The First Contact Resolution Trap

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A popular metric for many Service Desks is FCR percentage.

What is FCR? FCR, or first contact resolution, represents the percentage of contacts when a consumer’s inquiry or issue is resolved in a single contact with the Service Desk. A high FCR percentage indicates the consumer did not have to contact the Service Desk a second time for an issue nor did anyone else from the IT organization have to follow up with the consumer regarding that issue. The rationale is that with a high FCR percentage, an IT organization is reducing costs while improving (or maintaining) high levels of customer satisfaction. A high FCR could also indicate a well-enabled Service Desk.

Is this really the case?

Does a high FCR result in cost savings? If so, where are the cost savings? I had a CFO once help me understand the difference between cost savings and cost avoidance. If we are saving costs, then that means that we can put money (the saved costs) into the hands of the CFO to do with whatever he pleases. Cost avoidance is when we make a choice about where and with whom we’re spending monies—but we still have cost. I would submit that with a high FCR percentage that we’re really not saving any costs. We have and will continue to have costs associated with having a Service Desk, so no cost savings there. We will continue to have costs for those L2 and L3 resources associated with designing, delivering, and supporting services, so no cost savings there. I suppose however, that we are avoiding the costs of escalating a call from the Service Desk to those L2 and L3 resources. But we’re not saving any costs.

Does a high FCR result in high levels of consumer satisfaction? Perhaps. But consider this – all the consumer really wants is issue resolution. Resolving the issue in the first contact is certainly desirable. But ultimately, what the consumer wants is that we get the issue resolved in the timeliest fashion. I understand that the consumer really doesn’t want to call, nor do we want the consumer to call a second (or third or…) time for the same issue. But are consumers truly “satisfied” just because an issue or inquiry gets resolved with a single contact? Why are consumers having to contact the Service Desk to begin with?

Herein lies the trap.

High FCR simply means that we’ve gotten really good at solving frequently occurring issues. If you think about it, it’s sort of like continually putting a bandage on a scratch that doesn’t heal. We’re covering up the issue, but we’re really not fixing it.  If we’re able to resolve the issue in a single contact, why not just address the underlying issue already? Really-if this issue is that easy to resolve, why wasn’t it caught and addressed during service design and transition? Shouldn’t the goal be zero percent FCR? Why zero? Because the consumer is not experiencing any issues to begin with, and therefore, doesn’t have to contact the Service Desk!

Okay, perhaps a FCR of zero is a stretch. But consider the negative impact of a high FCR percentage. While high FCR represents the ability of the Service Desk to return a consumer to productivity, it also represents lost productivity from the consumer perspective. The consumer had to call the Service Desk, and for the time that it took for the issue or inquiry to be resolved, the consumer is arguably not able to do her job function – the very definition of lost productivity. In fact, I could argue that business IT costs are doubled during that time. How? The cost of each contact not only includes the cost of the Service Desk responding to the contact, but also the cost incurred by the business in the form of the consumer having to do IT work rather that the work to which the consumer is assigned.

To be fair, a high FCR percentage may be good in some cases. For example, having a high FCR when resetting passwords or fulfilling a request for the distribution of a standard personal productivity software package may be a good thing. But even in these cases, we shouldn’t fall into the trap of driving high FCR just for the sake of having a high FCR.

It’s the same old trade off that we face constantly–the tradeoff between cost, quality, and speed. Everyone wants the highest quality at the lowest cost, delivered in the fastest possible way. But we can seemingly only have two of the three.

So, when is high FCR a good thing? When does high FCR indicate that we’re in the trap?

I would suggest that this is where Continual Service Improvement (CSI) comes in, and specifically, the CSI Register. By recording the opportunity in the CSI Register, CSI can consider the opportunity for improvement, considering costs, time, budget, and other factors. By applying CSI measurement techniques, such as ITIL®’s 7-step process[1], Lean IT’s Value Stream Mapping (VSM), or Six Sigma’s Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control (DMAIC) approach, we can make an informed decision regarding FCR using the data derived from these techniques. Only then can we decide if a high FCR is a good thing, or if we’ve been caught in the trap.

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[1] ITIL is a trademark of AXELOS Limited.

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