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Ultimate Guide to Customer
Conversation
Metrics

Mercer Smith-Looper

Everyone wants to be the support interaction that someone tweets about — everyone wants their customers to love them and talk about how amazing they are. But that kind of delightful, personable side of support isn’t all that there is. Behind all of those feel-goods, there’s a large core of metrics that make it easy for support team members, team leads, and managers to understand how the team is doing, where they’re struggling, and there they might have to go in the future.

How to use this guide

In this User Guide we’ll introduce you to some of the prime concepts behind customer support metrics. Then, we’ll walk you through a comprehensive guide of metrics that you can use to measure everything from the success of your chat and emails, to how to create the best survey questions when trying to gain insights from your customers. Let’s get started with why your company needs metrics if you aren’t already tracking them.

Why you need metrics

Metrics at their simplest, allow you to track progress. They can serve to benchmark for specific performance indicators on your team, for example, or give you a goal that you want to achieve at a company level. A great example of a solid use of metrics is giving a new hire the average metrics that you’d expect someone in their role to be able to hit by thirty, sixty, and ninety days of employment. This allows them to feel secure in their understanding of where they ‘stand’ amongst fellow employees, but also know the standard they are shooting for across the whole team.

A second example, using metrics at a company level can be valuable for things like Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), and ensuring that all teams within the company see the same thing. For example, churn, which we’ll talk about later, is a metric that can be used both in the customer support and success teams, but also in product and sales. Using churn for a company-wide OKR would allow all teams that impact the same metric to measure it together rather than everyone working separately in their own silo. Imagine how much more impactful you could be with everyone working together? It’s like trying to cross a river in the olden days of wagoneering, and instead of everyone carrying separate pieces across the river to the other side, joining together and grabbing edges of the wagon itself and all working together to save time and energy. That’s what knowing about metrics, and having them clearly communicated at your company can do for you.

What makes good metrics

Good metrics that you pick for either your team or your company — if set well — will usually fit within the guidelines of SMART Metrics. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Accurate, Reliable and Timely.

Specific

You should choose metrics that directly relate to the processes that take place within the team you’re creating them for. For example, if you are seeking to improve the number of times your support team can find a document to send to a customer on the first try, you would select the ratio of first time successfully found documents divided by the total number of searches for a given period. In contrast, just using the total number of searches would not be specific enough — it wouldn’t really tell you if you were making an impact on the thing you wanted to change, or if you needed to work on it at all.

Measurable

It’s super important that whatever metrics you are using are derived from actual numbers. They should not be an estimate or a soft number that doesn’t reflect the reality of your business. Seek metrics that are easily obtained from the tools that you have at your fingertips or by combining information from a few different tools together. For example, you could pull your full number of paying customers from your Customer Management System (CMS) and divide it by the number of tickets you’ve resolved over a specific period; this would give you your contact ratio. Having the specific numbers provided by systems within your company is more valuable than having a soft estimate based on speculation.

Accurate

Accuracy, especially when it comes to something that will likely influence your business decisions, is pivotal. A good example of a time when accuracy is important is first response time. Receiving a response within the first hour after sending in your support conversation makes a gigantic impact on the customer’s sentiment towards your company. Beyond that point, though, whether your team responds at 1:15 or 4:00 it doesn’t make that much of a difference. So, that kind of specificity — down to the minute — and accuracy makes a difference with metrics meant to judge success or benchmarks. An inaccurate metric, in this case, would measure the time until the ticket was resolved, rather than the time to first response.

Reliable

A good example of this metric is in turnaround time for support conversations. There are times where a single support person can report their turnaround time for a conversation to be 10 minutes, while another might say five. For a metric to be reliable, it must be able to be clearly defined as to what it is, how it is to be measured, and then understood by all. It is key for this kind of metric to be standardized, usually within something like a helpdesk tool, in order for it to mean anything. A reliable metric is one that can be clearly defined, communicated, and then have raw data gathered and reported on in the same manner by all of your team members involved.

Timely

Metrics should be used for continuous improvement, as well as for benchmarks. Unlike some delicious cheeses, metrics do not grow better as they age — they only become less useful. Similarly, for a business, front-line quality metrics are time sensitive. What we mean by this is, reporting on something that has occurred 90 days after the fact does not facilitate improvement, growth or change because you’ve already moved so far away from the numbers you’re reporting on.


