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The Greatest Support Metric of All

by Rich Gallagher, Point of Contact Group

Customer contact centers measure just about everything today. And predictably, try to learn from these numbers to improve their operations. Which leads people to debate which of these metrics is the most important one. Is it your customer sat ratings, your average handle time (AHT), or your first call resolution (FCR)? I would say it is none of these. In my view, the most important predictive measure of support performance - and profitability - is your MHG.

MHG stands for the Moral High Ground. It measures what most rational people would expect you to do, versus what you actually do. If you have a high MHG, all of your other metrics start to make sense. If it is low, nothing else matters.

Let's take the time that I purchased an extended service warranty on my computer from a major chain store. When its CD-ROM drive broke down, they first made me find all of my original warranty paperwork and send it to them again - by mail - before they would open a case. Once they received it, I had to go through a troubleshooting phone call whose sole purpose was to do everything possible to deny the claim. (At one point the technician argued with me that because the drive would play music CDs but would not read data, it "worked.") Then finally, after a leisurely three week wait, I was given permission to take my computer to an inconvenient location and have someone replace this $25 drive. And that's the politely-worded version of what happened.

Now let's shift gears to the objectives of this call center. Would you like to be on the receiving end of calls like these? If you were the agent telling someone they had to mail in all their paperwork first in to file a claim, how would your average handle time look? What would your upselling metrics look like? If you were the technician doing the troubleshooting, would you love your job and greet each day raring to push the "ready" button and talk to more customers?

As you are reading this, there are executives sitting in corner offices going "harrumph" at the trends in their support metrics - or, for that matter, their turnover and profitability - but have absolutely no clue what their MHG is. They are credit card companies who just jacked everyone's interest rates, and then have their agents mouth some bland corporate twaddle about changes in the financial markets. They are computer vendors whose employees vent anonymously on Internet sites about Dickensian working conditions and minimal job security. Or they are the firms who force their agents to serve as a front line for defending shoddy products and Byzantine policies.

How do you measure your MHG? Simple. Ask your employees. They'll tell you whether you are on the moral high ground or not. For example, when I last managed a support team we took a culture survey every year from Richard Whiteley's book The Customer-Driven Company. Any areas where we rated less than a 4 out of 5, we discussed the results openly, and made changes that turned into policies. Year by year, as we improved our MHG, our support performance metrics AND our sales tracked along as well.

Start putting MHG at the top of your support management objectives, and your contact center can become much more than the complaint department - it can become a force for strategic change. If you are maintaining a high MHG, give your team and your management credit. And if you aren't, start listening to them. Otherwise, none of your other measures will mean very much at all.

About the Author
Rich Gallagher is a communications skills expert and former customer support executive who heads the Point of Contact Group, a training and development firm based in Ithaca, NY. His book What to Say to a Porcupine: 20 Humorous Tales that Get to the Heart of Excellent Customer Service (AMACOM, 2008) was a national #1 customer service bestseller and finalist for the 800-CEO-READ's 2008 Business Book of the Year, and his latest book How to Tell Anyone Anything (AMACOM, 2009) explores the mechanics of difficult workplace conversations. Visit Rich online at www.pointofcontactgroup.com.