Partner support metrics

Many thanks for Deepak Chawla and Blair Basset for (independently) suggesting this topic.

If you rely on a third party to deliver first-level support to customers, whether you have partners who sell and support your solutions or an outsourcer who is tasked with providing  support for your products, you need to have a solid set of metrics to gauge their success  and to determine financial rewards.

The goal of third-party support metrics is to capture two aspects: are customers being treated well, and are issues resolved by the third party, as much as possible, rather than being escalated back to the vendor (which is costly and also bad for customer satisfaction, if it happens too often).

  • For customer satisfaction, a survey is ideal. That may be difficult to implement with a sales partner, who may be concerned about customer ownership (and play games to cause the survey to be sent only to triaged end users), but if you can mandate a blind survey into the basic partner contract it becomes a non-issue. You can also measure response time and resolution time performances, but as we know nothing replaces direct customer feedback. By all means measure response and resolution time but do not pretend that they replace a customer satisfaction survey.
  • For effectiveness (is the partner resolving as many issues independently as possible), the traditional measurement is the percentage of escalations back to the vendor, and indeed it is the metric that’s most often baked into contracts, with the predictable result that, if the target is to escalate 15% of cases, magically 14.9% will be, and those 14.9% of cases may be escalated late in the game and with minimal documentation. To avoid poor-quality escalations, include customer satisfaction for escalated issues into the mix, which provides an incentive not to escalate late and badly. Another approach is to measure the quality of escalated cases rather than the quantity. If a case is escalated can be resolved by using an existing knowledge base article, that’s a “bad” escalation. If a case is escalated without a proper transfer documentation, that’s a “bad” escalation, again. If a case is escalated with a clean description and no obvious solution, that’s a “good escalation. Aim to have a ratio of 80 or 90% “good” escalations rather than a fixed percentage.

In most cases, a third party will do well (for the customers, and for the vendor) if turnover is low and technical skills are high. It’s difficult to police turnover, but you can mandate a certain number of certified staff on the team (if you provide a certification program). Great basic requirement, but nothing replaced performance metrics.

Integrate the metrics and targets into the contract with the third party and link them with financial benefits. For a partner, the discount levels could vary with both the volume of business and their support performance, recognizing that good support means lower cost for the vendor (and higher customer loyalty to boot!) For a support outsourcer, better performance should mean higher payments (bonus) and worse performance a penalty.

Bottom line: measure and reward (1) customer satisfaction for all cases that start with the third party and (2) the quality of escalated cases rather than the quantity.

What do you use to measure third-party performance?

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