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The First Call Resolution Paradox

By | December 16, 2015 in Service Desk

First call resolution (FCR) trap

You’ve no doubt heard the saying "if you can't measure it, you can't manage it." Therefore, naturally, we try to measure things so we can effectively manage them. Makes sense, as far as that goes, but there's a lesser-known saying  - "be careful what you measure, it just might improve."

Be Careful What You Measure

Somewhere along the way, the world of call centers became enamored with first call resolution (FCR). The idea is fairly sound, really – customers who are helped immediately (on the first call) are happier, more satisfied customers.

But, as Doug Tedder points out in The First Contact Resolution Trap, it may not be the end-all metric it's often though to be.

Hear me out on this one.

Having good people with solid technical skills and the right tools does wonders for rapid issue resolution. No denying that.  But, looking a little closer at the factors that underpin FCR, we find:

  1. Common issues that are relatively easy to resolve
  2. High volume of short calls
  3. Low volume of unique issues requiring significant research

So, how do we improve FCR? By getting really good at resolving common issues. And if that’s what you measure, well then (you know what they say), that’s what you’re going to get – a focus on how we react to incidents.

It could be argued that we should work to get stock answers to questions and shorten calls; more common questions, shorter calls.

But, I contend that the real value of incident management isn’t recovery of service. I whole-heartedly agree that when services go down, rapid recovery is the only thing that matters. That’s the heart of incident management. But customers ultimately want services that never go down – services that don’t require calls to the service desk. And if that’s what customers really want, shouldn’t we rather measure how we’re reducing call-generating issues before they happen? Shouldn’t we be trying to fix the issues that cause common issues?

The real value of incident management, then, is the data gathered in the process of service restoration, and how that information is used to drive continual improvement.

Continual Service Improvement

Part of my problem with FCR is that it's a snapshot in time. If nothing changes in the environment, FCR is little more than a measure of how effective the service desk is in restoring the same issues again and again.

Where’s the motivation to make improvements that actually lower FCR. Think about it. lf accolades come from having high FCR, where’s the motivation to reduce the factors (which I mentioned above) that make it possible?

A careful analysis of your incident data can uncover service deficiencies or user issues that contribute to high incident rates. By identifying opportunities for continual service improvement and eliminating those deficiencies, you actually reduce the volume of common calls, as well as the overall call volume. This leaves a higher percentage of calls that require more research and take longer to resolve – the bane of FCR!

Welcome to the FCR paradox.

The FCR Paradox

FCR truly is a metric that encapsulates multiple elements of good customer service:

  • Knowledgeable support staff (armed with excellent tools)
  • Quick service restoration
  • Strong issue ownership (one call gets it resolved)
  • Issues fixed the first time, without having to call back

The alternative, of course, would be to not measure FCR, and risk a poor customer experience. I would never suggest that measuring customer experience isn’t important. Of course it is.

Hence the paradox.

Gil Blinov describes it in Service Desk Tension Metrics, where opposing objectives are measured by metrics that are opposed to each other. It’s the tension between the two that achieve the desired result.

Focus on Outcomes, Not Metrics

Clearly, it’s not an either/or situation. We really do need to measure (which facilitates managing) the effectiveness of our call handling and incident resolution. But an over emphasis on FCR encourages an internally focused service desk that prides itself in being excellent at the very thing customers hate.

If you can reduce or eliminate underlying issues, then you should. If you can’t, then get good at resolving them quickly.

Don’t get caught in the FCR trap. By putting FCR in tension with metrics in support of a broader incident and business impact reduction program, you get your service desk engaged in what customers really want – less incidents, fewer calls to service desk, and more time spent achieving the goals of the organization.

Greg Sanker

About Greg Sanker

Greg is an IT Service Management blogger, speaker, and practitioner with decades of global IT experience ranging from Fortune 10 tech giant to public sector. He lives in the Pacific Northwest (USA), where stunning natural beauty and high tech form a unique lifestyle. In his spare time, Greg hikes, bikes, and plays a bit of blues guitar. He blogs about Excellence in IT Service Management at

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