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How to keep KPIs meaningful for your customer support team

Associate Manager, Customer Support

Grace James

Main illustration: Olenka Malarecka

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” as Peter Drucker put it. But that approach doesn’t just apply to your supply chain management, revenue or churn rates – most fundamentally, it also applies to people and our performance.

People are all unique, and our performance can vary from hour to hour, never mind from day to day. Measuring that is inherently messy and difficult, which is why crafting effective KPIs for people’s performance is so challenging.

What are Customer Support KPIs?

Key Performance Indicators are a series of measurements which allow a company to track the success of their operations in relation to achieving their goals or objectives. They help managers evaluate how their employees are doing, the value they bring to a team and how their work can be improved.

But KPIs carry the risk of seeming impersonal. When I first started to work at Intercom as a Customer Support Representative (CSR), KPIs were completely foreign to me. I had previously worked in the television and film industry, where there was an entirely different metric – either I delivered high quality work on time or I didn’t, and I was out. Now, as one of the managers of a global support team that is quickly scaling, I can completely understand not only the necessity but the benefits of tracking KPIs.

“Measuring performance is inherently messy and difficult”

Amid those benefits, however, it can be easy to lose sight of the bigger picture – how do you make sure your KPIs create the right incentives for your CSRs, so that they don’t make the mistake of prioritizing their own KPIs ahead of the customer? How can you ensure that you don’t lose the human in the numbers?

What customer support KPIs should you track?

There are all kinds of metrics you can measure when it comes to assessing your customer support, and while they will change from industry to industry and from business to business, they will usually seek to measure some blend of quality, speed and customer satisfaction. Some examples that you might want to consider include:

  • Total conversations
  • Customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores
  • First response time
  • First contact resolution rate
  • Average resolution time
  • Subsequent response time
  • Time to close conversation
  • Abandoned conversations
  • Employee engagement

There are many more, and what works best for you will depend on the product or service you offer and the customers you have.

Intercom’s process of setting KPIs

At Intercom we strive to have a world class support team who do whatever they can to help our customers. In order to ensure this high standard across a global team, KPIs help us to identify areas for improvement and to celebrate successes.

While we track many data points, we have pared it down to 3 main KPIs, and these are the metrics that drive our team members’ workflows and performance:

  • CSAT
  • Conversations pulled per hour
  • Reviews of teammates’ conversations

We also have a set of team KPIs, which our global support team works towards achieving. Not only does this help to align performance across multiple offices, but it also unites the team in their efforts and means that reps in Sydney feel very much part of the same team as reps in San Francisco, Chicago or Dublin.

We recently moved to a weekly model, which applied different weights to different metrics. This means that if you have a bad week on one data point (say volume of conversations pulled), you can make up for this by exceeding in another (100% customer satisfaction, perhaps).

“Mastery of the soft skills contributes to success in the conventional KPIs”

In developing your own KPI model, we recommend getting feedback and guidance from your more tenured reps and engineers as they are the ones on the front line day in and day out. They will know whether or not these KPIs are achievable.

It’s vital to have a transparent process surrounding your choice of KPIs – the best KPIs function as motivators, but they can only motivate effectively when there is clarity and understanding of their purpose.

Measuring performance beyond the numbers

Which leads us to an important point – as our co-founder Des Traynor puts it, “Numbers are selective with the truth.” They are one part of a much larger story, but how well do they capture those key soft skills that great customer support requires? If you can find a way to measure more than just the numbers, you will have a more holistic and smarter indication of performance.

In our support team we haven’t placed a numerical value on soft skills, rather we have built a series of support values that reflect the skills and attributes we strive to embody on a daily basis. Some of these include “thriving under pressure,” “connecting personally with empathy,” “being an owner” and “being resourceful.”

These values form the core part of a support rep or engineer’s performance profile, and KPIs form the other part. When it comes to assessing a teammate’s performance, they must be succeeding in both areas. Crucially, though, we understand that while we consider them separately, they are not distinct but complementary – mastery of the soft skills contributes to success in the conventional KPIs.

Maintaining quality with KPIs and feedback

While objective, measurable numbers are great for evaluating aspects of performance, they should not be relied on as the sole motivator. That’s why our third KPI is conversation reviews – to ensure quality, our support reps and engineers hold each other accountable through our custom built conversation review tool. Constructive feedback is extremely important in our team and we encourage teammates to practice it with each other daily.

“You have to find the balance and make a call on what you value”

A combination of realistic yet motivating KPIs plus a strong set of cultural values has helped us to strike this balance. As a result we have a hard working team who aspire to a very high standard and who care deeply about their teammates and their customers.

We set numbers as a necessary bar to ensure quality, but acknowledge the importance of what can’t be measured, knowing that a more accurate, more human measurement of performance relies on both. These measurements can live in harmony – you just have to find the balance and make a call on what you value.

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