Average call handling time: Time to rethink the reviled metric

Right to be forgotten brain
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Average handling time has attracted a bad reputation. But with the service landscape changing, it shouldn't be ignored. 

Average handling time (AHT) is a hotly debated topic. There are pro-supporters of AHT, usually from resource planning or finance who see the merits in having this data. Then there are those that would like to see AHT banished, usually those focused on personalised customer experiences and keeping agents motivated.

I have always found this debate a really interesting one (I know I’m a joy to sit next to at dinner parties) because I agree with both camps. 

I believe that where we have gone wrong with AHT in the past is where it has been used to target agents harshly, squeeze their wrap time and damage the customer experience. At the same time, I think we do need to be smart about reducing AHT because customers want an efficient experience and it makes good business sense.

Long hold times while systems churn slowly or an agent ‘umms’ and ‘errs’ while trying to find the right information to answer the customer query is not helpful for anyone.

As the rise of other customer channels takes pace (and in particular the growth in self-servicee, social and live web chat) it is also likely that AHT will actually need to increase as the customer will only resort to voice for more complex issues and complaints that cannot be easily met elsewhere. 

There is no ‘right’ answer as to what your AHT should be, although I am often asked to provide guidance. It depends entirely on your sector, your customer demographic, the content of your interactions with customers and the resolutions you are providing. For example, one of our training clients provides legal advice on employment matters.

As self-service, social and live web chat continue to grow in popularity it is likely that AHT will actually need to increase.

The agents dealing with the calls are trained in employment law and have to get to the root of the issue and ask lots of detailed questions. Their AHT is 60 minutes.

Another client is a retailer, taking payments and processing orders. Their AHT is a little almost 4 minutes, which is much closer to the national average if it is a benchmark you are seeking. Indeed, according to Bright Index, the industry average for voice AHT remains steady around 250 seconds, with the highest they found in their research to be 753 seconds, and the lowest 129 seconds.

How to use AHT

Deciding how you use your AHT metric is really important, and I wholly recommend using it in conjunction with other metrics when giving agents feedback.

For example, if you have an agent who is repetadly over AHT but who says they are doing it for the customer’s benefit, then it is important to compare this to their customer Satisfaction scores. How are customers rating their helpfulness, knowledge and understanding?

If these are scoring low then then the agent shouldn’t be hiding behind this old chestnut. Ideally, find you agents who are scoring well on both CSAT and AHT and review what it is about their calls that is working. They probably have superb soft skills, an ability to build rapport, demonstrate empathy but can also confidently control the call, without letting it sun away with them.  Some of this comes with life experience but it can be expedited with good training.

It is also crucial to review your systems, technology, knowledgebase and other short cuts to keep AHT efficient and the customer experience slick and effort less. If your agents are saying ‘Sorry, the system is on a go-slow today’ or are tabbing through many different screens and systems then there are clues right there to gain efficiency in AHT.

It is also good practice to monitor calls for silences and review the points of silence. What was happening? Was the agent looking for some information? If so then training needs will be flagged through this exercise.

My many recommendations for reducing AHT can be found in my one hour masterclass training video available at www.catli.co.uk in a 5 part series on Contact Centre and People Management. 

 

About Carolyn Blunt

Carolyn

Carolyn Blunt is managing director of Ember Real Results, an organisation within the expert customer management consultancy Ember Group and that works with contact centres to improve performance through world-class training, coaching and learning. Carolyn is co-author of the book ‘Delivering Effective Social Customer Service’ published by Wiley.  

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