How to Share KPIs with Executives

This post was originally published on the ICMI blog.

A busy contact center needed to hire more agents.

The manager presented her case to the executive team. Her proposal focused on key performance indicators (KPIs) that indicated the contact center was short staffed:

  • Long hold times
  • High abandon rates
  • Poor service levels

The manager was disappointed when the executive team rejected her proposal. She thought she had put together a strong case based on compelling data.

So, what went wrong?

The short answer is the contact manager focused on the wrong KPIs. Here's how to identify KPIs that executives truly care about.

Step 1: Target Hot Buttons

The first step is to figure out what issues executives care about the most. I call these "hot buttons."

There's no single answer here. Take the time to ask them directly. Listen carefully to the types of questions they consistently ask you.

Let's go back to the busy contact center. Executives there cared most about cost containment. They had recently invested in some new marketing initiatives and needed to rein in spending in other areas.

The manager's hiring proposal was rejected because she didn't directly address cost containment. In fact, it raised a red flag because hiring more people would increase costs in the short run.

A more successful strategy would have been to illustrate how hiring more agents would save the company money over time. For example, adding staff might improve first contact resolution, reduce discounts given for poor service, and cut down on customer churn.


Step 2: Link Executive Hot Buttons to KPIs

The next step is to link KPIs to the issues your executive team cares most about.

Here's how a different contact center leader successfully pitched hiring new agents to the company's CEO.

The manager started by recognizing that cost containment was the CEO's hot button issue. In particular, the CEO often asked about the volume of overflow calls sent to an outsourced contact center. (This was because calls sent to the outsourcer were more expensive than those kept in house.)

So, the contact center manager focused on the percentage of calls kept in house as a KPI.

Using this KPI, the contact manager was able to show that hiring more agents would reduce costs. Saving money was music to the CEO's ears and he quickly approved the plan.


Step 3: Create Clear Reports

Executives don't have a lot of time to read dense reports. They need clear reports that are easy to read. 

A great example comes from Lupe Zepeda, Customer Service Manager at CSA Travel Protection. 

She met with her executive team to identify and agree upon the KPIs they were most interested in seeing. Zepeda then created a report that was easy to skim and scan, but also contained additional information.

Here's the format: 


The report is shared with executives on a monthly basis. (That's their preferred time frame.) It provides a clear snapshot of the contact center's performance and allows executives to quickly identify any areas of concern.

The smiley column on the right hand side is a best practice. Some people worry that a simple, color-coded smiley graphic is too silly for an executive report. Executives actually like it because it tells them at a glance whether or not the KPI is on target.


Getting Started

Sharing KPIs with executives doesn't have to be difficult. Just keep in mind their primary purpose. They're called Key Performance Indicators because they're designed to provide a quick snapshot of performance.

You'll do well if you can use KPIs to show executives how your contact center is contributing to organizational goals and the specific issues they care about most.

How to Choose the Right Type of Customer Service Survey

Customer service surveys are getting confusing.

There's an alphabet soup of options available to companies who want to survey their customers. They all have their proponents and detractors. It's tough to figure out what to do.

Here's an example of a typical dilemma. An operations manager for a financial services firm recently asked me, "Do you think we should do NPS?"

How you would answer that question?

I've shared a brief overview of the situation below. You'll also see a short video overview of the three major survey types: CSAT, NPS, and CES.

Finally, my answer is at the bottom of this post. Do you agree with my conclusion?

Background Information

The operations manager works for a company that serves the vehicle financing industry. They provide a suite of services to banks that issue auto loans and finance leases. The company is located in a country where local regulations and strong relationships give them a near-monopoly in their market.

They have approximately 3,000 customers, but the bulk of their revenue comes from 30 key clients. The operations manager told me these clients are the ones they really want to get feedback from. In particular, he wanted to understand the top problems faced by these 30 clients so they could improve their service.

The company currently offers a customer satisfaction (CSAT) survey after a client contacts their customer service department. Like many large account relationships, the person contacting customer service (i.e. the user) isn't typically the executive signing the contract.

