Every field services or support services team has first call resolution (FCR) in their metrics. During my nearly 40 years in the technology business, I have worked for and with both hardware and software solutions providers, and in a nutshell, FCR is about answering or solving the customer’s problems on the first call. The objective is hopefully obvious: solve the problem the first time as quickly and for the least cost possible. The data is compelling; do this well and your cost structure will be attractive and your customer service reputation in a good place.
Some companies have figured out the right combination of people, process, and technology to accomplish superior first call performance and do it consistently. Unfortunately, too many companies have failed to achieve this resulting in poor customer satisfaction, high customer service costs, and ultimately negative competitive consequences of their inability to conduct FCR in a manner consistent with client expectations. Recent industry research provides clear evidence of a very powerful correlation between FCR and customer satisfaction.
Industry research provides clear evidence of a very powerful correlation between FCR and customer satisfaction.
Having been on all sides of the table (customer, provider, and now consultant) of this important customer service discipline, this article is an aggregation of those experiences and the most effective approaches we have observed for how to get it right.
Stepping back from the many drivers of FCR, building the right customer service environment to quickly and efficiently address customer problems is something that must be considered holistically, even though improvement opportunities may lie in some of the components of your customer service solution. It is rare that we see a clean sheet customer service operation because most came about over a period of time where the company needs, volumes, product complexity, geographic reach, and more all constantly changed over time. Consequently the services function adapted by adding new people, processes, and technology. Often, due to time and cost constraints, each service delivery improvement is somewhat sub-optimized and over time what appear to be small inefficiencies, or inconveniences of that particular improvement, later fuel(ed) bigger issues and challenges that require a more comprehensive solution. Sound familiar?
A more comprehensive solution would be more like a clean sheet approach from a design standpoint, but still likely to require a more incremental transformational planning point of view as our legacy capabilities must be dealt with.
Conceptually, a good design for customer service deals with three fundamental components of customer service:
Prevention. Our products should/must be designed so they don’t break in the first place. And when they do break, the design has considered repair/maintenance as a critical design point. The ability to diagnose issues with technology, and potentially resolve those problems with technology, is the way to go.
Triage/Incident Handling. When something does break, then we need to address the matter. This is the bread and butter of the operation. We must have designed effective remote solve capabilities, self-service support, and ultimately our most expensive, people-driven support. All these must be supported by the right investments in people/training, technology, and needed assets like spare parts and vehicles to get the technicians to the customer if needed. Feedback mechanisms to track our performance and knowledge capture systems so we can learn and get better while leveraging what we learn are all important.
Continuous Improvement. Building a learning organization that is constantly improving is harder than it sounds and requires real discipline to track our experiences, capture knowledge, and share this information to drive needed training/re-training, process change, and support infrastructure changes.
The picture below highlights these concepts in a graphical way to help visualize the big picture.
While there are definitely some pacesetters out there that have put these all together, they represent a minority of customer service departments. Great FCR performance remains elusive for many because these fundamental components have not been adequately addressed and addressed with a strategy that incorporates all these elements in a cohesive and holistic fashion.
Great FCR performance remains elusive for many.
The norm we see for customer service transformations tend to be more focused on point solutions, such as training the techs better, replacing that spare parts inventory system, talking to R&D about (better) self-diagnostics. I often describe this as the whack-a-mole approach to services transformation. Tactics deployed to focus on the latest breakdown in our services lifecycle. A customer service revolution is occurring now and the best of breed suppliers are abandoning whack-a-mole for a more strategic and lasting approach, creating a new legacy of how customer service is/will be done.
The Path to Becoming the First Call Champs
Transformation of business processes is a path well worn. Clearly you should start by understanding what good looks like. So measuring FCR in some reliable manner and then comparing your performance data to industry benchmarks is a good place to start. Soliciting customer feedback is certainly another. And just because you might look like your peers performance-wise does not mean your customers are happy. Looking at other related performance metrics like parts availability and reliability, technician turnover, and remote solution rates can be leading indicators of how your FCR metrics will be trending.
