How healthy is your Call Centre’s Average Handle Time (AHT)?!

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Average Handle Time (AHT) has been a key Call Centre (CC) metric for years, this simple calculation has been used by CC managers and team leaders alike to understand staffing levels, forecast future needs, the effectiveness of their CC agents and a myriad of other things in-between.

In a nutshell, it’s a simple metric to determine the ‘average’ length of time it takes one of your CC agents to resolve the ‘customers requirement’. Personally, I prefer not referring to it as a ‘customer issue’ as many do, as that sounds like customers only call when they have problems, which is just untrue and I’ll be coming back to that point later.

Is AHT a vanity metric?

There are loads of KPI’s that have been thought up by various professionals over the years to justify their existence or approach. AHT, like other KPI’s, is just a figure, an indicator which might not actually be of use or relevance to your organisation. Certainly, any indicator can only add organisational value if it is interpreted and used to understand a situation and or result. If that’s not happening in your organisation then you should question if it’s just a vanity metric and should be dropped entirely.

AHT Limitations

So does this metric stand up in today’s experience era where customer engagement preference has moved towards self-service? Well, what we do know is customers who are willing to wait on hold listening to your chosen hold music, which if you’re using a Cisco CallManager IVR will be Opus No1, by Tim Carleton and Darrick Deel, are either most likely frustrated that they haven’t been able to source an answer to their situation in the first place or are of a demographic who prefer to speak with a human. Either way, it’s likely that their call isn’t going to be a simple resolution dealt with in a matter of seconds!

Which brings me back to the is the first issue, AHT doesn’t allow for differentiation in call complexity which raises a couple of thoughts:

Some CC agents, just have to take an ear bashing from frustrated customers as it’s part of customer loyalty. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating customer verbal abuse but a huge aspect of gaining and nurturing customer loyalty is through listening and empathising. So, cutting your customer off mid-sentence might be tempting but not necessarily the best option!

Secondly, not all your CC agents are equal! AHT penalizes seasoned, knowledgeable agents who are adept in addressing the multitude of complex customer requirements quickly and efficiently taking them to the resolution to those who are greener around the gills.Final thoughts… time is important.

There are a mountain of articles on the internet all offering up ‘listicles’ on the best way to reduce AHT, but given what we understand about customer engagement preference is that really the best strategy?

Sure, from an operational perspective reducing your AHT will enable you to cut your customer wait times and potentially enable your organisation to reduce staffing costs but is it going to be at the cost of increasing customer frustration and reduced customer loyalty.

What we do know, is that both your time and your customers time is of value and if you can enable your customers to seek answers through other engagement channels, such as a Knowledgebase solution, then it’s likely to keep them happy and loyal whilst reducing your customer phone contact levels.

Internally, the benefit of introducing such a solution would also allow you to provide the same consistent information to your CC agents as well, which can be used in context with the other CC customer solutions to ensure the best resolution is given to the customer regardless of agent experience. Even if the answer is to direct the customer to the right support information on the Knowledgebase which over time highlights to your customers they can self-serve instead of reaching for the phone.

So, take a step back for a moment and ask yourself:

  • Is AHT right for your organisation?
  • Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and ask can and do they want to self-serve?
  • Would a KnowledgeBase solution help lift the easiest calls from your queue and help your agents deal with the more complex requirements?