Metrics That Matter: Service Level
By Colin Taylor
Service level is one of the most common metrics employed at call and contact centers to define how the center is performing. Senior management becomes acclimatized to looking for that service level number and reacting to it as a gauge of how well they’re performing against targets and in meeting their customer needs. But not everyone understands what service level is really referring to.
When we look at service level, we are really referring to two different numbers, the first being the percentage of calls and the second being the period of time within which that percentage of calls is answered. So if we refer to a service level as 80-20, that is telling us that 80% of the calls are being targeted to be answered within 20 seconds. The 20 seconds here is also referred to as Average Speed of Answer (ASA) or “wait time.” The 80/20 service level suggested above is actually the most common service level in place today for customer service organizations.
80/20 is the Most Common Service Level in Use Today
Now of course by definition, if we’re answering 80% of the calls within 20 seconds, we’re not answering 20% of the calls within that time period. The inference there is that those calls are being answered in a much longer time period; 60, 90, 120, even 360 seconds is possible, depending on the nature of your calls, contacts, and the average handle time.
Service level or total service factor; TSF, as it is referred to in some telephone systems; is a fairly standard metric you’ll find in most ACDs, which means that you can establish a report and a reporting protocol that’ll generate performance reporting against this standard. It’ll tell you every day what percentage of your calls were answered within a 20-second period. So, you may find that on day one you’re at 83%, but on day two you’re at 78%. You can even look at this on an inter-day measurement basis; every 15, 30 minutes, 60 minutes; and gauge your performance against that target that way.
Have Service Levels for All Channels
It’s important in today’s world where we’re moving increasingly to multi-channel and omni-channel activities, that we look at the service level not just for the voice transactions alone, but also for emails, chat, or SMS interactions. Each of these channels requires that we define what our service level is. What is the standard that we aspire to deliver? In the voice calls, that may have been 80% of the calls within 20 seconds. But in email, that may equate to 80% of the emails within four hours, or chat 80% of the chat requests within 90 seconds.
Whatever those metrics are, as we define them for our organization, we will need to establish the reporting protocols and parameters to glean that information from whatever systems are appropriate, be that our ACD, our CRM, or our standalone point or niche solution supporting our email management or chat.
One Size Does Not Fit All
Remember a service level is an arbitrary number. There is no single perfect set of service levels that everybody should be using. The service levels employed really need to relate to your organization and your customers. Every service level can in fact be different. What may be appropriate for one organization at 80-20 may be appropriate for a direct competitor at 90-10. Or at 70% of the calls in 60 seconds.
What is the customer experience you’re striving to deliver? And what is the service level that you can realistically match against that to become a reasonable standard metric for that experience and performance? So determine what your customers are expecting, what you have communicated to your customers that they should expect, and then establish your service levels to reflect these expectations.
Once you’ve established the service levels, determine how you’re going to report on these metrics over what periods of time. Remember that it is difficult to be perfect all the time. There will be periods during any given day where you’ll receive more contacts and your service level will decline. That’s to be expected.
When somebody sets out to meet an 80-20 standard, they don’t expect to meet it 100% of the time. But they do expect to meet it the vast majority of the time and they expect to meet it on average for that day. It’s important that we establish a standard, establish how we’re going to gain the reporting, generate the reports, and then be able to manage and take action based on the data generated.
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