A good example of this might come from a physical retail store: in a quarterly report, one department might report that they had been out of stock on a specific type of t-shirt three times. So, the people in charge of  ordering had increased the number of t-shirts on order for the department so they would not run out again. At the next quarterly report (now six months after the problem first occurred), the report showed that the department had been out the same shirt three times. The manager of the store asked if they needed to increase the order level some more. Instead of increasing the level, they might consider placing a communication sheet in the inventory department so that, on days where the shirts go out of stock, loss prevention or inventory specialists can investigate further. Is there someone stealing the shirts, or is there another issue such as incorrect processing of shipments?

Metrics should be reported back as soon as possible to the part of the company that is directly in control of them and have an understanding of the process. If a leading metric is not capable of immediate communication, choose another one or find another way to report on it.

How to choose your goals and metrics

There are a number of metrics, both at the individual, the team, and the company level. We will go through all of those metrics later, but in the meantime, we’ll talk about what the best way to pick goals and metrics are. There are three questions that you should consider, according to our friends at Help Scout, when selecting metrics:

  • Why are you reporting?
  • Who are you reporting it to?
  • What outcome are you hoping to achieve?

Each of these is integral when selecting your metrics at any level, so let’s break them down a bit more.

Why are you reporting?

The point behind the reporting should not just be the report itself — that’s Sisyphean at best, and a waste of everyone else’s time at worst. Know why you are tracking the metrics and what you are trying to make an impact on before you select specific metrics. If you can’t think of a “why” behind it, it’s probably not the right metric for you, your team, or your company.

Who are you reporting it to?

Different people speak different languages. This is true both globally, but also within a product team. Think about who you’re reporting to, and pick a metric that will make sense to them. For example, marketers might care about something in terms of monthly active users, while product people are interested in  adoption. If you speak to the things that people care about, you are much more likely to have success in the adoption or appreciation of your metric.

What outcome are you hoping to achieve?

Whatever you report on is what people are going to pay attention to. So, make sure that the metrics you select really reflect what is needed rather than what is easiest to report on. Fluff numbers can feel great when you have a beautiful, filled up presentation slide, but not so great when all of a sudden everyone is paying attention to the things that make little difference or impact in the forward movement and growth of your company.

ROI of customer service

If you don’t already know what ROI is, it stands for “return on investment,” and it implies the benefit or value that is returned back to a person who has invested time or energy. A high ROI implies that the person who’s invested is getting a lot of value back, thus making their investment “worth it.” So, who is investing in customer service? Your company. Every dollar that they spend on hiring and training a new employee, adopting and implementing new software, or providing hardware for team members to do their job is an investment in your customer service team.

That being said, not many teams measure the ROI of service and support. But, like the team over at Groove shared, it’s very important. Why? According to them:

  • Customer experience does drive sales, and if you figure out how exactly (and to what extent) you can improve it to drive even more sales.
  • Customer service departments and reps are often overlooked and overworked, and proving the value in investing in them can change that.

The best way to calculate the ROI of your service and support teams is to identify your key metrics, set your ROI hypothesis, then test it, learn, and improve. Let’s break it down.

Identify your key metrics

When you are picking metrics to use for ROI, make sure that they align well with your business plans, and that they are things that your individual team is able to have an impact on. Nothing is worse than picking something that you can’t change. There are a few different things that you can make an impact on where support provides financial benefit: providing more efficient customer support and saving on spend, giving excellent handovers to the sales team so that they can upsell better and generate new revenue, prompting existing customers to upgrade to pricier plans, and much more. So, which of the most commonly used metrics for support fit those for you?

  • Net Promoter Score
  • Customer Satisfaction
  • Cost per contact
  • Customer lifetime value
  • Retention rates

After you’ve walked through with your team and picked the best ways for you to measure against your investments, it’s time to move on to setting your hypothesis.

Set your ROI hypothesis

Build your hypothesis based on the metrics that you set above. The best way to structure a hypothesis is:

if _____, then _____,
which we want to _____

So, for example:

Currently all of our team members are working in the United States, but if we add another service rep in Europe, it will bring our first response time down. We want this to boost first response time, which then boosts CSAT, a metric tied to our customer retention.

This is an excellent hypothesis. It tells your other team members and people at your company what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and what to expect.

Test, learn and improve

As with all good hypotheses, you need to test, reiterate, and improve your work. Set a timeframe that makes sense for the size of the impact that you are hopeful to have on your metrics. In the case of our hypothesis above, that would likely be around three months. After that amount of time, come back to your company, team, or any stakeholders, and report to let them know how things have gone. In this case, you’d say something like:

We added a service rep in Europe, and over the past three months we have boosted first response time to be consistently below an hour, and subsequently seen an increase in customer satisfaction from 73% to 86%. We’ll continue to iterate on this to see where else we may be able to shift some numbers.

That kind of reporting on tangible results based on an intelligent guess will deeply impact how your company and team members see the value of your team.