So, is an NPS survey right for this company? 

This short video primer explains the pros and cons of the three major survey types, including NPS. Watch the video and then see if you can answer the manager's question.

Choosing the Right Survey

So, what advice would you give to the operations manager?

The key is to focus on your goal. Understand what you are trying to accomplish, and then select the right tool for the job.

My advice was to avoid adding another survey altogether. His goal was to gather feedback from 30 key clients. That's a small enough group that he could ask each client directly. They might even consider hosting client focus groups or forums if these clients were willing.

Asking customers directly is one of several ways you can can capture customer feedback without using a survey.

I also advised the manager that an NPS survey wouldn't be a good fit with his goals. NPS surveys are great for companies that want to grow through word of mouth referrals. However, this company had a near monopoly on their particular service, so word of mouth wasn't an issue.

You can find more ideas on my new customer service survey resource page.

Why You Should Stop Trying to Motivate Customer Service Employees

Nate Brown's conference session was packed.

People had crowded into the room to learn about gamification, the latest trend in employee motivation. The participants were customer service leaders attending ICMI's 2015 Contact Center Expo. In customer service, motivation is always a hot topic.

Brown was awesome. He led us in games and contests. People got involved. They were energized and loud. 

I felt bad for whatever session was going on in the room next door. I imagined them listening to someone drone on over a lame PowerPoint. Surely, those people heard the ruckus from our session and realized they had chosen poorly. 

Despite all the fun, I knew we'd be back here again next year. 

Perhaps gamification would be replaced by a new motivational fad. The scene would still be the same. People will crowd into the room in hopes of learning, once and for all, how to motivate their customer service employees.

They'd be wasting their time.


Why Motivation Isn't a Problem

Why do we try so hard to motivate customer service employees?

The easy answer is we want them to provide better service. OK, but why wouldn't they do that anyway?

That's really the million dollar question. 

We spend so much time on the how, as in "How do I motivate my employees." There's not nearly enough time spent thinking about the why, as in "What aren't my employees motivated?"

I've talked to thousands of employees over the years. They've consistently told me two things about motivation:

  1. They love making customers happy.
  2. They find it demotivating when they can't.

Compare these two statements with job satisfaction data from Benchmark Portal:

Job satisfaction begins to dip after three months. New hire training in most contact centers lasts 6 to 12 weeks. So, motivation declines right when training ends and the real work begins.

This suggests we don't have a motivation problem at all. Our problem is demotivation.

People start jobs with optimism. They're hopeful that the job will be fun and fulfilling. This is exactly what happens at companies with high-performance service cultures.

Employees in other companies quickly become disillusioned.


What's Demotivating Employees

ICMI discovered a shocking statistic in their report, Agent Apathy: The Root Cause of Poor Customer Service.

74% of contact center leaders acknowledge the fact that they prevent agents from providing the best experience possible.

This research suggests that most contact centers make it really difficult for employees to do what they want to do most - make customers happy.

Motivation would be much higher if we made it easier for customer service employees to serve their customers.

Research from the Temkin Group supports this. Look at the difference between employees who feel they're contributing and those who think they aren't:

People will go the extra mile when they feel like it means something. The fits nicely with research uncovered in Daniel Pink's book on motivation, Drive

I wrote a blog post about how this fits into customer service. Here's a short summary:

  • People are motivated by purpose (serving customers)
  • People desire mastery (the ability to do it)
  • People want autonomy (empowerment)


Making Customer Service Easy

Customer service isn't easy.

My book, Service Failure, explored the myriad of obstacles customer service employees face every day.

A good customer service leader obsesses about helping employees overcome these obstacles. Here are some resources to help you:

Conference Re-Cap: Customer Service Experience & CRM Evolution 2015

This week, I attended the Customer Service Experience and CRM Evolution conferences in New York City. The conferences were two of three conferences put on simultaneously by Information Today. The third was SpeechTek 2015

It was the second time I had attended the conference. (See my re-cap of the 2014 conference here.) This post provides an overview of the conference along with a few key insights from the event.



