Improve AHT: here’s how top contact center decision makers do it

A closer look by TechSee at the technologies being used by companies to improve AHT.

Analysis of Average Handle Time is deeply entrenched in the customer service field and almost every contact center manager wants to improve AHT at their contact center. Measuring – and reducing – the duration of each call has long been seen as the most important way to ensure efficiency, plan headcount and reduce operational costs.

AHT = (Total Talk Time + Total Hold Time + Total Post-call Work)/Number of Calls Handled

Should reducing AHT be the goal?

The problem with using AHT as a performance indicator is that it does not differentiate between complex cases that usually take longer to resolve, and simple ones that can be easily resolved within a few minutes. Another problem is that when an agent is measured by speed alone, the priority is to end the call as fast as possible, rather than to ensure that the customer has received the best solution.

Leading management journal Harvard Business Review has called the value of AHT into question, stating that it encourages agents to deprioritize complex issues and keep calls short, even if they could have resolved the enquiry had they invested the time in doing so.

Keeping customers happy will not always give a high AHT

Consider the two scenarios below and their repercussions:

  • Scenario 1

Agent: Thanks for calling United TelCo, how can I help you?

Customer: Hi, I’m having a problem with my internet.

Agent: What’s the issue?

Customer: There’s a red light flashing on my router and I can’t access any websites. I’ve tried resetting the router, restarting my computer and I even googled the issue. Nothing worked.

Agent: Hmm. Sounds tricky. Let me schedule a technician to come take a look. Would Tuesday between 10 and 2 work?

While this short call certainly contributed to this agent’s low AHT, it did nothing to resolve the customer’s issue promptly. Worse still, the company must now incur the cost of a tech dispatch and the customer will have to wait days for what could have been an easy fix, had the agent only spent more time trying to help and less on seeking to improve AHT.

In fact, a higher AHT can result in happier, more loyal customers.

  • Scenario 2

Agent: Thanks for calling United TelCo, how can I help you?

Customer: Hi, I just got back from a trip to Hawaii and my internet is down.

Agent: What’s the problem?

Customer: Have you ever been to Hawaii? I waited years to go, it was my dream. I saved up both the funds and vacation days, and let me tell you it wasn’t easy.

Agent: That sounds amazing, sir. Now, what exactly is happening with the internet?

Customer: Are you married? Let me give you some advice, make the most of it. I wish I’d traveled when my Sophie was alive, she would have loved the island. Traveling alone can’t compare with experiencing new things with someone you love, y’know?

Agent: I see what you mean, sir. What’s the model number of your router, please?

Customer: Let me check. Thanks for listening, I know I sometimes ramble on a bit.

If this agent had been overly focused on trying to reduce his AHT, as soon as he realized the customer was going off-topic, he might have dispatched a technician in order to cut the call short. This would have resulted in a negative emotional experience for the customer – irrespective of the quality of the eventual solution.

Another benefit of not focusing exclusively on AHT is that agents are more likely to work with the customer to resolve the issue, increasing levels of agent satisfaction when they reach a resolution. This is directly correlated to lowering call center attrition rates, which will have a significant impact on the call center’s bottom line.

Improve AHT with a customized blend of KPIs

While most leading companies still seek to improve AHT as their primary contact center metric, a good idea is to align it with other performance-based KPIs such as Mean Time to Resolution (MTTR), First Call Resolution (FCR) and Net Promoter Score (NPS). These KPIs provide a more holistic view of agent performance, as well as a clearer picture of the customer experience.

How to improve AHT with technology

Technological solutions can be implemented as a way to improve and lower AHT without negatively impacting the quality of your customer service or the customer’s overall experience with your company.

Virtual assistants to collect basic information

Agents can save significant amounts of time by having virtual assistants or chatbots to cover the basics at the start of a customer interaction. This may include taking the customer’s name, account or policy number and the general reason for the call. This initial collection of data ensures the customer is routed to the correct department and eliminates the need for agents to waste precious call time collecting this information and then, if necessary, redirecting the call.

Robust self-service options

Customers want to help themselves at a time most convenient to them. Make sure your self-service channels are as robust and easy to use as possible, so customers can help themselves without having to wait for an agent. This could include FAQs, detailed information on the company’s products, shipping information and return or refund policies.

Live chat efficiencies

As live chat continues to grow in popularity, companies should ensure agents are utilizing the technology efficiently and in a manner that will reduce their average handle time. For example, a single agent can engage in multiple live chat sessions simultaneously, and preconfigured responses can be utilized to save time.

Visual Assistance for faster issue resolution

Visual Assistance allows an agent to see a customer’s issue via their smartphone camera or by sharing their smartphone screen. This enables the agent to quickly diagnose the problem and visually guide the customer towards a solution. Visual Assistance eliminates the long lists of questions and answers that agents traditionally used to get to the root of a problem, enabling them to dramatically improve their AHT.

Click here to access a new Data Sheet about the benefits of Visual Assistance and the huge impact it can have on reducing AHT.

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