How Poor AHT Is Ruining Your Customer Satisfaction Ratings
Average handle time (AHT) is a performance metric used by contact centres to gauge how much time an agent spends working through a single call or contact. This is an oft-misunderstood metric that has significant bearing on the satisfaction of your customers.
Before we go any further, let’s start by defining AHT. Here are there variables in play:
TT = Total call time (i.e., combined talk time, hold time and other related tasks)
TC = Total number of calls handled
Simply put, TT / TC is equal to the AHT, be it for the entire contact centre or a particular agent. This is one of the primary metrics that contact centres use to determine how efficiently their agents are working.
AHT is a valuable metric to keep track of, which is why any contact centre worth its salt is going to have very specific goals in this department. Agents that can’t maintain an AHT within certain limits is probably not going to last long in the industry. However, there’s more to consider from a customer service standpoint than simply the average length of incoming calls. More on that in the next two sections.
Image credit: Domenico, license Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
How AHT Affects Your Customer Service Initiative
Let’s take a moment to reflect on how AHT affects your business, as well as the bottom line of the contact centre through which you outsource. First of all, no one likes to be placed on hold. In fact, there are companies out there that actually specialise in the science of keeping customers on hold. This would not be necessary if customers didn’t resent their hold-time to begin with.
Minimising AHT can lead to more satisfied customers. When those manning the lines are acutely aware of the need to keep the call moving, customers are going to end up spending less time on hold. As long as the calls are productive, shortening them is going to have a positive impact on customer service ratings.
Furthermore—and this may seem painfully obvious—but the time your customers spend on the phone with your agents is expensive. You pay for it by the minute, which means that reducing AHT, even by a few seconds, could save serious money over a large volume of calls. This is why it’s wise to go with answering services that know how to minimising AHT without compromising the quality of customer service. These agencies are out there, but you have to shop around for the right one.
Risks Associated with Metrics-Driven Policies
There is an inherent risk associated with focusing on AHT. Simply phrased, companies that prioritise keeping calls short often end up compromising their ability to resolve their customers’ issues.
The global management consulting firm, Bain & Company, published an insightful report called The Chemistry of Enthusiasm (an excerpt of which was also covered by Forbes). This report looked at several ways that certain companies rethink their approach to metrics in order to successfully secure higher levels of customer satisfaction and brand loyalty.
The report covers several customer-service issues, including AHT. In a specific case study, one company moved away from shortening call times (which often necessitated call-backs) to a focus on resolving every issue on the first call. Accomplishing this required granting those answering the phones access to in-house experts and specialists.
In this particular case, the result was a 20 per cent decrease in the number of calls along with higher customer-service and employee engagement ratings. In a word: everyone wins.
This is one case study reported in a specific report. While a single study may not be cause to reform company policy from the ground up, it is still worth keeping the lessons learned in mind. To that end, take some time to review your company’s approach to call-based support. Obsessing over the average length of your calls may compromise the effectiveness of your customer service initiative.
How to Make AHT Work for Your Company
Minimising AHT can enhance your company’s customer service experience, so long as a call’s time does not take priority over its actual success. To help accomplish this, go out of your way to equip the agents who man your lines with the information they need to successfully complete a call the first time. There are three essential ways to accomplish this:
Focus on training agents to ensure that each knows the business, its products and the core customer concerns and questions that are likely to be voiced.
Supply agents with quick and easy-to-use references through which they can access additional information on short notice.
Provide agents with access to experts within your company—be it an onward connection (one that can complete the call) or preferably an on-site specialist who’s standing by to assist.
Accomplish the above, and you’ll well-oiled customer service contingent that has the potential to achieve soaring customer satisfactions ratings.
Juliet Martin is writing in a freelance basis for Message Direct a professional telephone answering service in the UK.