SQM Group

Call Handling Impact on FCR

April 30, 2021 | 10min read

Call Handling Best Practices for Improving First Call Resolution Based on Award-Winning SQM Clients

How Call Handling Impacts First Call Resolution

​Call handling is one of the best opportunities for improving First Call Resolution (FCR). SQM’s research shows that approximately 40% of non-FCR the Agent was the source of error.  Furthermore, one of the quickest ways to improve FCR is to improve Agent call handling practices. Below are call handling best practices that have a proven track record of improving FCR and customer experience.

Intelligent Skill-Based Routing

Intelligent skill-based routing is a call assignment practice used in contact centers to assign incoming calls to the most suitable Agent rather than simply the next available Agent. The most suitable Agent is determined by utilizing information about who is calling and why they are calling to match up with an available Agent who has the necessary skill level to resolve the customer's call.​

​Many contact centers use a generalist Agent call handling business practice resulting in having a large queue of generalist Agents to handle calls, but they are not specifically matched to customer needs. SQM's research shows that in most cases, the specialized Agent's skill set to handle specific call types has higher FCR performance than the generalist Agent who has a skill set to handle most or all call types.

Call Handling Skill Based Routing

FCR Best Practices for Using Intelligent Skill-Based Routing Are as Follows:

New Customers

SQM has found that new customers have questions and situations that arise and place multiple calls in the first 90 days of their association with an organization (unlike existing customers). Therefore, it may be appropriate to identify new customers in the CRM and route them to Agents trained in new customer issues. Proper and complete onboarding of new customers is critical to heading off future calls and collecting customer information upfront to serve them down the road better. 

Call Handling New Customers

Repeat Callers

Customers who have 'pending resolution,' 'open cases,' 'open trouble tickets,' or are calling within one to five days of their previous call should be flagged and routed to a specialized Agent, or to the best Agents, who can provide appropriate status or resolve their call. These Agents should be empowered to make clear follow-up commitments to the customer to avoid the customer calling back for further status updates. 

Call Handling Repeat Calls

High-Value Customers

Route high-value customers to specialized Agents and, if there is competition for these Agents' availability, assign high-value customers a priority in terms of queuing time. These customers should be presented to Agents with a higher priority than regular customers, and Agents should be empowered to provide concierge service to these valuable customers.

Call Handling High Value

Default Customers

If a customer is flagged as being in default of their account, their call can be routed immediately to the group responsible for collections and payment arrangements. If necessary, only after acceptable payment terms are reached should the customer then be provided further service.

Call Handling Default Customers

Wait Time for Customers

Service levels are something that all contact centers struggle with, and many repeat calls are driven by callers who abandon the queue to call back later. Intelligent skill-based routing can script alternate destinations for calls during peak calling hours by understanding the abandoned thresholds. For instance, all calls in the queue for over two minutes may be routed to an alternative skill with agents presently available. These alternative skills should be closely matched to the primary servicing skill type to provide the customer with the best service possible. An alternative is for the customer to be given a choice in the IVR for an automated call back to them (queue placement retained) or schedule a call back at a specific time.

Call Handling Wait Time

Defecting Customers

It may warrant using speech recognition to route calls to a retention Agent when a customer mentions that they want to 'cancel service.' In this way, callers can be routed to Agents specialized in 'retention' or 'loyalty' skills. These Agents are highly skilled at retaining customers and are empowered to make service offers that are more attractive to customers. 

Call Handling Defecting Customers

The Shift from Average Speed of Answer to FCR Focus

The contact center industry has traditionally used service level and average speed of answer (ASA) as the Holy Grail for defining customer service. While these metrics speak to speed, they do little to shed light on Customer Satisfaction (Csat), or more importantly, the number of calls a customer makes to resolve their inquiry. Although keeping track of these metrics remains important, it is not considered a best practice to focus on service level and ASA metrics as the key indicator of customer service. A best practice is to use FCR, not service-level metrics, to measure a contact center's customer service performance.

Proper execution in shifting from a service-level focus to an FCR focus can be challenging for contact centers with an ingrained culture of defining customer service success through service levels and ASA. For contact centers to successfully transition from a service-level and ASA focus to an FCR focus, there needs to be a paradigm shift in thinking that FCR, not service levels, is the key to Csat. SQM research shows that ASA has no impact on Csat for the first 120 seconds of a call. In other words, if an Agent answers the call within 120 seconds, there is neither a positive nor a negative impact on Csat. What customers want is to have their call resolved and preferably on the first call.

Call Handling Shift to FCR


Call Resolution Delivery Model

At the heart of world-class customer service is how Agents handle calls. Resolving calls and having very satisfied customers requires Agents to be highly skilled at call handling. Contact center managers know very well that Agents must have the necessary product, service, and technology knowledge, but just as important is their ability to handle calls to resolve the call, and the customer's call is resolved and feel they received great customer service.

As shown in Figure 1, the Call Resolution Delivery Model for Agent call handling best practice comprises the four key customer moments of truth that matter the most to customers.


Call Handling Moments of Truth

Listed below is a brief description of best practices for each moment of truth in the Call Resolution Delivery Model.

