The media scholar John Culkin, paraphrasing his friend Marshall McLuhan’s thoughts, said, “We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.”

He was talking about technology — how radio, television, and other communication mediums actually change and shape the messages that we send — but it also applies to the tools we use to run our businesses and the metrics we choose to measure success. That’s especially true when it comes to customer support teams, where what you’re shaping is your customers’ support experience.

When you decide on your metrics, you’re also indicating what you (and your organization) value, and your reps will follow your lead. In this way, your metrics create incentives.

That’s why it’s important to be intentional about what you choose to measure, especially when it comes to your success and that of your agents — otherwise, your customers might not like the shape of the experience they end up with.

Common metrics & their blind spots.

It’s not that there are certain metrics that magically result in your team providing an amazing customer experience, and others that will lead you astray. Choosing to prioritize one metric over another can, however, bring certain aspects of the customer experience into focus — and make others harder to see. Getting your support metrics right is about acknowledging your blind spots and adjusting to account for them.

As you think about the metrics you choose for support, make sure you know what you’re incentivizing and where your blind spots might be. Here are some examples:

Speed.

You incentivize your support team to work faster when you prioritize metrics like:

  • First response time: how long it takes before they respond to tickets
  • Resolution time: how long it takes tickets to go from open to closed
  • Average # of messages per resolution: how many messages are exchanged as a ticket goes from open to closed

Reps will respond to new tickets faster, look to resolve problems in the minimum number of steps, and close them as quickly as possible.

The primary blindspot to look out for when you prioritize speed is quality. Make sure your reps aren’t penalized for favoring quality over speed when the situation calls for it, and keep an eye on subsequent follow-up times, which often get overlooked in favor of first reply times.

A myopic focus on speed might also lead you to believe that, as long as customers are getting quick responses, they’re having a great experience. But, if customers are writing in with the same question over and over then fast responses could actually reflect a lack of proper documentation in your help center or a larger product issue (a recalcitrant bug or a confusing workflow) that hasn’t been conveyed to or prioritized by the design or engineering teams.

Satisfaction.

You incentivize your support team to focus on customer satisfaction when you prioritize “happiness metrics” like email ratings — the collected average of positive, neutral, or negative ratings on your different support interactions.

Putting a rating system in the signature of your support team’s emails is a great way to collect customer satisfaction data about both your team and company frictionlessly. If your rating is low, you clearly have your work cut out for you. But the most common blind spot is resting on the laurels of a high satisfaction rating.

When 92% of your responses are positive, it’s easy to congratulate one another and celebrate your collective success in providing a great support experience. But the real opportunity, as Emily Chapman notes on the Trello blog, is in the “tiny data” that’s hiding in the 8% who clicked “Not Good.”

“Delight doesn’t happen to groups of users — it happens to individuals. So, focusing on individual feedback is the right move for us. Going forward, we plan to use those ratings to help highlight our blind spots, as well as continuing to track our progress — and to reinforce our commitment to a delightful experience for individual users.”

Reinforce the experience you want your customers to have.

The key to producing great support outcomes is making sure your support metrics help you understand your customer’s actual experience with your product.

No metrics are “bad” — they simply come with blind spots you need to acknowledge in order to ensure you’re getting a full picture of the customer experience.

We certainly don’t claim to be experts on support, but here are three metrics that can help you get a more complete picture of your customer’s experience and shed some light on common blind spots:

  1. Contact Rate: How often people need to get in touch with you. This metric can tell you how easy your product or website is to use, how well your onboarding is working, or how clear (or unclear) your documentation is. It also helps you monitor whether you have customers with underlying frustrations that you’re not catching.
  2. Number of support tickets per bug: What bugs are receiving the most complaints from customers? This metric helps identify which bugs need to be the highest priority for your engineers. Support shouldn’t be firefighting by sending swag to make up for pernicious glitches.
  3. First Contact Resolution Rate: How often a customer’s issue is taken care of the first time they reach out to you. This metric can help you understand how many problems are really being resolved rather than deferred or covered with a band-aid. And, it can help avoid the blind spots that come along with focusing on First Reply Time.

These metrics focus less on individual transactions and more on how well your product and support team are working together. They incentivize you:

  1. To improve your onboarding, documentation, and product so that customers can learn on their own rather than needing to contact us.
  2. To meticulously file bug reports and make sure that engineering and product know which issues are the biggest pain points for customers.
  3. To solve customer problems for good rather than defer them for later or offer temporary fixes.

Regardless of the type of business you run, it’s always a good idea to prioritize a positive customer experience. That’s not just about support metrics — it’s about understanding how a customer’s interactions with support reflect their overall satisfaction with your product.

For more on implementing customer support metrics that track with your users’ actual experiences, and incentivizing the right kinds of behavior, check out this article’s companion piece — “Are your support metrics missing the point?

We’d love to hear more about how you think about support metrics and the incentives they create! Let us know what you think below.