You may want to start by familiarizing yourself with the background of each conference.

The Twitter backchannel is always a great way to see what speakers and ideas are resonating most with conference participants. You don't need to have a Twitter account to view Tweets posted to the conference hashtags:


Key Takeaways

There are always a few things that really stand out at a conference. Here were the top takeaways for me.

Shane Snow's Keynote

Snow is the Chief Creative Officer at Contently and the author of Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success

His presentation focused on a concept called Lateral Thinking. This technique, popularized by Edward De Bono's book by the same name, is a way of gaining insight by looking at problems from a completely new perspective.

One story Snow shared was how operating room doctors in a children's hospital cut errors by more than 50 percent by borrowing ideas from Formula One pit crews.

This really resonated with me because customer service employees often struggle to see things from the customer's perspective. Lateral thinking can often reveal new opportunities to serve.


Jason Young's Keynote 

Young is the President of Leadsmart, Inc . He's also the author of The Culturetopia Effect.

He focused on culture and drew heavily from his time working at Southwest Airlines. One part that really stood out was how Southwest uses its customer service vision to give employees clear guidance on the type of service they should strive to deliver.

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit.

Young also shared a little bit about Southwest's fascinating history. You can learn more about their incredible business story from Herb Kelleher's book, Nuts!

It's no secret I'm a huge proponent of using culture to drive service. A key part of that is creating a clear Customer Service Vision for employees to follow. I even referenced the Southwest Airlines mission as an example in my book, Service Failure.


Burg Hughes's Presentation

This was my favorite breakout session. Hughes is the Vice President of Operations at BuySeasons. They operate three brands - BuyCostumes, Costume Express, and Birthday Express.

His presentation focused on how BuySeasons uses customer feedback to improve service and save the company money. Hughes shared multiple examples of how he investigated service icebergs to uncover problems and find solutions.

One story he shared revolved around a piñata the company sold. Here's the feedback BuySeasons received.

Source: Burg Hughes, BuySeasons. Customer Service Experience 2015 presentation.

Source: Burg Hughes, BuySeasons. Customer Service Experience 2015 presentation.

Hughes knows customers often don't complain. That means one complaint might really signal a problem experienced by many others.

So, his first step was to contact other customers who ordered the piñata. He learned that many of them felt the same way about the packaging.

Next, he took the problem to the distribution center leader. He learned that such a large box was used because it was the only box they had that could hold both the piñata and stick that came with it. 

Hughes shared that feedback with the merchandising team that sourced the product. They did some research and discovered they could change the stick for a slightly smaller one that came in two pieces and could be screwed together by the customer. 

This allowed BuySeasons to ship the piñata in a much smaller box. It addressed a source of customer discontent, but it also saved BuySeasons a lot of money on shipping since the size of the box factors into shipping costs.

Hughes shared example after example like this in his presentation. It was really impressive to see how a few points of feedback could translate into cost savings and happier customers. I call this having a customer service canary.


If you attended the conference, what were your biggest takeaways?


Inside Twitter's New Customer Service Guide

Twitter has published a playbook to help companies serve customers via Twitter. 

Overall, it's a very useful guide. It's also a pretty hefty volume, clocking in at 125 pages. This post is a "Cliff's Notes" version that summarizes a few key aspects:

  • Twitter's unique position as a service channel
  • Creative ways to engage customers via Twitter
  • Top challenges companies face
  • How to implement a successful Twitter care strategy

You can also download the full guide here:


Twitter's Unique Position

The Playbook highlights Twitter's unique combination of attributes:

  • Public: Anyone can see it
  • Real-time: Tweets are immediate
  • Conversational: Anyone can join in
  • Distributed: Tweets can easily be shared

Here's a great example of an exchange between a customer and a brand:

Twitter claims that serving a customer via Twitter can cost up to 80 percent less than via phone. I couldn't find a source for that calculation, but it wouldn't be surprising given the short-burst nature of Twitter.

The Playbook also makes a really, really bold claim:

Twitter is the ideal customer service channel.

