5 Best Practices for Reducing Handle Time
By Greg Levin
In successful call centers today, metrics like first-call resolution, quality and
customer satisfaction have replaced average handle time (AHT) as the key performance
indicator. Still in all, these centers haven't stopped trying to reduce AHT—nor
should they. Instead, they continually look for organic ways to gain call efficiencies
via better processes, technologies and training—ways that make customers and
agents rejoice rather than revolt.
Though certainly not an exhaustive list, the following are some of the best ways
call centers can bring AHT and associated costs down while raising FCR, C-Sat and
agent engagement through the roof.
1. Educate agents on AHT and implement fair objectives. Healthy reduction
in AHT starts with not only taking the time to fully understand the meaning and
aforementioned ideal uses of the metric, but also ensuring that your agents do,
too. Top call centers educate agents on what AHT is, how it is used in planning
and scheduling, and how keeping it in check helps not only keep costs down but also
improve the customer—and the agent—experience. Most importantly, these
centers make it clear that AHT reduction is really the responsibility of managers
and supervisors—not agents. After all, it's up to the former to ensure that
agents are properly prepared to handle calls efficiently and effectively, and that
the center's systems and processes don't hinder agents' ability to do so.
2. Provide focused coaching to help agents with call-control issues. Supervisors
and coaches in top centers don't approach AHT-challenged agents with numbers; rather
they take time to first listen to some recorded calls (including screen capture)
to uncover what actions and behaviors of the agent might be adding undue length
to their customer interactions. Such analysis might reveal that the agent lacks
product/service knowledge or struggles with screen toggling and data entry, or maybe
just needs to be a little more assertive with customers who view the interaction
as a chance to socialize.
Once supervisors/coaches spot the agent's weakness(es), they can provide personalized
coaching, where the focus is on actions and behaviors—not on minutes or seconds.
Give an agent more product knowledge or show them how to quickly access information,
and AHT will soon take care of itself.
3. Master workforce management. Call centers that become masters of forecasting
and scheduling almost always have the right number of agents with the right skills
in place at the right times. This impacts AHT by shortening wait times in queue,
thus keeping customers from becoming frustrated and venting to agents at the start
of the call.
Many leading call centers have further reduced AHT by adding a skills-based routing
element to their workforce management repertoire. While sometimes challenging to
manage, skills-based routing gets the customer to the most qualified available agent
based on the customer's specific need, thus reducing handle time directly (the agent
has the specific skills or knowledge to handle the call efficiently and effectively),
as well as indirectly (less customer frustration since the call is handled well
with no or limited transfers).
4. Continually evaluate and improve workflows and desktop resources. Just
because all of your agents perform within the acceptable AHT range in your call
center doesn't mean that problems don't exist. Even more important than uncovering
opportunities to improve individual agents' AHT via coaching and training is removing
barriers that inhibit all agents' ability to maximize efficiencies.
The sharpest centers continually evaluate systems, screens and workflows to make
sure that they are working properly and feature the most agent-friendly (and, thus,
customer-friendly) design. While many centers use their quality monitoring system
to observe how quickly and easily agents are able to move through screens and access
data, most have found that the best way to identify improvements to scripts, workflows
and desktop resources is to simply ask agents for their input on the matter—via
surveys, team meetings, "town-hall" discussions and one-on-ones. Numerous call centers
have even created special agent-led task forces that focus on things like workflow
improvements and technology/systems enhancements that can help speed transactions
and improve the customer experience.
5. Reward agents for positive accomplishments. This does not mean rewarding
staff simply for AHT reduction, as doing so tempts agents to sacrifice the customer
in order to achieve "enviable" AHT numbers. Instead, top call centers create AHT-related
incentives that always take other key metrics and the customer experience into consideration.
For instance, many centers reward and recognize agent teams who are able to raise
quality scores, FCR rates and/or C-sat rates while reducing AHT—or even just
maintaining it within an acceptable range. Rewarding and recognizing agents and
teams that identify ways to improve call handling while maintaining a strong customer
focus is another great way to keep staff engaged, customers happy and costs down.
INSIDE VIEW: Canadian Tire Financial Services
Across Canadian Tire Financial Services' (CTFS) contact center operation is a long-standing
customer-centric philosophy, which is, quite simply: Customers for Life. It is built
on an interwoven focus on customer and employee satisfaction. Staff at all levels
understand that customer service success equals business success, and contact center
reps are empowered to ensure that every issue is fully resolved on the first contact.
The ability to do the right thing for the customer reflects in a satisfied, loyal
employee base. In fact, the average tenure for a call center rep is a remarkable
12 years. One reason why employees tend to stay is that their input is valued and
acted upon—especially when dealing with process improvements that involve
customers and efficiency.
Read the full story here.