’s the only call center metric that gives insight into agent performance from the agent’s perspective.

To calculate AES, carry out a survey asking agents to rank how easy it is for them to support customers. Then, add up those scores and divide the sum by the number of respondents.

agent effort score

How to improve agent effort score

Speak with agents to understand which tasks or processes are the most time-intensive for them. Then, take action based on their responses and the trends you’re seeing.

For example, agents might not be able to track customer information because they don’t have access to those details. In such a case, investing in customer service software can set your team up for success. With a centralized workspace and customer data at their fingertips, agents will have the context they need to provide high-quality support and personalized experiences.

4. Average speed of answer

Average speed of answer (ASA) measures how long it takes support agents to answer inbound calls, starting from the point callers are placed in the queue.

To calculate ASA, divide the total amount of time customers spend waiting in the queue by the total number of calls answered.

average speed of answer

According to research by Call Centre Helper, the call center metric industry standard is to answer 80 percent of calls in 20 seconds or less. A high ASA might indicate that agents lack the training or knowledge needed to answer calls promptly. It can also suggest that your call center is understaffed. If average talk time is low but ASA is high, the call center may not have a sufficient number of agents needed to answer the volume of calls coming in.

How to improve average speed of answer

If agents are struggling to meet this call center KPI, consider the following solutions:

  • Hire more agents. Though expensive, expanding your team will allow you to handle more customer inquiries in a shorter amount of time.
  • If hiring more agents isn’t possible, enhance the agent onboarding process or provide ongoing call center training programs.
  • Perform an audit of your IVR (interactive voice response) system. You might learn that you need to increase its call threshold.

Customers who experience long wait times in the queue often become frustrated and impatient, so it’s crucial to monitor ASA consistently.

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5. Average talk time

Talk time refers to the number of minutes and seconds that elapses between an agent answering the phone and hanging up. Although sometimes confused with average handle time, talk time is different in that it doesn’t account for hold time or time spent following up after a call ends.

To calculate average talk time, divide the total amount of time spent talking to a customer on the phone (in minutes and seconds) by the total number of calls handled.

average talk time

Average talk time helps managers gauge their team’s ability to handle different types of customer service scenarios. For example, say a manager is analyzing the performance of an individual support agent whose average talk time is five minutes or less. But this month, the agent had a few calls that lasted more than 10 minutes. By reviewing the recordings of those lengthier calls, the manager can learn which issues the agent might be struggling with. Or, they may discover a bigger problem, such as an underlying issue with the product or service.

But keep in mind, a high talk time isn’t always a bad thing. Take retail and lifestyle brand Magnolia, for instance. Approximately half of the calls are from fans who call simply to talk or share stories. Drawn in by the company’s relatable founders and TV stars, Chip and Joanna Gaines, these callers feel a strong connection to the brand and want to chat for extended periods of time.

The lesson: Call center KPIs should always account for the unique qualities of the business.

How to improve average talk time

Knowledge base resources and targeted training can help agents handle customer support calls in a reasonable time frame. Agents can also study call scripts in their team’s knowledge base, and they can develop their ability to think under pressure by role-playing with their manager or another support rep.

6. Wrap-up time

When an agent ends a call with a customer, it doesn’t mean their job is done. They still have to carry out some tasks to ensure that the customer is fully satisfied or that the problem is completely resolved. These activities may include:

  • Documenting the outcomes of the conversation
  • Assigning tasks to other departments
  • Escalating complaints
  • Sending resources to customers
  • Sending follow-up emails

Wrap-up time is the amount of time it takes an agent to finish these activities after a call. To calculate this metric, subtract total hold time and total talk time from the total amount of handle time. Then, divide that result by the total number of customer calls.

wrap-up time

A high wrap-up time suggests that agents are unavailable to take incoming calls, which negatively impacts performance metrics.

How to improve wrap-up time

Reduce wrap-up time by automating post-call activities, such as logging customer information, with a CRM. You can also create FAQ pages and other resources that agents can quickly send to customers after a call.

7. Missed and declined calls

When an agent misses or declines a phone call, the customer is sent back to the queue. A large number of missed and declined calls naturally leads to low customer satisfaction scores.

Many call center software tools, including Zendesk, will automatically track missed and declined calls for the overall team and for individual support agents.

How to improve missed and declined calls

The two primary reasons for a high number of missed and declined calls are understaffing and inefficient call center software.

If spikes in missed and declined calls occur during specific shifts or hours of the day, there might not be enough agents available during high-volume call times. Hire more agents and/or create an online community forum where customers can get information and support from other users.

If staffing isn’t the root cause, it’s possible that your system isn’t equipped to handle the volume, leading to a high number of declined calls. Consider upgrading to the next membership tier or switching to another provider.

8. Total resolution time

Total resolution time measures the average length of time it takes for support agents to resolve a customer issue. According to Reed, this metric shows whether agents are “efficiently responding to customers with correct answers.”

