Did you know that 80% of consumers have changed brands because of a poor customer experience, and nearly half will switch brands after just one negative customer interaction? At a time when consumer loyalty can flip with the click of a button, it’s never been more important to optimize your contact center metrics — particularly your first call resolution.
Poor first call resolution is one of the leading causes of customer churn from dissatisfied customers. While solving as many issues as possible on first interaction is table stakes, how you solve the issues also matters. For instance, if the customer had to wait for 90 minutes on hold or go around in circles within your IVR system just to get the help they needed, that’s less than ideal.
The failure to improve this metric can quickly escalate the already-climbing cost of handling customer calls. Now is the time to develop strategies to solve your client’s problems the first time they contact you; otherwise, you risk losing a customer (and their spending) indefinitely.
Fortunately, if first call resolution is a metric you’re looking to improve, you’ve come to the right place. Here is the ultimate guide to first call resolution, from how to determine a good baseline to how to boost your current resolution rate with tried and true strategies, including:
- What is first call resolution?
- Why is this one of the most important support metrics?
- What’s considered a good first call resolution rate?
- 8 best practices to improve first call resolution rates
- How to use AI to improve first call resolution rates
- Benefits of IVRs for first call resolution
- Potential pitfalls of AI tech like IVRs
First call resolution, also referred to as first contact resolution or FCR, is a key measure of both contact center performance and customer relationship management (CRM). As the name might suggest, FCR is a contact center’s ability to resolve a customer’s question, complaint, or concern the first time the customer calls, with no secondary contact required.
For example, imagine a customer who calls your contact center because of a discrepancy on their latest monthly bill. One of your customer service representatives explains that the charge was accidental and will be removed. The customer can now pay their bill, and the issue has been resolved on the first call. This is a very basic example of strong first call resolution.
Now, imagine another customer who calls your contact center because of the same discrepancy. Your customer service representative explains the charge and ends the call by agreeing to waive the fee. However, when the customer goes to pay their bill, they find the fee has not been removed. Or, if on their first call, they are transferred to the wrong department and hang up in frustration. The customer must now call a second time, and your center has failed to meet the first call resolution.
First call resolution is one of the top key performance indicators (KPIs) for customer experience, and for a good reason. A high FCR rate is a general indicator of customer satisfaction (CSAT). The higher your first call resolution rate, the higher your CSAT. Higher customer satisfaction ultimately drives brand loyalty and points to a proficient — and profitable — contact center.
Take a deeper look at why first call resolution is such an influential support metric.
Improves customer satisfaction
A 2021 customer experience survey found that 73% of consumers value quick resolutions nearly twice as much as they prefer helpful agents or even proactive support. While the quality and effectiveness of your customer service agents remain important, it’s truly the timeliness of a first call resolution that can make or break customer satisfaction.
Reduces customer churn
American businesses risk forfeiting over $1.9 trillion in consumer spending if they cannot improve poor service experiences. At a time when companies are dealing with a record number of inbound support tickets (30% more than the previous year), first call resolution can help limit customer defection due to dissatisfied callers and poor contact center experiences.
Boosts customer support staff efficiency
It’s impossible to cut back on the amount of time it takes to handle each call when customers must contact your center multiple times to reach a resolution. On the other hand, when a customer’s concern is resolved with the first call, they won’t need to call your center again. More first call resolution ultimately limits the number of total daily calls to reduce wait times for customers and allow for a more efficient customer service team.
Drives the bottom line
With the cost of handling customer calls not projected to decline any time soon, organizations must take it upon themselves to improve their bottom line. Fortunately, just a 1% increase in first call resolution results in a 1% improvement in customer satisfaction. Satisfied customers become loyal customers who can act as brand advocates that drive your bottom line.
First call resolution rate is the percentage of inbound calls that were successfully resolved during a customer’s first interaction with a customer support representative. Though first call resolution rate will vary by industry, a good rate to aim for is 70 to 75%. The higher your first call resolution rate is, the higher competency your team has for quickly solving customer concerns.
To calculate your first call resolution rate, divide the total number of customer calls resolved on the first contact by the total number of unique customer calls in a day (or a set time period, such as one week or one month).
FCR = Total Resolved Calls / Total Number of Calls
For instance, let’s say Contact Center A received 2,000 customer calls last week. Of those 2,000 calls, 800 were resolved on the first try. This equates to an FCR rate of 40%. In comparison, Contact Center B received 1,200 calls last week and resolved 900 on the first contact. This equates to an FCR rate of approximately 75%. Though Center A received more calls, Center B had the higher FCR rate.
When analyzing your first call resolution, don’t forget to consider other support factors, like the average duration of your inbound calls. You should ultimately aim for high FCR rates with below-average call times. If your contact center isn’t closing support tickets on the first contact but has short call times, consider spending more time on each call to find true resolutions.
