Do Customer Service Metrics Ruin the Customer Service Experience?

The best customer service feels personal, empathetic, and uniquely human. When businesses are small, these connections happen naturally. Regular customers are welcomed back, and agents start to recognize the needs of the customers they speak to frequently. Business owners are directly involved in supporting customers, and every customer feels valued. 

But that’s not the feeling most customers get when they deal with big businesses. Somewhere between the early days of hands-on customer care and becoming a global enterprise, businesses lose that personal touch. Why is that? Are customer service metrics to blame? 

In this article, we dig into the question “Are customer service metrics ruining the customer experience?” and if so, what should we do about it? 

Why we’ve become increasingly focused on metrics

As a company grows, the divide between customers and the business grows. Leaders have less hands-on time with customers. Agents might never speak to the same customer twice. The importance of efficiency increases and the opportunities to connect decrease. 

At this point, customer service leaders start to use metrics as a way to gain insight. Because they can’t see everything that’s happening, they need metrics like CSAT and average first reply time to understand how their customers are feeling. A dashboard showing how happy customers are, and how quickly agents are replying to them can help leaders keep their finger on the pulse of their department. 

But that’s not the only reason teams start relying on metrics. For many years, customer service struggled to get “a seat at the table”. Because customer service was considered a cost-center for so long, it became very difficult for customer service leaders to convince other executives to invest in growing the support team. This made it very hard to argue for things that customers needed. 

Enter, metrics. 

Instead of relying on anecdotal evidence (such as customers complaining that the service was too slow), managers started bringing hard numbers to the table. This helped them make the business case for the improvements they wanted to make. However, for many departments it  created a bad habit of tracking metrics instead of focusing on delivering a delightful experience

How metrics can ruin the customer service experience

As more and more customer service metrics are put in place to improve the customer experience, many leaders are starting to wonder if their metrics are actually having the opposite effect. When we’re tracking everything, but customers are still churning and still dissatisfied, are more metrics really the right answer? 

It turns out that metrics can actually be detrimental to your business’ experience strategy when they aren’t implemented with finesse. 

For example, one of the most common metrics to track is Average First Reply Time. It seems like a great idea in theory, because customers have repeatedly indicated how important speed is to an excellent service experience. Tracking FRT means that teams can find ways to improve it, and be more efficient in responding to customers quickly. However, speed isn’t everything. When we prioritize speed over a helpful, thorough answer and rush to deliver a less-than-ideal answer, the customer doesn’t have a great experience. In this case, the agent is prioritizing the metric over the experience. 

As Michael Harris and Bill Tayler explain in HBR, “a company can easily lose sight of its strategy and instead focus strictly on the metrics that are meant to represent it.” The more metrics we track and emphasize to front line agents, the more likely our goal of providing a great customer experience will be overshadowed. 

Customer experience is a long game

Another problem with using metrics to dictate the customer experience is that most metrics only measure a single interaction. The entire customer experience is boiled down to that one conversation they had with an agent on a Tuesday afternoon. Yes, they got a quick response, but that’s just one part of their experience. Providing that personal, ongoing relationship with customers requires teams to think beyond the metrics. 

Imagine if your significant other started tracking the success of your relationship by measuring individual touchpoint, after you asked for them to be attentive to your needs.  

  • Was that foot massage satisfactory? 
  • How quickly did you answer my phone call yesterday? 
  • Did you ask me how I was doing at least three times today? 

While the metrics align with what you were asking for, you’d quickly realize that the transactional nature of your relationship wasn’t very enjoyable. Even if all of those metrics were positive, they don’t add up to a successful relationship. Customer experience is the same way – you need to be looking at the big picture more often than examining the details. In other words, you can’t let the metrics overwhelm the strategy. 

How to avoid focusing on metrics instead of experience

The answer is not to throw out all metrics and let chaos reign. Instead, Harris and Tayler suggest being more mindful about the metrics you choose to measure, and how you implement them in your teams. Here are their suggestions from their Harvard Business Review article: 

Reduce the connection between metrics and performance incentives

When agents are rewarded for meeting specific metric goals, they tend to chase those rewards at the expense of everything else. AHT, as mentioned above, is the classic example. If you’re rewarding agents based on speed, it’s likely that they will answer quickly, but they might not answer thoroughly. Sales targets might make sales soar, but they don’t ensure that customers are getting what they need. 

Use multiple, balanced metrics

If tracking one metric might negatively impact another metric, measure both! Measuring both quality and speed of service will ensure you’re not favoring one over the other. Measuring customer satisfaction at multiple touchpoints along the customer journey will make sure you’re not ignoring customers after the initial sale. Rather than putting all the weight on one metric, balance out the importance of metrics across the entire customer experience for a well-rounded picture. 

Reiterate the strategy, not the metrics

While metrics are helpful for managers who need to forecast future hiring needs, or calculate the cost per contact, they shouldn’t be the main driver of your agent’s actions. Instead, focus on your overall strategy when training agents. For example, instead of saying “reduce the % of orders that result in returns” say “help customers find the right size or product for them”.

Don’t let your metrics get in the way 

Customer service metrics can absolutely get in the way of a great customer experience. Just like over-reaching policies that frustrate customers, heavy-handed metrics can do more harm than good.

Take a good look at the metrics you’re already tracking. Do you know why you’re tracking them? What behaviors could they be driving? How does the front line feel about what gets measured? An audit of your existing metrics can help ensure that you measure the right things when it comes to your customer service experience.

Need help deciding on the right metrics to showcase your customer service team’s success? We’ve got you covered in this blog post.