To calculate total resolution time, divide the total time of all resolved interactions by the total number of tickets solved.

total resolution time

When faced with a high total resolution time, investigate what may be slowing agents down. Are they having a series of back-and-forth conversations? If that’s the case, agents might not have enough customer details, or there might be problems with your product or service.

How to improve total resolution time

If your agents are scrambling to find the customer information they need to resolve issues quickly, consider investing in contact center as a service (CCaaS) software. This tool will pull customer interactions from various channels and present them in a unified view for the agent, saving them time and effort.

High resolution times might also result from defective products or services. A customer may be calling because they can’t figure out how to use your product, but the reality is that the product was faulty when they received it. Design a series of questions that can help the agent make this determination.

9. Transfer rate

Transfer rate is the percentage of inbound calls that agents end up transferring to another team member or department.

To calculate this call center statistic, divide the total number of calls transferred to another department or agent by the total number of calls handled. Then, multiply the result by 100.

transfer rate

How to improve transfer rate

A high transfer rate could indicate that callers are reaching the wrong first-touch agent. In this case, the call center’s internal routing system may be the problem. At the end of a call, encourage agents to ask the customer whether they found the IVR system confusing or challenging to navigate. If so, reducing the transfer rate could be as simple as reworking the IVR menu options to make the system more user-friendly.

But if the IVR is working properly and the transfer rate is still high, measure the average transfer rate across the entire call center. Look for any outliers—agents who routinely surpass the average percentage—to identify employees in need of additional training or resources. You might learn that your agents simply aren’t fully aware of each department’s function.

Call inception metrics

A customer’s perception of a brand begins before the agent even answers the phone. Track call inception metrics to ensure you’re making a good impression on consumers during that critical period between them contacting and speaking to customer support.

10. Average first response time

Average first response time (or average first reply time) measures how long it takes a support agent to respond to a customer once a call triggers a ticket.

Calculate this metric by dividing the total of all first response times by the total number of calls. Make sure to exclude calls that come in after business hours, though.

average first response time

According to Reed, average first response time shows whether “you are getting to customers quickly—and not [sending] a canned generic response.” Providing speedy, helpful responses shows customers that you care about them and prioritize their needs.

How to improve average first response time

A high average first response time could suggest that there are too many calls for agents to handle. Consider increasing the number of agents available during peak hours to provide faster support to callers.

An alternative option is to introduce a chatbot that presents pre-written answers to common questions. This can help reduce the number of placed calls. If the chatbot fails to resolve the issue, it can connect the customer with a live agent. Customer service software—like Zendesk—allows the customer to place a call directly from their web browser, too.

11. Average hold time

Average hold time (AHT) is the average amount of time customers spend waiting on the phone before connecting with a support agent.

Calculate average hold time by adding up all customer wait times and then dividing that number by the total number of calls.

average hold time

It’s best to keep your call center’s AHT to the bare minimum—customers don’t like to be kept waiting, so long hold times can spell disaster for your brand image.

Donovan Steinberg, director of customer success at BombBomb, says: “The amount of time customers wait has a direct impact on the support experience.”

How to improve average hold time

If your agents are overwhelmed with work, beefing up your customer self-service options may help reduce the number of calls you get. This move can ease agents’ workloads, enabling them to assist customers more quickly. Ask your agents to identify frequently asked questions or common customer issues, and update your knowledge base accordingly.

Look at individual agents’ average hold times, too. If one agent’s time is particularly lengthy, they may need additional training. Hiring more agents can also move the needle in the right direction.

12. Call abandonment rate

Call abandonment rate is a call center KPI that reflects the total number of customers who hang up while waiting to speak with an agent.

Calculate this metric by dividing the total number of abandoned calls by the total number of inbound calls.

How to improve call abandonment rate

Give customers the option to request a callback. Customers keep their place in line without remaining on hold, and an agent calls them when it’s their turn.

Some call center software also allows agents to automatically create tickets from abandoned calls (provided a callback number is available). They can potentially salvage poor experiences by following up with customers who left the queue.

Boost your customer support by tracking key call center performance metrics

The phone is still a popular customer support channel, so improving call center performance should be a priority for any business. Use the metrics outlined above to gain the big-picture insights needed to transform your call center.

As you may already know, manually tracking these metrics isn’t feasible for most call center managers. A robust CCaaS system can automatically track them for you, saving you precious time. Integrate the platform with your existing customer service software to gather accurate analytics and insights so you can improve your customer support and increase customer retention.

2021 Employee Experience Trends Report

In this free report, we cover how companies are finding ways to work smarter, attract top talent, and harness the collective power of their people to get ahead.

2021 Employee Experience Trends Report

In this free report, we cover how companies are finding ways to work smarter, attract top talent, and harness the collective power of their people to get ahead.

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