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Why first-call resolution (FCR) matters

Baymax is the fictional, fluffy, inflatable robot in Disney’s 2014 animated feature Big Hero 6. He looks like a marshmallow and gives a really lame fist bump, but he’s really great at first-call resolution.

Just so we’re all on the same page, first-call resolution (or FCR) means meeting a customer’s needs fully the first time they call. Along the way, it’s become a pretty popular IT performance measurement, too.

In Big Hero 6, Baymax provides top-notch medical care in a single consultation, without any follow-up visits required. He ends each visit by confirming that the patient is fully satisfied with the care they have received. He’s essentially an FCR rock star.

But Baymax is make-believe. In the real world of IT, how important is first-call resolution? And if it is important, what’s the best way to measure it?

Why measure first-call resolution?

So the big wigs are asking for your FCR percentage. Or you’ve been reporting on it for years, but the measurement feels arbitrary. Should you even be tracking it, and how?

The short answer is yes, you should. It’s one in a series of measurements that help you track the effectiveness of your analysts and processes. More importantly, since customers like fast resolutions to their problems, it’s a great way to keep focused on the customer experience.

In fact, call center company SQM Group reports that for every 1% improvement you make in FCR, you get a 1% improvement in customer satisfaction, too. They also found that on average, customer satisfaction drops by 15% every time a customer has to call back about the same issue.

Remember that FCR is just one measurement, though. It's neither a comprehensive indicator of customer satisfaction nor of IT effectiveness. Use it in combination with other measurements like time to first response and actual customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores to help you track trends and look for areas to improve.

Now, a few recommendations to help you measure first-call resolution more effectively.

Define what you will measure – and stay consistent

Is it still a first call if you escalate it to a higher support tier? What about if the caller starts speaking Dothraki in the middle of the call, and you have to summon the Mother of Dragons to translate? (Tip: Your entire support team can now learn Dothraki and Valyrian.)

You get to decide. The important thing is to clearly define what counts as FCR, and what does not, and stay consistent. I recommend keeping it simple enough to be easily measured, too. The more exceptions you create, the more confusion and complexity you introduce into your processes, training, and reporting.

Finally, if you do opt to allow same-call escalations to count toward your FCR, keep an eye on call length, hold times, and overall customer satisfaction to ensure that customers are still getting high quality service in addition to first-call resolution. It’s far better to call a customer back promptly than to leave them on hold for ten minutes, even if it means not resolving the issue on the very first point of contact.

Don't mark it resolved until the customer says it is

This one seems obvious (but then again, I also didn’t know the selfie stick was a real thing until this morning). In practice, service desk agents can sometimes feel pressured to close tickets prematurely to meet aggressive call-time and closure rate goals.

When I wrote “4 critical components of successful IT Metrics and reporting,” I had just experienced this first hand. It quickly turned me from a customer with a few questions into a really angry customer with a few questions. A ticket isn’t resolved until your customer says it is. Marking issues resolved without confirming with the customer only creates frustrated customers and reopened tickets, which directly impact your first-call resolution rate.

Which leads us to . . .

Don’t forget to track reopen rates

If you’re knocking your FCR goals out of the park, but getting a ton of new tickets or reopen requests from the same customers, you may not be truly resolving the first request.

Reopen rates are like a built in system of checks and balances for FCR. In fact,

I’ll be bold here: Approach any FCR measurement with caution that isn’t accompanied by a reopen rate measurement. Extreme caution. Like you’re a javelina at night in mountain lion country.

Remember to set a reasonable measurement window for reopens and return calls, too.

We recommend allowing at least a 24-48 hour window from the initial call before including a resolved issue in your FCR percentage.

Track the full customer journey

Many simple requests (like password resets) are now handled online through self-service tools. The customer never interacts with a support analyst, since they are able to help themselves from beginning to end. That’s not always the case, though. Self-help password resets often fail, and the customer ends up having to contact support through your full-service channels.

When that happens, it may be the first call to your support team – but it’s actually the second request for help from the customer.

It’s important to understand how many first calls to your support department are actually second interactions, where the customer requires further assistance since they weren’t able to effectively resolve their own needs using your self-help tools. 

If you aren’t able to track performance across the entire customer journey, and identify where and how often self-help customers are turning into full-service support requests, your FCR rates may be artificially skewed. Plus, you’re missing the opportunity to look for key self-service improvements that could lower your cost to serve dramatically.

Avoid setting conflicting performance goals

You can’t have your cake and eat it, too. While there is nothing wrong with measuring both FCR and things like time to resolution, make sure that you aren’t setting goals for either that send mixed signals to your service desk analysts.

For example, if you are striving to achieve an FCR of 85%, but analysts are also expected to either resolve or escalate an issue within 5 minutes, they will have to choose between two goals you have set for them. Make sure they understand their priorities and are working together to achieve the same goals to support your business objectives.

At Atlassian, we chose not to set "Time to First Response" as a key agent performance goal, because it can promote bad habits like using canned responses ("Thanks for opening a request with us, we'll get back to you shortly.") when an agent might not actually be able to get to the issue for hours or days. Instead, we prioritize performance goals like time to resolution and time waiting on support agent, to encourage positive behavior.

Most importantly, first-call resolution should not be your main goal. Your primary goal is solving problems in the best way possible — even if that means escalating or calling the customer back.

Embrace KCS to boost your FCR

In school, did you ever take a test where the teacher allowed you to use your textbook to find the answers, or a group test where you worked with a team to solve the problems? Way easier, right?

By building a knowledge centered support (KCS) practice that encourages your team to document and share their collective knowledge and experiences, you make repeat problems exponentially easier to resolve, and free up your analysts' time to focus on fixing and documenting more complex issues.

In fact, HDI’s recent research brief, “The Ups and Downs of Resolution Rates,” finds that organizations using knowledge centered support typically enjoy much better first-call and first-level resolution rates than those who do not – often by as much as 15%. Ummm, yes please!

Keep your eyes on the prize: customer satisfaction

Many IT organizations send customer satisfaction surveys to gauge the quality of their services after each ticket is resolved. If you aren’t already, start soon. Also consider expanding to measure things like your net promoter score (NPS), to understand how likely it is that your customers would recommend you a friend or colleague. These higher level measurements help you keep your eye on the overall health of your customers, and by paying attention to the feedback, you can identify the best areas of your operation to invest in improving, instead of possibly dedicating too much effort to a single measurement like FCR.

About the author

Nikki Nguyen

Associate Product Marketing Manager, JIRA Service Desk

Although my life in IT is behind me, it's not too far away. I'm now a recovering systems administrator evangelizing the way teams work by using JIRA Service Desk. I've found a love of combining customer service with technology. Tweet me @NikkiHNguyen

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