First call resolution rates may be a significant indication of contact center proficiency, but they’re certainly not easy to achieve — especially without the proper strategies in place. If your contact center has had a recent increase in inbound calls (and most of them have!), you’re likely overdue for an overhaul of your current practices to improve your first call resolution rates.
Here are some best practices to boost FCR, improve customer satisfaction, and curb profit-draining customer churn.
1. Invest in ongoing training and resources for your customer support team
Customer service reps should never stop educating themselves about your product or service — especially if your contact center handles concerns for evolving products like software as a service (SaaS) or electronics. At the bare minimum, you should have an internal team wiki that is integrated into all of your customer support systems so that agents can search the wiki quickly anytime they have a question.
Making sure that new information—be it product releases, bug fixes, or new articles/tutorials—is added regularly can go a long way. In addition, you should set up dedicated, recurring times for ongoing product training.
A searchable online library allows customer service reps to quickly locate the answers to questions without needing to lengthen, escalate, or repeat the call.
2. Specify the parameters of ‘first call’
Different contact centers have different definitions for what the ‘first call’ in ‘first call resolution’ actually means. For instance, a complex support ticket that requires two or three business days to resolve may fall into a gray area — is it considered within the parameters of ‘first call’ if it’s not resolved by day’s end? What if the resolution is to escalate the concern to a supervisor?
Of course, in an ideal world, ‘first call’ would refer to a support ticket that was neatly closed within one business day and one interaction. However, since that’s not realistic for every business or every industry, it’s best to specify the parameters of the first call for your specific organization. Every support agent should be familiar with the timing, methodology, and number of people involved in your definition of FCR.
3. Improve routing based on concern
Depending on your industry and the size of your business, you may have multiple customer types — like potential customers, existing customers, and past customers — as well as varying customer inquiries. One of the easiest ways to help each customer’s concern get resolved on the first contact is to ensure the call goes to the right representative in the first place.
Implement or improve call routing based on customer concern or department. For instance, you should be routing technical issues to your IT department, billing concerns to your finance department, and so on. This way, you can limit the number of times a caller is transferred to another representative, decrease your average call time, and boost customer satisfaction.
4. Finetune active listening skills
If you decide to offer advanced training sessions to improve the performance of your support reps, be sure to go over the power of active listening. Active listening implies that your support rep won’t just listen to respond, but will listen to learn. As such, a rep should be able to prompt a customer to gain relevant details about the present concern and how it can best be solved.
The top two items to identify right away on a customer call is what the goal of the customer is and what’s preventing them from executing on this goal. Once a support rep has these details, they should repeat them back to the customer to ensure they’ve understood the problem correctly. This process allows customers to quickly supply additional details if need be and ensures that your rep is actively working towards resolving the correct issue on the first try.
5. Deliver clear directions
After a customer service rep has been given all of the relevant details from a caller, it’s up to the employee to break down the necessary instructions for the customer as clearly as possible. If the next steps must occur on the customer support end, it’s important to explain exactly what your company will be doing and when the customer can expect a resolution.
If the next steps must occur on the customer’s end, it’s even more pivotal that your instructions are simple and easy to understand. Clearly describe each step that will be involved and what the consumer can expect once each step has been taken. For instance, if a customer will be resetting their password, they can expect an email with a unique link, they must click on this, and so on. When applicable, consider walking through the steps on a screen share to simplify the process.
6. Confirm the issue is resolved before ending the call
Though this tip might seem obvious, you’d be surprised by how many support calls end without a resolution simply because there was a disconnect between the customer service representative and the customer. Once your reps provide the steps for resolution, it’s important for them to end each call with a simple, “Did this solve your problem?” or “Can I assist with anything else?”
7. Leverage customer satisfaction surveys
Want to know how you can personally improve your first call resolution rate? Ask the customers themselves. Before sending a support ticket, ask callers if they’d be willing to stay on the line for a quick customer satisfaction survey. If you’d prefer to keep call times down, send a follow-up email or SMS text message with the survey after ending the call to confirm the issue has been resolved.
Not only will this step help reveal where your call resolutions may be lacking, but it can also provide an immediate opportunity to rectify a customer concern that wasn’t handled on the first call. The quicker your company reaches out, the faster you can help a customer reach a final solution — and make up for what might have been a dissatisfying customer experience.
8. Analyze recurring trends
The results of your customer satisfaction surveys will inform the next steps your organization should take to improve individual FCR. So, be sure to review each survey and analyze recurring trends, like too short call times or too long of a wait. Also, look for trends that could improve the overall customer experience, like remedying a common customer issue from the company side.
For instance, if you notice a lot of complaints around long hold times, it might be time to hire more support agents. Though just about every industry is encountering staffing challenges, these issues can hit contact centers particularly hard. An understaffed department can put unnecessary pressure on existing support reps that causes them to rush through tickets without thoroughly solving the problem. Not only will a customer need to contact support again for resolution, but longer wait times may frustrate other customers. Alternately, you can assess which common customer issues could be resolved with the implementation of automated, self-service workflows.
