Customer Support

How to Improve Your Customer Service Metrics

how to improve customer service scores

Turn any support metric around with these tips.

A few weeks ago we wrote a post about the 10 customer service metrics you should be measuring.

However, deciding which metrics you should be looking at regularly is just the first step towards really improving your customer service through hard numbers.

Once you’ve picked the indicators you need, the monitoring begins. Benchmarking can be tricky when it comes to any metrics, and the safest way to evaluate your performance is to do it against your own numbers.

Are your metrics better than they were last week? Last month? Fantastic.

However, what if some of them are looking a little worse for wear over an extended period of time, or just staying at a “meh” level instead of getting better?

Today, we’re going to walk you through all the measurable indicators we discussed in our previous customer service metrics post, and suggest some questions to ask yourself and your team when your customer service numbers are trending down or getting stale.

Let’s get crackin’!

1. Ticket Volume

The Issue

Ticket volume can be a tricky metric, because it might feel like more support tickets is a good thing.

However, if you think about it, support tickets are usually an indicator of your product falling short, being confusing, or even worse—broken.

So, when your ticket numbers go up abruptly or keep going up over an extended period of time, you might want to take a look at why it’s happening.

The Solution

The first thing to consider when you see your ticket numbers going up—even before finding out why—is if your support reps can deal with it at that point. Overwhelming your support team never ends well, regardless of what the underlying issue actually is.

From there, there are several things to keep your eye on:

  • Is the increase in ticket volumes steady and gradual over time? If yes, then does it have any correlation with how your user base is growing?
  • If it’s a sudden spike, is it connected to any other activity in your company (a product or feature launch, design change, etc)?
  • Are there any recurring issues or confusing topics that a lot of people write in about and that are pushing the ticket volume? What are these issues/topics and can you prioritize fixing them to bring down the amount of repeat questions?

Actionable items:

  • Consider hiring more customer support reps to deal with higher ticket volumes (if the growth is natural and not related to a problem in other processes).
  • Make sure communication between customer support and development is as seamless as possible to avoid sudden ticket spikes during launches and other product events.
  • Prioritize issues or questions that make up the biggest part of incoming support tickets.

Sometimes, ticket volumes go up just because your user base is growing or because you’ve recently added a lot of new features that people are asking about.

Regardless of whether there’s a real issue behind your growing ticket volumes or not, make sure your team can deal with it efficiently and encourage open communication between departments.

2. Ticket Backlog

The Issue

Ticket backlog refers to unresolved customer support requests in a particular time frame—the tickets that stay open beyond your usual response time.

If your ticket backlog seems to be too cramped or even worse—is growing over time, it’s a surefire way to tell that there’s something is off with your customer service process—and tons of unresolved tickets are a slippery slope to customer dissatisfaction.

The Solution

First of all, we’d like to say that speed doesn’t matter in customer service, but that’s not necessarily true in every case.

If you’ve got a growing ticket backlog and a lot to handle at once, focus on just responding first rather than immediately resolving—this way you’re letting your customers know that they have been acknowledged and there’s less risk of anyone feeling ignored or not taken seriously.

As far as things to investigate go, the questions here are similar to a too high ticket volume:

  • Do you have enough customer support reps to deal with your ticket volumes?
  • Is it taking your support reps too long to resolve tickets (because of unclear communication or any other issue) and that’s why the number of unresolved tickets is going up?
  • Are you dealing with an extremely high number of small interactions or are there a lot of complex issues that are taking longer than usual to resolve?

Actionable items:

  • Consider hiring more customer support reps (in case the issue is mainly about naturally growing workload in CS).
  • Discuss your average handle time and see if there could be improvements made there, communication- or otherwise.
  • Investigate which issues are taking the longest to resolve and see if you can streamline the process or if you can move some of them up in development/design backlog.

If your ticket backlog is swamped because of a temporary issue and you don’t want to hire more reps to deal with it, see if you can get someone else in the team to help clear it out. This is also a good exercise for cultivating an “everyone does support” culture in your company.

3. Resolution Rate

The Issue

Resolution rate represents the percentage of issues your reps actually resolve from the number of total tickets received.

A rising resolution rate is a good indication of the efficiency levels of your customer service team.

A dropping rate means that there might be issues that are hindering your team from being efficient enough, and it’s time to find out what they are.

The Solution

A low resolution rate can stem for several issues in your company and processes. Here are some things to consider:

  • Do you need to hire more customer service reps?
  • Is the number of resolved issues high because of long handle times in general, or are there a lot of complex issues coming in?
  • Are there issues in parts of the business or product that are taking up your reps’ time and therefore lowering the resolution rate?

