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Support Services: Are You Watching the Farm?

1 Mar, 2009 By: Fred Shadding Response

Gauging the effectiveness of your inbound call center.

You've produced a winning spot, created supporting marketing collateral and assembled solid media placement for your DR campaign. Now, your call center is fielding calls, converting orders and giving you a good return on marketing dollar. But are they, really? Can you get more output from your center? Are you effectively evaluating the center's performance?

Fred Shadding
Fred Shadding

Evaluating your media efficiency ratio (MER) on the back end is no doubt a good measuring stick, but it does not provide specific insight as to how your call center actually performs, since it is commonly a calculation of all media costs against all sales.

In an attempt to offer some key elements of what to look for in a performance dashboard, there are two areas worth highlighting: pre-call readiness and agent call performance, which yield four metrics that offer any marketing, operations or non-call center management personnel immediate intelligence on how a center is performing against desired targets. With these metrics, you can evaluate and act upon areas that may need enhancement or areas of strength that can be reinforced through incentives for the call center team.

While there are numerous analytics one can use to monitor and evaluate your center, these four metrics tend to impart a solid assessment of a center's performance.

Pre-call Readiness — before your customer gets to your agent.

1. Abandonment rate — This metric represents the percentage of calls received, not answered, by an agent and subsequently dropped by the caller.

Performance indicator: An abandon is a lost sale opportunity. When abandons are high, it signals a possible staffing issue whereby staffing needs to be increased or, perhaps, calls routed to a secondary center to address calls within a reasonable abandon level (less than 5 percent).

2. Average speed of answer (ASA) — This measurement represents the time the caller has to wait to get to an agent.

Performance indicator: The longer a caller waits increases the phenomenon of "buyer's remorse" and can lead to a dropped call. Therefore, providing a timely pickup to a call is critical. Technologies, such as IVR and prompter messaging, can aid in minimizing ASA by prompting the caller through a queue or pre-recorded message prior to being handed off to an agent. An industry standard ASA is 80 percent of calls answered within 20 seconds.

Agent Call Performance — when your customer is engaged with your agent.

3. Conversion rate (primary and upsell) — This metric represents the percentage of calls converted into orders.

Performance indicator: At the end of the day, when the call comes in, the first "interactive" representation of the ad, TV spot or radio spot that the caller just read, viewed or heard is the "voice" and "demeanor" of the agent on the other end of the phone. Thus, effective sales training and listening skills are critical to yield the desired conversion rates to ensure your campaign's performance expectations are met and marketing dollars well placed.

4. Average handle time (AHT) — This measurement is the average time of a transaction.

Performance indicator: AHT should always be a metric of constant observation, largely due to the cost component it represents in a center. If external, most call centers charge on a per-minute basis, and most internal centers calculate their costs through agent efficiency. AHT can be quite impactful on costs, whereas if AHT is minimized (i.e., cost of call) and conversions improved (i.e., revenue per call), the optimum situation exists. Moreover, when AHT is reduced, it increases agent availability to handle more calls, thereby potentially reducing both abandons and ASAs.

Through frequent evaluation of these key metrics, you will begin to understand the underlying mechanics of your internal or external center and develop approaches to ensure it delivers maximum value to complement, not contort, your marketing campaigns. Remember: always watch your farm.

Fred Shadding is vice president of business development for Cyber City Teleservices (CCT), a company delivering bilingual direct response call-center services. He can be reached at (800) 405-1486 or via E-mail at

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