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Contact Center Glossary: The Most Important Terms You Need to Know

Contact Center Glossary

What do we mean when we refer to contact centers, anyway? Here’s the ultimate contact center glossary to help guide you.

In the U.S. alone, millions of contact center employees are working on the front lines, serving as the voice of brands across channels, fielding customer inquiries and concerns via email, SMS, live chat, phone calls, and more. As one of the key customer service resources consumers turn to throughout their customer journey, contact centers have the power to impact customer satisfaction, retention, lifetime value, and more. 

In the wake of the pandemic, contact centers have become all the more important, with service volumes increasing by up to 800%. And thanks to our current wave of digital transformation, the future of the contact center has arrived, with day-to-day operations becoming more data-driven and agile. 

But what are the key terms, functions and metrics that are crucial to driving contact center performance? We’re glad you asked. Our contact center experts at Medallia have put their heads together to create the ultimate contact center glossary, packed with all the top contact center terminology you need to know. 

Contact Center Glossary: Defining Top Contact Center Terminology

Abandoned call — When a customer hangs up before speaking with a contact center agent. The metric used here is (AR) Abandonment Rate

After call work (ACW) — A period of time immediately after contact with a customer is completed and any supplementary work is undertaken by the agent, in relation to that interaction.

Agent — Contact center or customer service team members responsible for handling customer inquiries via email, phone calls, live chat, SMS, and other channels. 

Artificial intelligence (AI) — Smart technology designed to handle tasks that humans would otherwise perform. AI has many applications in the contact center but there are two key areas of application. The first is analytics. AI can process and analyze data at scale surfacing data themes and identifying patterns. Secondly, AI can be used to power conversational chatbots to guide customers in finding help and offering resources and can also trigger process automation events. 

Average call time — The total amount of time that a customer is engaged with an agent, including call transfers, hold time, talk time, and so on.

Average first response time — Also referred to as average first reply time, this term is a calculation of the duration customers have to wait between reaching out — such as over the phone, via email, or through live chat support — before receiving a response from a member of the contact center team. 

Average reply time — Also known as average handle time (AHT), this is a measure of the average length of a customer service call from the beginning to the end. This is inclusive of talk time, any hold time, and activities the agent may have to take care of to wrap up the call after it ends. The industry standard is about six minutes and varies based on the industry and size of the business. 

Average resolution time (ART) — How long it takes, on average, to completely resolve customer service issues, from the first interaction to the last exchange.

Average speed of answer (ASA)  — How long it takes, on average, to answer the customer after being contacted. Organizations typically measure this from an inside-out perspective and for live calls only. For example, many organizations start the clock after the initial interactive voice response (IVR) is completed.

Average talk time — This is the amount of time (in seconds, minutes, hours, etc.) that customers spend talking to a contact center agent, on average. Unlike average handle time, this does not include any time the customer may spend waiting on hold.

Call abandonment rate — This is the percentage of total inbound customer service calls in which customers hang up before speaking with a customer service agent. To calculate this rate, take the number of abandoned calls divided by the total number of inbound calls. 

Call dispositioning — This is a term used to describe the step contact center teams take after a given call ends to summarize the purpose of the call and the ultimate outcome or status of the conversation. Agents create internal call dispositioning notes or statuses for internal documentation purposes and for future reference to help ensure better experiences for a given customer if they ever reach out again. These notes may also detail next steps that can be taken, including if any followup is needed.

Call silence time — The percentage of a call that is silent, meaning no speakers are talking.

Call volume — Also known as contact volume, this refers to the amount of calls or contacts a given contact center receives during a defined period of time, such as a day, week, month, quarter, or year.

Chatbots — An emerging artificial intelligence (AI)-powered customer support channel that can be used to help triage customer inquiries and complaints. 

Channel silos — The presence of gaps or inconsistent experiences between distinct customer channels — such as a company app that says one thing and a company website that says another — which can lead to a poor customer experience, higher costs, and lower conversions.

Coaching — When customer service supervisors provide guidance and feedback to agents to strengthen their performance, with a goal of increasing customer satisfaction. 

Complaints — Negative feedback about a given company, product, service, or employee, generally shared via a company’s website, email, customer service channels (this can encompass contact center, chat, or face-to-face at a service desk in a store), surveys, social channels, or third-party review sites. Consumer product organizations couple complaints with warranty issues to help prioritize areas for improvement.

Contact center — Customer support teams that address customer inquiries and issues via a range of channels, including phone calls, emails, live chat, social media, and more.

Cost per call — A measure you can use to calculate the average cost of all of the calls your contact center fields. While there are a number of ways to calculate this contact center metric, one method involves taking the number of calls your contact center receives per hour divided by your agents’ pay.

Cross-sell — When customer service or contact center agents offer support, they may also be directed to promote — that is, cross-sell or upsell — related services, such as when airlines encourage travelers to upgrade their seats or purchase checked bags.  

Customer effort score (CES)A customer experience metric created by the Corporate Executive Board (CEB) in 2008 used to measure how easy it is for a customer to complete a given activity, such as seek help from customer service. The goal is to create a more streamlined, frictionless experience. In 2013, CEB slightly modified the questionnaire language associated with CES and expanded it to a seven-point scale.

Customer experience (CX) — Customers’ perception of their experience with a brand or organization over time, which results from every interaction they have from the website to customer service to purchasing a product or service, etc. This allows companies to drive loyalty at every point along the customer life cycle by capturing and analyzing signals to predict behavior, take action and create experiences that lead to customer loyalty.