Actionable items:

  • Chat with your support team about their workload and see if you should consider hiring more reps to deal with it.
  • Go through the ticket backlog to identify any recurring complex issues that are taking up your reps’ time.
  • See if there is any correlation between a low resolution rate and replies per ticket or average handle time—if there is, it might be an issue of your support team not asking clear enough questions and therefore extending the resolution period.

4. Average Reply Time

The Issue

Average reply time helps you see whether your customers are getting followed up with in a timely manner.

The “best practices” for average reply times vary greatly from company to company, but in general, nobody likes promised a quick response and then being left hanging.

Generally, the longer a customer is kept waiting for a response regardless of whether it’s first contact or a follow up, the more likely they are to feel irritated, so it’s best to try and keep your reply times as short as possible.

The Solution

Any reply time issue generally tends to be a workload problem (either not enough reps or too many extremely complex issues), an organizational issue or lagging communication between departments.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Do you need to hire more reps to deal with the workload?
  • Are the tickets that are getting long response times coming from customers in time zones where you don’t have customer support reps?
  • Are there issues in parts of the business or product that are taking up your reps’ time and keeping them from getting back to everyone the quickest they can?

Actionable items:

  • If it’s a workload issue, consider hiring more customer service reps.
  • If the tickets with a long reply time are coming from customers in time zones that you don’t have reps in, consider adding reps in those parts of the world.
  • Find out which kind of issues are taking up most of your reps’ time and if you can streamline the resolving process for these issues.

5. Average First Response Time

The Issue

Average first response time tells you how long it takes for a customer to receive an initial reply to their support request—basically how long a customer has to wait before being helped.

We already know that good support is more important than fast support, but average first reply time helps you ensure that your customers are getting responded to within an appropriate window.

Sometimes people just need a quick initial answer, even if it doesn’t include an immediate solution—it lets them know their issue is being dealt with and they’ve been acknowledged.

The Solution

Questions to ask yourself when it comes to first reply time, similarly to any time related indicators, include:

  • Is your average first reply time long because you have customers in different time zones but not enough customer service reps in the same time zones to provide a quick answer?
  • Is there an issue with notifications about incoming tickets or issues that is stopping your reps from getting on the issue as fast as possible?
  • Should you upgrade to a swifter customer support system that allows the customer service process to be more agile?

Actionable items:

  • Discuss and set reply time goals for your team.
  • Consider hiring customer service reps in different time zones to ensure coverage for incoming tickets at all times.
  • Encourage communication between your customer support and development teams to make sure the workflow between the two departments is as seamless as possible.

6. Customer Satisfaction

The Issue

Customer satisfaction is usually based on a short survey customers fill out, typically after a conversation or ticket is resolved. Either way, at its core, it asks the customer to rate their experience on a scale ranging from good/great to bad—something like this:

This is actually one of the most important metrics you can measure because it’s as direct as measuring your customers’ happiness gets for you.

There’s no assumptions—everything is brutally honest, straight from the people who have put their faith in you and your company—and if they’re not happy, you’re in trouble.

You might also find useful:

The Solution

Here are some things to consider when your customer satisfaction ratings are going down:

  • Which customers are not satisfied with your service and why?
  • Is there a recurring issue that your customers mention that you should move up in your development or design backlog?
  • Should you make more of an effort to engage your customers in a discussion about your product and everything that comes with it?

Actionable items:

  • Work out a system for asking more feedback from dissatisfied customers—extra brownie points if you reach out personally and ask to chat to them directly.
  • If you don’t ask have a comment section in your rating system yet, make sure that you add it so that your customers can mention why they’ve given you a less than satisfactory rating.
  • Make a list of the most common issues mentioned and move them up in your development/design backlog.

The most important thing to do when you’re facing a lot of low satisfaction ratings from your customers is to own up to it and ask for honest feedback about why they gave you a low rating.

It’s a growth opportunity for you and lets them know you’re taking their feedback seriously and trying to genuinely improve their experience.

7. Average Handle Time

The Issue

Average handle time shows you how long it takes your team to resolve a case.

Everyone likes their issues to be completely resolved as fast as possible without dragging things along, so it makes sense to try and keep your handle times as low as possible without affecting the quality of your support experience.

Very long handle times mean unhappy customers—if issues or questions take too long to resolve, your customers might not be able to get on with their everyday activities.

The Solution

Average handle time, again, has very similar thinking points to other time-related metrics:

  • Is your team resolving tickets faster over time or during certain periods?
  • Are there any recurring complex issues that are eating up your reps’ time so that they can’t attend to all tickets within a reasonable time?
  • Are your customer support reps asking the right questions to get as much clarity as possible with as little exchanges as possible?

Actionable items:

  • Go over your shipping schedule and process to make sure that releases aren’t causing customer service reps too many intense periods of high ticket volumes.
  • Make sure your customer support culture and best practices for clear communication and processes are discussed regularly within the whole team.