If your analysis (or customer feedback) indicates FCR is an improvement opportunity for you, then what you need is a comprehensive approach to dissecting the current operation(s) responsible for addressing customer issues on the first call. Support processes, people, and infrastructure that affect FCR outcomes are a complex set of interrelated things. Rarely is just one thing the reason or root cause for underperformance. From our experience, following a framework to drive your assessment and re-engineering efforts is essential.
Allow me to provide a brief example. The framework we utilize with our clients represents the various processes that underlie and connect building blocks into a fully functional services operation. Within those building blocks are elements/tiers that underpin how first call resolution is accomplished: prevention, triage, and continuous improvement. When we conduct an evaluation of FCR, we inspect each element or building block for the presence or absence of the three tiers of capabilities and interaction of those capabilities that we believe necessary to do FCR right. In each case, we compare and contrast to what we understand best practice to be, identify the gaps, and build a re-engineering plan around those findings. The key here is the comprehensive nature of evaluation. Some collection of gaps typically stands in the way of good performance, and solving for those gaps or lack of capabilities must also be thought about collectively.
How Do I Get Started?
Getting started begins with the desire or intention to improve the customer experience. FCR focus is a no brainer for most, and regardless of where you are at today, getting better is always possible. Thematically my biggest hope is that my advice to look at this service process in a comprehensive way resonates with the reader. The steps are easy to explain, but certainly more work to undertake.
Measure where you are with real data and backed with how customers view the experience. Most high performance teams are doing this already as FCR performance has such a large bearing on service operating costs and customer satisfaction.
Benchmark/compare your business to your peer group. Benchmarking provides a data based approach to support prioritization of services transformation efforts as part of a strategic and systematic approach to improvement initiatives.
Design a plan to:
Assess in further detail your current capabilities and execution performance. It is important to have a framework for how you intend to structure your assessment. Too often this is done by just asking questions and looking at data. However, then aggregating the findings into something you can both communicate and do something about is a whole different matter. Assessments are sometimes conducted or supported by certain process improvement methods like a Kaizen event, which is certainly valuable provided the event is shaped around a specific framework for the service process under evaluation. A framework provides the basis for what to look for and helps structure your investigation and outcomes in a useable form.
Define and document the gaps. Use of both data from a benchmark and inputs from observations of service process execution of the various framework elements, operations reports, and other related artifacts will help form the basis for your gap analysis. Another good thing to do here is to estimate the business value of closing the gap(s) so your ROI analysis will be fact based and support estimation and communication of needed investments for service process transformation.
Define the to-be-state. Use of a framework to define the building blocks and what success looks like makes it easier to communicate and collaborate. Be careful to constantly be thinking about the interrelationships of the framework elements.
Create an ROI analysis. Justify needed change so the investment is understandable, particularly in a service function where budgets are typically tight.
Build a transformation plan. Identify details, timelines, and responsibilities, all the things you typically include in any important project plan.
Manage change. Having a change management plan is a make or break element of any successful business transformation. Consider education, culture change, leadership, and other elements necessary for successful change management.
Fundamental to the success of any product in the marketplace is the buyer’s perception of reliability. And while most products eventually fail in some manner, the reputation of the provider for addressing the failure quickly and affordably becomes the next consideration. This is particularly critical when the product supports some mission critical function of the buyer/user. Consistent and predictable FCR is absolutely a science with an answer, but surprisingly too many companies fail to achieve the right results in this regard.
Break-throughs in technology, and yes, processes, have changed the landscape of how customer service can be done. So much has changed in the last decade that the whack-a-mole approach of the past will not cut it any longer and a more holistic approach is now needed. Follow the steps defined in this article to help your organization become first call champs!
© 2015 RTM Consulting, Inc. All rights reserved.
Randy Mysliviec leads RTM Consulting, providing high impact advisory services for technology companies’ service businesses. Acknowledged by industry sources as an expert in Global Resource Management (GRM) and author of the Just-in-Time Resourcing® brand of solutions, Randy advises multi-national companies with the complex challenge of operating services teams serving the global market. He is a founding member of the Technology Professional Services Association (TPSA)—now the Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA)—and served as a member of the TPSA Advisory Board. Connect with Randy on LinkedIn.