Customer feedback — Opinions, insights, and feelings customers share — via surveys, messaging channels, SMS, social media, emails, customer support phone calls, live chat, and other channels— about the companies whose products or services they use. This can include complaints, praise, and neutral statements, and both directly solicited and unsolicited commentary. 

Customer journey — This term sometimes is used generally to refer to a wide range of customer interactions over time. However, a more appropriate definition focuses on the specific interactions an individual has (with your brand, your competitors, and in their own life) from the time that individual experiences a need until the need is fulfilled. 

Customer satisfaction (CSAT) — A measure of how happy customers feel about a given company, product, or service versus their expectations. Typically gathered via surveys or other forms of customer feedback.

Customer service — The act of helping customers and potential customers, addressing inquiries, concerns, and complaints throughout a customer’s lifetime journey, including before, during, or after any given transaction. This support can be offered via any number of channels, including in person, over the phone, and via email, text, social media, live chat, and more.

Diarization — When using speech-to-text technology (see below), this refers to the process of splitting mono audio into two channels, according to speaker. Higher diarization scores indicate that the speech recognizer separated speaker phrases more accurately.

Empathy — In a business context, this is the ability of companies and their employees to anticipate, recognize, understand, and cater and respond to current and future customer needs. It is best developed by spending time with customers and immersing oneself in the customer’s situation or mindset (e.g., through conversation, feedback, and storytelling).

Expected wait time (EWT) — This is the average time companies may inform customers that they may have to wait on hold or in a customer service queue before receiving a response from a contact center agent. 

First call/contact resolution (FCR) — A critical contact center key performance indicator (KPI) that measures the rate at which companies are able to address customer problems or inquiries upon the first call or other form of contact, such as an email or support ticket.

Help center or help desk — A location where the customer gets help (e.g., website, phone number, video session, or physical location). Increasingly, this refers to a web-based customer support center containing self-service resources, such as frequently asked questions (FAQs) and a knowledge base, as well as interactive resources, such as live chat, the option to submit a help ticket, and more.

Interactions — Any and all engagements a customer or agent has with a company (e.g. surveys, chats, voice calls, website visits, and more). 

Interactive voice response (IVR) — An automated system that customers may have to engage with when placing a call to a company’s customer service line — such as describing the purpose of their call, sharing their personal information, or making a menu selection — before they get the chance to speak with a live agent.

Multichannel — Experiences offered through multiple channels where customers interact with a brand (e.g., via website, stores, or contact centers). Sometimes contrasted with “omnichannel” (defined below), which indicates a more consistent and seamless experience across those various channels.

Net Promoter Score  (NPS®)The Net Promoter Score is a simple, easy-to-understand customer experience metric that gauges a customer’s likelihood to recommend a product or solution to a friend or colleague using an 11-point scale. Organizations subtract the percentage of detractors (that is respondents with a score of 0-6) from the percentage of promoters (respondents with a score of 9-10) to calculate an overall NPS score. NPS scores can range anywhere from -100 to 100. NPS is most effective when used to compare the NPS of a given brand with the NPS scores of competitors using a double-blind, independent research firm. The most valuable aspect of NPS is uncovering why customers provide a given score. In some organizations, NPS is used as a proxy for gauging overall customer satisfaction with a company’s product or service as well as overall customer loyalty.

Omnichannel — Experiences designed to be consistent and seamless across all of the major channels where customers interact with a brand (e.g., website, mobile app, stores, contact centers, etc.).

Overtalk — Occurs when speakers talk over one another. A recording’s overtalk percentage is the count of agent-initiated overtalk turns as a percentage of the total number of agent-speaking turns. In other words, out of all of the agent’s turns, it measures how many turns interrupted a client’s turn.

Quality assurance (QA) — Routine checks and reviews companies conduct to internally audit customer service interactions to ensure consistent performance and quality. 

Quality evaluation (QE) — A QA procedure in which supervisors or QA team members score individual customer interactions based on specific criteria. While in the past, these types of QA audits were more time consuming and inefficient, near real-time QA software is enabling organizations to conduct evaluations and offer more focused coaching right in the moment. 

Quality Management (QM)It has four main components: quality planning, quality assurance, quality control and quality improvement. Quality management is focused not only on product and service quality, but also on the means to achieve it. The head of QA reports to the head of QM in a large contact center.

Self-service — When customers are able to find answers to their questions or resolve their own problems, using resources such as a company’s chatbot support, knowledge base, video tutorials, or frequently asked questions (FAQs). 

Sentiment — A qualitative assessment of the positive, negative, or neutral views, attitudes, and opinions of customers and non-customers, such as website visitors or brand mentions in social media. In natural language processing (i.e., text analytics), sentences or phrases are automatically tagged with an estimate of their sentiment, using machine learning algorithms.

Service recovery — The process of recognizing a previous service issue or failure and taking steps to rectify the situation with the customer. Service recovery typically implies some level of extra care to try to “make things right” with the customer and repair the relationship.

Speech analytics, speech-to-text — AI-powered technology capable of automatically transcribing voice conversations (such as phone calls or video feedback) to written text to provide insights about the customer experience and sentiment, assess customer service agent performance, and more. 

Talk time — The amount of time an agent spends handling a customer call from start to finish.

Voice of the customer (VoC) — This is the process by which customer feedback is collected and then shared inside an organization. The thoughts, feelings, and sentiments companies collect from customers via surveys, social listening, customer support, and other channels to learn more about — and find ways to improve upon — the customer experience. 

Download Medallia’s eBook “Contact center and digital, better together” and learn how when contact centers and digital teams collaborate they have the power to truly elevate the overall customer experience.