8. First Contact Resolution Rate (FCRR)

FCRR is resolving a customer’s issue in a single interaction, eliminating the need for them to contact you again about the issue.

FCRR is also one of the few metrics that has been directly correlated to real customer satisfaction.

Service Quality Measurement Group’s data suggests that a 1 percent improvement in FCR yields a 1 percent improvement in customer satisfaction.

The tie to customer satisfaction makes FCRR an important metric to keep your eye on.

The Solution

There can be various different reasons for a low FCRR, but the most important thing to consider is clarity of communication—not asking the right questions or being unclear in directions can cause more support exchanges than are actually necessary.

Ask yourself these things:

  • Do your customers frequently have complex issues that take more than one communication point to handle?
  • Which product areas are causing problems that are resolved easily?
  • Which product areas are hindering the efficiency of your team?
  • Are your customer service reps not communicating clearly enough, causing confusion which leads to extra exchanges?

Actionable items:

  • Go over the issues that are taking the most replies to resolve and see if you can move them up in your development or design backlog.
  • Make sure you discuss best practices for clear communication with your support team.

We’ve written more in depth about FCRR and how to improve it before, so if you’re interested in how to improve on it, go check that post out.

9. Net Promoter Score (NPS)

The Issue

NPS is a measure of how likely your customers are to recommend your product or service to other people.

Net Promoter Score Survey

Basically, it tells you how satisfied customers are with your business as a whole.

For Net Promoter Scores, according to Satmetrix, creators of NPS, the average score is around 5, but the most efficient growth occurs for companies whose NPS is in the 50–80 range.

A low NPS, similarly to a low direct customer satisfaction score, tells you that your customers are unhappy and you need to find out why.

The Solution

The things that you should think about when it comes to fixing a low NPS are very similar to what we discussed in regards to customer satisfaction:

  • Which customers are not satisfied with your service and why?
  • Is there a recurring issue that your customers mention as the reason for a low NPS that you should move up in your development or design backlog?
  • Should you make more of an effort to engage your customers in a discussion about your product and everything that comes with it?

Actionable items:

  • Work out a system for asking more feedback from dissatisfied customers—extra brownie points if you reach out personally and ask to chat to them directly.
  • If you don’t ask have a comment section in your rating system yet, make sure that you add it so that your customers can mention why they’ve given you a less than satisfactory rating.
  • Make a list of the most common issues mentioned and move them up in your development/design backlog.

10. Replies Per Ticket

The Issue

A survey by Forrester found that 73% of customers find first contact resolution to be hugely important for customer satisfaction.

That’s where replies per ticket comes in handy, along with FCRR.

Too many interactions per one ticket can often mean that your support staff is not asking the right questions, or the customer is not being directed to the right people.

The Solution

Similarly to FCRR, the first things to think of when your replies per ticket are a little too high are related mostly to communication issues between your support team and customers:

  • Are your reps asking the wrong questions or not communicating clearly?
  • How streamlined is your process for referring customer issues to other team members and could it be improved?

Actionable items:

  • Go over the issues that are taking the most replies to resolve and see if you can move them up in your development or design backlog.
  • Make sure you discuss best practices for clear communication with your support team.

Hypothesize and Test for Optimal Results

Once you’ve done the work to figure out which customer service metrics aren’t doing as great as you’d want them to, you can start running small, measurable experiments based on hypotheses to get on the right track for improving your numbers.

When testing action items, start out by structuring your hypotheses like this:

This is the state right now. If we do …, it will …, which we expect will…

For example:

All of our customer service reps are in the US, but our product/service is used globally. If we add another service rep in Europe, it will bring the first response time down to an hour. We expect a better first response time to improve our customer satisfaction score, which is tied to customer retention.

Once you’ve made your hypotheses, you can start testing them, and reporting back on the results. If a strategy isn’t working for you, kill it and try another one.

We’ve written a lot about hypothesis and testing support strategies in our customer service ROI post, so if want extra pointers in that area, head over to read that.

Focus on Communication to Improve Customer Service Metrics

Getting your numbers in order is a tough thing to start doing from scratch to begin with, and it gets even worse if they don’t reflect what you want to see.

However, think of seeing “red lights” as potential—you have your hand on the pulse—from there you can quickly react when things start getting worse, or celebrate when the trends go up.

Either way, the key here is to make sure that communication is open and trusted between your customer support team members as well as the whole company.

Which customer service metrics do you look at regularly and how do you make sure they’re trending upwards? Let us know in the comments!

Elen Veenpere
Elen Veenpere Elen is an alum of Groove's content marketing team. She’s passionate about typing, overly complicated spreadsheets, and drinking disgusting amounts of coffee.