What customer support KPIs should you use?

This article will help you define the KPIs you may want to focus on to achieve tactical and strategic goals. It will also help you determine the reporting cadency that will be the most useful.

And a handy reading tip at the end.

First, here is some brief basic theory on two types of KPIs there are out there:

  1. Lead Measures or Leading KPIs – use those for managing tactics, and you'll see what's actually going on at the moment. These measures will tell you whether you have the leverage to achieve your strategic goals or not.

  2. Lag Measures or Lagging KPIs – use those for setting and achieving goals. It takes time to collect and interpret such measures, however it's the only way you can see the whole picture and decide whether you meet your goals.

Let's look at each of those in more detail.
Tactics: Lead measures
  1. # Tickets Handled or # Tickets Resolved. A classical leading indicator that can tell you how many tickets your support team handles or resolves per time interval. It makes sense to look at daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly reports to gauge the productivity of the team. Longer intervals work better if you want to smooth the fluctuations of more granular workloads.

  2. The backlog shows the amount of tickets waiting at certain checkpoints: the end of the day, midnight, shift change time, or any other significant moment. Observe it on a daily basis to see the averages for any period and irregularities in the workload.

  3. For a KCS-ready organization also track # of created/approved/modified/published articles. Daily reporting helps you see how actively each agent contributes to the common knowledge base.

  4. Participation Rate (PAR) is the ratio of tickets with knowledge base articles linked to all handled tickets. It also shows the agents' contribution to the KCS process, the Solve loop in particular. It makes sense to gauge PAR value and changes on a weekly basis.
  5. First Contact Resolution (FCR) is the one that lies in between lagging and leading measures. It serves as a firm leading measure of an agent's efficiency when seen on a daily or weekly basis. However, it serves as a reliable lag measure when used over a long distance to set organizational goals.

  6. Resolution Time is another metric that you may consider both ways. However, it could have different meanings. When used as a strategic goal, it may serve as an SLA for your customers. However, on a per-agent basis it may show the efficiency and maturity of the agent, and on a per-ticket level it may indicate knowledge gaps and flaws in the support process.

  7. Utilization & Occupation are classical tactical metrics to understand whether agents are fully occupied at the moment. However, these measures work best when combined with other ones, such as resolution time, SLA, and meeting customers' expectations.Consider the following example. There is a resolution time of 5 minutes and 80% utilization. You may interpret it either way:

    1. If your customers expect a resolution within 30 minutes, then your support agents have spare time for other tasks, such as mentoring, coaching, etc.

    2. If customers expect to receive a resolution in 2 minutes, then you may want to hire additional agents to reliably meet these expectations.

Based on leading measures, you and your team leaders can make a corresponding judgment and take tactical decisions.
Swarmica will run reports on these KPIs for you
We'll take the hustle of calculating these metrics off: all reports and comparison to baseline values done automatically based on your helpdesk data
Strategy: Lag Measures
  1. Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) is a key metric of each Support organization. This process is lagging by the definition since it involves resolving the case at first, then giving the customer time to clarify whether the solution works, sending a survey, and getting feedback. Additionally, not every ticket gets a CSAT score, so it requires at least 5%-15% to consider the CSAT score representative. As a result, it makes sense to look at this metric at least on a monthly or quarterly basis.

  2. Tickets processing internal quality score (QA). Think of it as "internal CSAT". Those activities are driven by a QA manager within the Support organization, who evaluates the representative sample size of tickets from a soft skills and quality criteria viewpoint. You may run the process on a weekly basis, but the results will appear only after a month. So the whole picture becomes visible at least at a quarter interval.

  3. Article Quality Index (AQI). The same approach as for QA, with the major focus on quality criteria for published articles in a support knowledge base.
  4. Known vs New – the ratio of tickets linked to existing articles to tickets linked to newly created ones. It might be a smart idea to look at weekly results, as daily measurements may be too volatile.
  5. Average Handle Time (AHT) is a very interesting metric. In some Support organizations (mostly in call-centers that use phones as a major channel) it's possible to measure it with support tools and use it as a tactical indicator in conjunction with utilization & occupation to understand the staffing level.

    However, for the vast majority of technical support organizations where support agents should do some work outside of the ticket/chat/phone, it's difficult to measure AHT.

    In this case, AHT is calculated. Ideally, it is computed over a high volume, and you can confirm that agents are busy and utilization is high - then this calculation gives an accurate value. As in most cases, we could have volatile volume and utilization, it makes sense to calculate AHT on the last 12 months period.

    Why is it critical to look at this measure from a strategic perspective?

    The answer is that knowing the AHT value and the support volume projection, you may do a relevant forecast of the required headcount. It's essential for companies that work on a budget for the entire next year, including the number of existing HC and future hires.

    Another key consideration is that you cannot calculate an average AHT based on one month when you have an average taken over a 12-month period. Well… technically you can - but again this value will be very volatile, and it's impossible to make any decisions based on it.

    The better way is to use a moving average AHT: it's always calculated on a 12-month interval that moves forward on the time axis and always includes the month (as the latest one) you want to calculate AHT for.

    Look at the dynamics of the measure to determine whether handle time decreases from a baseline value or not.
  6. First Contact Resolution (FCR) - from a strategic perspective, it makes sense also to use a moving average calculation, seeing the dynamic of FCR behavior month over month.

  7. Volume Deflection. That's a measure that is tricky to calculate. It indicates the volume of tickets that have never appeared. And as you cannot measure something that has never existed, this metric is also calculated as the ratio of transactions within one browser session of those customers who came on the support form but then jumped to the Knowledge base and have never created a ticket to the number of all attempts on the support web form.

    This percentage could be used to extrapolate and understand what number of tickets were avoided in each month. Due to extrapolation, it could be volatile even on a monthly basis, which is why moving averages should be used instead of absolute values for long-term dynamics.

  8. Cost per Incident (CPI) and overall Support Costs. That is the biggest strategic and the most lagging indicator of all. First off, it's lagging because it takes a long time to collect financial information that's normally prepared by a financial department on a quarterly, bi-annual, and annual basis.

The major characteristic of all the indicators above is that they represent the health of your organization and highlight areas that require improvement.

A good practice is to share the team results of strategic metrics with the team.
They would see the return of their efforts in significant business outcomes and that, in turn, drives motivation and overall satisfaction with the job.
Reading tip:

If you'd like to learn the methodology of choosing KPIs to achieve a company's goals and further manage the execution in general, check out an awesome book 4 Disciplines of Execution: Getting Strategy Done by Sean Covey.
Max Sudyin
Co-Founder @ Swarmica

Do you have other thoughts on how to choose KPI for your support org? Have questions about support workflow? Disagree with any statement from above? Drop us a note, we love to make anything about customer service better! contact@swarmica.com