Average handle time or AHT is a metric for the average length of a customer interaction in the call center. It is one of the most commonly analyzed KPIs in the call center industry and frequently assessed when measuring efficiency.
However, despite being a prevalent KPI, many call center managers do not know how to reduce average handle time very effectively. In fact, it takes quite a bit of know-how to reduce average handle time without sacrificing customer satisfaction or breaking the bank. Thus, in order to be successful at reducing average handle time in the call center, managers must be armed with the knowledge and tools necessary to get the job done.
Before we provide suggestions on how to reduce handle time in the call center, it is important that you understand how to calculate average handle time and what factors impact handle time in the call center.
Average handle time includes the amount of time an agent spends on a call and engaged in After Call Work associated with that call. A common formula for calculating average handle time is:
(Talk time + total hold time + total after-call tasks) : number of total calls
Now that you have a solid understanding of how to calculate average handle time, let’s dive into how to and how not to reduce handle time in the call center.
It can be tempting for call center managers to encourage call center agents to hurry customers off the phone as quickly as possible in an effort to decrease average handle time. This can be especially enticing if their job depends on reducing this call center KPI. However, no matter how important it is, this is exactly how NOT to reduce average handle time in the call center.
Asking agents to resolve customer issues as quickly as possible negatively impacts other call center KPIs such as first call resolution, increases the number of escalated calls to management and inundates the call queue with repeat callers hoping for a better resolution of their issue. Thus, in the pursuit to optimize average handle time in the call center, make sure that lowering it doesn’t come at the expense of customer satisfaction or important KPIs. The following section provides tips and tools to accomplish just that.
Call center managers seeking to decrease average handle time in the call center should do so while also increasing customer satisfaction and keeping costs at a minimum. If executed correctly, this is a recipe for success!
The following are tips and tools call center managers can leverage to reduce average handle time in the call center while increasing customer satisfaction and not breaking the bank:
Optimize agent training
Agents who have been trained optimally will help to significantly reduce average handle time in the call center. Knowing what scenarios might come their way, where to look for relevant information and who to ask when they don’t know what to do are only the basics of a successful training program. Agents should also be trained on all the ins-and-outs of their call center software, helpdesk, CRM, chat, business tools, computer and headsets before they hit the phones. They should understand company policies and procedures and know how to efficiently interact with even the toughest customers. Providing them with comprehensive training from the get-go will pay off when aiming to reduce handle time.
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Continuously monitor agent performance
Once your agents are up and running, your job as a manager is to make sure they continually increase their competence, keep working towards reducing their handle time and consistently aim to increase customer satisfaction. One useful tool in this pursuit is call center software with call monitoring capabilities. Listen to live calls without the agent knowing, drop in on calls to speak with the agent without the caller knowing and conference in to talk with both the agent and the caller when the caller requests to speak with a manager. Call monitoring is an invaluable tool for expediting agent training, reducing escalated calls to management and reducing call transfers – all of which decrease handle time in the call center.
Record all calls
Call center software with call recording is an invaluable tool. Use it. Record 100% of inbound and outbound calls. When you are not available to monitor critical calls in real-time, listen to their call recordings. Use the recordings to consistently identify agent inefficiencies and other issues that increase handle time – and act on your findings. You’ll be happy you did.
Enhance call center agent coaching
Maintaining a team of efficient call center agents takes more than a set-it-and-forget-it approach. Cultivate your team and ensure that they are efficiency machines by enhancing your call center agent coaching sessions. Play call recordings from calls that were great examples of how to expedite caller interactions without sacrificing service quality. You should also play call recordings from interactions that can be improved upon. Doing so will provide your agents with concrete examples of what they are doing well and what they need to work on improving. Optimizing agent coaching sessions by providing your agents with examples of how to improve their efficiency and monitoring their progress will significantly reduce handle time in the call center.
Streamline agent workflow and processes
One of the best ways to reduce average handle time is to streamline agent workflow and processes. Take a long hard look at your agent workflow and identify inefficiencies. Cut out anything that increases handle time and doesn’t contribute to a positive customer experience. Automate repetitive manual tasks so that agent busy work is kept to a minimum. It’s as simple as that.
Optimize call routing
One of the best ways to increase handle time is to transfer callers from agent to agent until they reach the agent who can adequately resolve their issue. Thus, call center software with effective call routing reduces handling time by ensuring that the most qualified agent to meet the caller’s needs is routed the call from the get-go. Leverage call center software with ACD, IVR and skills-based routing and you will significantly reduce transfers, customer frustration and handle time in your call center.
Use a knowledge base
If you are looking for an easy solution to increase customer satisfaction and decrease handle time – a knowledge base is it. A knowledge base allows agents to access the information that they need in an instant. Utilizing a knowledge base will reduce handle time as agents won’t have to dig deep for an answer to a tough question and increase customer satisfaction as the caller won’t have to wait on hold while the agent does the digging.
Utilize an internal communication system
Sometimes agents know that their most valuable resource for resolving a caller’s issue efficiently is their colleague. When the caller is on the line and every second counts, email simply wont do. Internal communication systems like Slack are great tools to enhance collaboration and decrease handle time in the call center.
Ensure customer information is always up-to-date
When your agents don’t have access to the most up-to-date customer information in your call center software, CRM, helpdesk, chat systems and associated business tools, handle time will increase as they search for the tidbit of accurate information they need. Eliminate this efficiency killer by leveraging integrated call center software with two-way data synchronization. With integrated call center software, when an agent updates information in one system, all integrated business tools will be updated with the same information. Not only will this reduce handle time and After Call Work, but also ensure that your team is providing a top notch customer experience.
Reducing handle time in the call center shouldn’t come at the the expense of customer satisfaction or the call center’s budget. Following the aforementioned tips and leveraging the suggested tools will allow you to reduce handle time in the call center while enhancing customer satisfaction – without breaking the bank. It’s a win-win-win.