It's a bold claim. And, they could be right.

The argument hinges on the fact that customers are already on Twitter. They don't have to go to a company-specific channel such as phone, email, or an app to receive service.

Consider this choose your-own-adventure customer service scenario:

You experience a flight delay that will cause you to miss your connecting flight. You now need to get booked on a later flight.

Do you:

  1. Wait in line to speak to a gate attendant?
  2. Use your smart phone to navigate the airline's website?
  3. Call the airline and sit through IVR hell?
  4. Email the airline and wait two weeks for a response?
  5. Trust the airline's wonky app?

None of those sounds like a great option if you're in a hurry. 

The promise of Twitter is you can fire off a Tweet to let the world know you are bummed about your flight delay and the airline's super-responsive Twitter squad will see your Tweet and instantly book you on another flight.

Yeah, it does seem a bit far-fetched. 

But, imagine the possibilities if your company can pull off this magic! You keep the customer in their preferred channel. And, your brand's snappy response signals to others that you are on the ball.

(Yes, I know some airlines automatically re-book passengers in these situations. That service is far from perfect. One airline auto re-booked me to the wrong airport. #fail)

As a side note, Twitter's argument for being the best channel actually works better for text. Text is another way companies can serve you where you already are. Plus, it has the added advantage of being one-to-one versus one-to-one-to-many. 

In fact, text has amazing potential as a customer service tool.

In that same scenario, you could receive an automated flight delay notification from the airline via text. It could also propose rebooking you on another flight. All you'd have to do is text back to confirm. Voila!


Creative Use Cases

The Playbook lays out three general ways that companies can use Twitter for customer service:

  1. Issue resolution
  2. Proactive engagement
  3. Voice of the Customer listening

Many companies are familiar with issue resolution. A customer Tweets about a problem and the company tries to fix it.

The nice thing about using Twitter for issue resolution is other customers can see the resolution too. Let's say your customer asks a question a lot of other customers ask too. You can include a helpful link to additional information.

Proactive engagement is another way to use Twitter. This is where a brand steps into a conversation to offer helpful service. Hilton provides a good example with their @hiltonsuggests handle:

One word of caution here. There's a fine line between helpful and creepy when a brand is being proactive.

Voice of customer listening involves looking at the larger trends. Twitter's Playbook cites an example at T-Mobile where a change to a corporate discounting program caused a large spike in negative Tweets. They were able to quickly address the issue before it got larger.


Top Twitter Challenges

The Playbook also highlighted some of the top challenges companies face when using Twitter. The report mentioned two, but I'll add a third:

  1. Keeping up with volume
  2. Managing multiple touch points
  3. Low preference (my addition)

Twitter's analytics show that tweets to major brands have increased 2.5 times in just two years. They also show that approximately 40 percent of those Tweets go unanswered. 

(Note: a recent Freshdesk study puts the number of unanswered Tweets at 78 percent.)

Managing multiple touch points is also a challenge. A customer interaction might start in a store, migrate to the company's website, and finally escalate to Twitter. 

Companies struggle to maintain a consistent brand voice across all these channels. Many companies also lack the systems necessary to present customer service reps with a single view of customers who engage through multiple channels.

My own addition is that very few customers actually prefer Twitter. 

An Execs in the Know study revealed that only 9 percent of customers prefer social media as their primary channel. And, my own research shows that most customers turn to Twitter after failing to get a resolution from another channel.

Would more customers prefer Twitter if more companies got it right? I don't know, but I'd guess the answer is yes.


Twitter's Guide to Twitter

The most useful portion of Twitter's Playbook are the step-by-step instructions for getting started on Twitter or optimizing your company's presence.

They offer seven steps:

  1. Set your vision (here's a handy worksheet)
  2. Size and prioritize your opportunities
  3. Define the customer service experience
  4. Set goals for performance metrics (try the SMART goals worksheet)
  5. Establish the measurement mechanism
  6. Operationalize your strategy
  7. Iterate and innovate

You can download the full guide if you think these steps might be useful.