  1. Understand Me – Agent determines and confirms the reason(s) for the customer's call by actively listening, probing, and clarifying to ensure understanding and acknowledging call history and documenting the conversation. 

  2. Help Me – Agent expresses and demonstrates a willingness to help customers by letting them know that they can help them, provide accurate and complete information, focus on the inquiry, take the necessary time to help the customer, and educate them with solution options.

  3. Care About Me – Agent uses a friendly, enthusiastic, and warm voice tone, builds rapport, shows empathy for the customer's situation, is patient and honest, and expresses appreciation for the customer's business.

  4. Resolve Me – Agent resolves customer's inquiries or problems by answering questions, solving problems, using authority and taking ownership, providing fair treatment, summarizing call, communicating next steps, and confirming that the call is resolved.


Concierge Service

The practice of concierge service is moving from the hospitality industry to the contact center industry. To most people, a concierge service means employees are working at high-end hotels and providing customers with information about the best restaurants, directions, or where to purchase theater tickets. In some cases, they can make dinner reservations or purchase event tickets on a customer's behalf, but in most cases, they provide information, just as websites or Agents do. Interestingly, providing contact center concierge service is a great opportunity for Agents to resolve customer calls that would otherwise go unresolved.

Call Handling Concierge

The way concierge service works in a contact center environment is an Agent helps a customer by contacting other departments or organizations for a reference code, more information, or authorization to resolve the customer's call. Specifically, the concierge Agent tells the customer that they will call the necessary department or organization, either on their behalf or with them on the line, to get the reference code, information, or authorization needed to resolve the call. In most cases, a concierge Agent calls other departments or organizations while the customer is on the phone and a three-way conversation takes place.

Concierge service best practices that help the contact center improve the performance of its FCR, Csat, and cost per call resolution are as follows:

  • Rather than focus on average hold time, managers focus on doing the right thing for the customer. Managers remove average hold time metrics from individual Agent scorecards and instead focus on calls resolved and FCR at the organization level
  • Call handling standards clearly state that whenever customers have to call another department or organization to get more information to have their issue resolved, it is the Agent's responsibility to get the required information on behalf of, or with, the customer
  • The contact center's QA program and customer surveys are used to measure whether or not Agents provided effective concierge service
  • Agents are trained and coached on how to provide concierge service
  • Agents are recognized for delivering concierge service
  • Agents are held accountable for their Csat and call resolution performance
  • Agents educate customers, when possible, on using self-service channels to get information
  • Agents are educated on what fulfillment departments need to do to process items such as requests, orders, and claims
  • The contact center is always looking for ways to improve its people, process, and technology practices to avoid customer callbacks due to the customer having to provide the Agent with more information
  • Agents have a 'goes the extra mile' attitude to resolve the customer's call. This attitude is primarily manifested by concierge service calls but is also transferred to other call types


Complaint Handling

The vast majority of contact centers do not know the percentage of customers who consider their call to the contact center to be a complaint. Most contact centers do not have standard business practices for identifying and handling customer complaints. SQM research shows that 13% of customers calling a contact center would describe their call as a complaint. The complaint caller's Csat (top box response) is 41%, versus the non-complaint caller's Csat (top box response) of 76%. The contact center industry needs to improve in identifying and handling customer complaints.

Effective complaint handling for the contact center industry has been a long-term Achilles' heel and represents a great opportunity to implement complaint handling best practices to protect the organization's greatest asset – its customers.

Handling Angry and Upset Customers

Many customers who are angry or upset have very low expectations that their issue or problem will get resolved to their satisfaction. Dealing with an angry customer represents a great opportunity to meet or exceed their expectations to resolve the issue or problem. Put differently, a customer complaint is a gift because you get the chance to deliver service recovery and learn from mistakes. The following is an effective complaint handling three-step process an Agent or escalation Agent can use when handling angry or upset customers.

Call Handling Angry Customers

Mess Up – allow the customer to tell their side of the story and vent their frustration without being interrupted. The Agent acknowledges that they have heard the customer by using words such as uh-huh, hmm, I see, and tell me more. Listening to the customer and letting them vent allows them to calm down.

Fess Up – ask questions to ensure understanding of the issue or problem. Agent restates the issue or problem to confirm that they fully understand. Agent apologizes for the organization's mistake or expresses empathy for the customer's situation. If a full agreement between the customer and Agent cannot be reached on the issue or problem, try to seek a partial agreement on the issue or problem to defuse the customer's anger. 

Make Up – resolve the customer's issue or problem to their satisfaction. Many customers have low expectations that their issue will get resolved to their satisfaction. By providing a solution or solution options to resolve their issue or problem, you have an opportunity to meet or exceed the customer's expectations. The Agent should confirm with the customer that there is agreement that the solution or solution options will resolve the customer's issue or problem (e.g., Have I resolved your issue or problem?).


Quick Related Links

First Call Resolution Definition   First Call Resolution PPT  First Call Resolution Benefits 
First Call Resolution Strategies  First Call Resolution Operating Philosophy  Call Handling Call Study  Intelligent Skill-based Routing  CRM  Average Speed of Answer  Call Resolution Delivery Model  Concierge Service  Handling Customer Complaints  VoC Performance Management