Most organizations, especially in IT, are good at establishing metrics and key performance indicators to report on their performance. Unfortunately, most organizations don’t fully appreciate how detrimental it can be to select the wrong metrics.

How not to measure customer service

At the beginning of my career, I worked in a call centre. In the early years, we measured everything under the sun. We had a balanced scorecard and we believed that was the be-all and end-all of our business. Unfortunately, we measured and communicated the wrong things. Because it was a call centre, we emphasized things like average handle time, number of calls, and after-call time. However, these measures drove the wrong behaviours. They incentivized our customer support personnel to handle calls efficiently, but not effectively.

On the ground, this meant that we saw employees transfer calls to other departments instead of solving the issues; we saw agents telling customers to do a complete re-install to solve the simplest of issues because it was a faster way for the agent to end the call, and we even saw agents hang up on customers. This was customer service at its worst, all in the pursuit of metric bliss.

How to do better

This experience taught me a fundamentally important facet of IT life: metrics drive behaviours. Take care when you create metrics, and make sure the behaviour that you’re driving is the one you want to improve. For example:

  • If you care about customer service, stop measuring average handle time, and start measuring minutes per resolve.
  • If you care about positive service, stop measuring number of calls taken, and start measuring number of resolves that occur.

These new measures will promote behaviours that will improve customer service, rather than diminish it.

When to tread carefully

When you are trying to undertake an IT transformation, you need to take special care with the metrics you report, because they have a substantial effect on how IT’s actions are received across the organization. Start with a few items and ensure they are driving the right behaviours.

Here are four ideas to get you started:

  • Financial — Set a metric like cost per employee in each department. While it’s natural that some departments will have higher IT costs than others (for example, engineers typically need more expensive, specialized software than administrative staff), setting a baseline for groups of employees can help you understand the various dimensions of cost. Later on, when you make changes in IT, you can help those departments improve.
  • Satisfaction — Conduct both systematic surveys (number of problems solved on requests/incidents) but also hold meetings with your customers, such as the senior managers who pay for your IT services. They will help you understand how they perceive the service that IT provides, which will allow IT to improve.
  • Risk — IT has risk and it’s important to accurately and fairly assess it. No one likes hearing there is doom and gloom on the horizon, but knowing that there’s a potential problem is better than being blindsided. In fact, sunlight (transparency) is the best cure for almost any problem. If minimizing downtime is important for your organization, consider measures related to redundancy.
  • Quality — Look for ways to measure how often IT fulfils its commitments. This can include on-time delivery of projects, on-budget estimates for operations, and systems that always work.

Obviously, any metrics need to be customized for your operations, but these provide a good starting point for you to start thinking about metrics that will improve what your organization measures. As always, if you’re looking for advice or help creating a good baseline set of metrics that will drive IT value and the right behaviours in your people, we have a wealth of expertise.