Article | 5 min read

First contact resolution: beacon of good support?

By Andrew Gori

Last updated May 30, 2017

First Contact Resolution (FCR) is a metric that, when used judiciously, can help drive improvements in customer experience. But it’s not without its pitfalls.

What is First Contact Resolution?

Also known as first call resolution or one-touch resolution, First Contact Resolution (or FCR) is a metric that measures the percentage of customer calls or requests that are resolved by your agents or reps in a single interaction. Examples could include a single phone or chat conversation, or an email inquiry that’s solved with a single reply.

How do I measure FCR?

Measuring FCR is fairly simple—just take the number of customer requests you receive that are resolved in a single interaction (email response, phone call, chat session, etc.), and divide by the the total number of requests received over the same period. Since many businesses have requests that are impossible to resolve with a single interaction (software bug reports that aren’t considered solved until the bug is fixed, for example), you can limit your calculations to the interactions that theoretically could have been solved in a single interaction.

Why is it important?

First contact resolution is intuitively beneficial. As customers, we want our issue resolved quickly, without any back and forth required. As support professionals, we want the same thing. It makes things easier on everyone. Win-win, right?

And there’s data to back up the benefits of focusing on FCR. An oft-cited study by the Service Quality Measurement (SQM) Group boasts that a 1% improvement in FCR can result in a 1% improvement in CSAT, a 1% decrease in contact center operational costs, and a 1-5% increase in employee satisfaction. Another study by ICMI indicated that 75% of companies that reported FCR improvement over a 12-month period also saw an increase in customer satisfaction, and at least half confirmed improvements in operational costs and/or employee satisfaction.

What are some ways to improve FCR?

The simplest answer is this: learn why your requests require follow-up from your customers or agents, and work to reduce those reasons. Here are some common solutions:

  • Empower your agents to use their instincts and skills to help the customer, over tying them to specific scripts.
  • Give your agents the training and tools so they can succeed – a robust knowledge base can help here
  • Work to improve product and process issues that result in back-and-forth between customers and your team. Here are some first contact resolution tips.

All right, so what’s the downside to FCR?

If your first contact resolution rate is low, then working to improve it using the methods listed above will most likely improve your customer satisfaction. The problem is when you over-rely on FCR as a success metric. A high FCR rate can mask other issues, and while it might seem to you that your team is doing well, customers are having to contact you repeatedly or unnecessarily. Consider:

  • Customer failure: a customer might be unable to complete the instructions you gave them once you’ve concluded your interaction with them, or they may inadvertently create a new problem as a side-effect, and have to call back. To you, it might seem like two separate issues, but to the customer, they’re inextricably linked.
  • The rabbit hole: customers might fixate on one way to solve a problem, but it might not be the best (or even the correct) way—and they’ll contact you again when it doesn’t work. Again, this could been measured as two separate issues (both of which might be “solved” with a single interaction), but to a frustrated customer, it’s them having to contact you twice for the same underlying problem.
  • Self-service fails: a high FCR rate might indicate that your knowledge base or in-product help is either missing commonly-needed answers, or that those answers aren’t easy to find. In this case, it’s a question of “was this trip necessary at all?”
  • Short-sighted incentives: if your agents are judged on their first contact resolution rate, it can encourage them to answer customer questions as presented, rather than looking deeper.

So what do I do about it?

The authors of The Effortless Experience recommend shifting your focus from first contact resolution, to next-issue avoidance – instead of asking “how do I resolve this issue?”, ask: “how do I make sure this customer doesn’t have to call us back?” If you can anticipate the next likely question and answer that in the first interaction, that will naturally prevent some followup questions.

Here are some other tips:

  • Anticipate possible problems the customer might encounter when implementing your instructions, and give them the tools to prevent or solve those themselves. For example, include links to relevant articles in your knowledge base.
  • Make sure your agents are thinking (and asking the customer) about the underlying needs that precipitated the customer’s question. If your agents understand why the customer is trying to do something, they can make sure that customers are on the right track, and anticipate next steps.
  • Analyze customer issues that are solved with a single interaction, and look for ways those questions could be prevented using self-service tools. Implementing a Knowledge-Centered Support (KCS) program is an investment that can strengthen your knowledge base.
  • Make sure you’re including followup contacts in your FCR calculations—if a customer contacts you again within a certain period of time for any reason, assume it’s a followup and don’t count it as resolved with the first contact. Then look at these followup issues and look for opportunities to address them in the first interaction.
  • Balance first contact resolution measurements with other metrics such as customer satisfaction, customer effort, and agent satisfaction.

Keep these tips and cautions in mind, and you can make your customers happier, not just by decreasing the number of times they need to call you back, but the number of times they need your help at all. Your customers will be happy, and so will your team (and your bottom line).

Learn more about important customer service metrics, workflows, and operations, read Zendesk’s Agent Experience guide