You can have the most talented, personable customer service representatives, and they still could struggle to maintain a steady stream of first call resolution. That’s where AI and IVR systems, like Plum Voice, can come in handy.
IVR systems streamline contact center communication by using AI to route and manage inbound calls. In fact, many common inquiries to a contact center can be addressed without the involvement of a live agent. This leaves live agents free to spend more time addressing more complex issues with other customers, increasing the likelihood of first call resolution for everyone and resulting in higher customer satisfaction.
IVRs also sync with Intelligent Virtual Agents (IVAs), conversational bots that use machine learning and cognitive process automation to ask appropriate questions to add additional context to a consumer call.
An Interactive Voice Response system paired with Virtual Agents can offer multiple avenues of call resolution that are all focused on the end-user experience. When you combine the working power of machines with highly-trained support representatives, you can provide your customers with optimal support service. Take a look at some of the benefits of IVRs for first call resolution.
Save time and money
Upwards of 40% of customer calls to IT Help Desks originate from a user who’s forgotten their password. If your contact center handles IT Help Desk calls, this means there’s a chance that nearly half of your daily calls focus on password loss. So a self-service solution like IVR technology could potentially result in 70 to 90% cost savings.
Eliminate language barriers
AI software like Intelligent Virtual Agents leverages natural language processing (NLP) to better understand spoken words and written text. Machine learning capabilities allow this software to essentially mimic real human speech, which can make for a more pleasant user experience. Beyond this, however, is the ability of IVAs to process queries that use slang, confusing language, or spelling and grammar mistakes.
By leveraging NLP to understand how real humans communicate, IVAs can eliminate language barriers that might slow down or confuse a human agent. For instance, callers that don’t speak English as a first language or do not understand more complicated technical verbiage can explain their issue as best as they know how, and IVAs can interpret the solution best suited for them.
Continue to adapt and improve
AI technology is highly adaptable, as the software can continue to use speech recognition algorithms to adapt to emerging customer concerns. Unlike new customer support agents, who must be trained to take customer calls, AI technology can be fed a series of information to ‘train’ almost instantly.
Likewise, everything from the online knowledge bases mentioned above to alternative contact center solutions, like Confluence or Microsoft Sharepoint, can be integrated into an IVR solution. This will allow the system to improve over time as it automatically studies input from real human conversations and resolves customer communications.
Enhance team productivity
A smart IVR solution has advanced capabilities beyond automated phone trees, meaning it won’t simply connect a caller to any support agent — it will connect a caller to the right agent based on the individual’s availability and capability. In other words, IVR can direct a call to the agent with the shortest wait time or with the most experience in the caller’s particular issue to boost FCR rate.
Even more, an IVA can collect crucial customer information while a caller waits for an available representative. IVA solutions can gather customer account numbers, personal identification details, and even a basic description of the current issue, then have this information ready for the agent once they’re ready to receive the customer call.
Provide around-the-clock service
It can be incredibly costly to operate a 24/7 contact center in North America. It’s also not cheap to outsource services overseas to keep up with Amazon-level customer support, not to mention more difficult to train and manage representatives when they’re spread across the globe. Fortunately, IVAs offer around-the-clock service so your customers can communicate with your contact center any time of the day.
Multiple avenues of call resolution, such as IVR and IVA technology, can help contact centers save both time and money, all while boosting the overall customer experience. Though this technology seems like a no-brainer for organizations looking to improve first call resolution rates, there are a handful of potential pitfalls to consider. Here are some potential cons of AI technology for FCR.
Over-automating your business
When it comes to artificial intelligence, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. In a study of preferred customer service channels, 86% of consumers prefer to interact with a human agent, and 71% would be less likely to use a brand if it didn’t have customer service agents available. When choosing AI for your contact center, be sure to not over-automate to the point that your business relies on tech more than it does real people.
Lack of human empathy
While the NLP abilities of AI tech like Intelligent Virtual Agents can break through language barriers, they still lack major human qualities — like emotion. Even advanced NLP features are unable to think and feel like a real person, so they lack empathy and emotional intelligence. It’s these human qualities that enable real service reps to problem-solve creatively and build long-lasting customer relationships.
Risk of low CSAT scores
AI technology offers many features that can improve CSAT scores; however, certain nuances may cause that improvement to be temporary. The threat of over-automation and lack of empathy described above can ultimately irritate or disappoint consumers, leading to lower CSAT scores and potentially higher customer churn, both of which impact overall company profit.
First call resolution is — and forever will be — a metric that separates good contact centers from great contact centers. By implementing the above practices to calculate and improve your first call resolution rate, you can give your business the boost it needs to heighten customer satisfaction and drive your bottom line. And by leveraging AI software like IVRs and IVAs, you can optimize daily operations for support reps. Turn good into great with an effective first call resolution rate.