The average handling time (AHT) KPI is one of the most important measurements for call centers. AHT measures the average length of time that a call center agent stays on a call with a customer. The purpose of measuring this call center KPI is to improve agent productivity, and more importantly, to enhance customer satisfaction levels. In most scenarios, a low AHT indicates good performance from an agent and will likely translate into improved customer satisfaction scores (CSAT & NPS).
« Quick Summary »This article covers the call center KPI - Average Handling Time (AHT). It explores:
How AHT is linked to customer experience (CX)
How to lower AHT without compromising on CX
How is AHT tied to Customer Experience?
Since a call center phone agent is usually the most operationally expensive point of contact for sales and support, call center operations managers aim to keep workforce numbers in check so that agents are not overworked and that all calls are being handled within applicable SLAs (i.e. no blocked calls, minimal hold times), keeping agents within the applicable AHT levels is a good indication that calls are running smoothly.
However, AHT is an area that also impacts the customer's experience and NPS scores. An agent should not aim to lower their AHT simply to get the caller off the phone, or provide mediocre answers or service - which would certainly harm CX and lower NPS scores.
Call Center operations and CX managers need to review call data and work together to determine the interactions that resulted in an appropriate AHT and promoters.
Looking for ways to improve your call center AHT? We’ve put together a core list of 10 tips to lower AHT, without sacrificing NPS/CSAT for call center leaders and CX managers:
1. Start With Coaching
Providing agents with a variety of resources to reduce average handling time is crucial to improving customer satisfaction. Proper training should be given on each resource you make available.
For example, giving agents access to a customer relationship management database can prove to be of the utmost help, but if agents can't effortlessly utilize the database, this increases call handling time and aggravates the customer. Agents should be familiar with routing calls and using call scripts before they are allowed to work independently. Any time new resources are made available, training sessions should be deployed to ensure every agent can use it to his or her fullest advantage.
2. Create a Knowledge Base
Your knowledge base is going to be a robust amount of information that call agents can tap into to improve their AHTs. It will provide an easy-to-use interface that enables the agents to type in questions and search for answers.
Being able to troubleshoot problems in the least amount of time as possible will reduce call handling times, and it allows you to pinpoint issues that commonly cannot be solved by agents. Managers can create solutions to such problems and then update the knowledge base with helpful remedies. The knowledge base should be reviewed and updated on a regular base, particularly when new issues arise and solutions are created.
3. Send Out Daily Emails
One of the easiest ways to improve AHTs is to make sure agents are up-to-date on the latest product recalls and promotional offers. You can send out a daily email informing agents of the most recent recalls, which enables them to tackle customer calls much easier.
Being aware of promotional offers will give the agents a good indication of what to expect from customers. For example, if a special promotion is running that offers a $50 rebate on a purchase, an email with this information will alert the agent to expect calls relating to the promotion. The agent can familiarize him or herself with the promotion to ensure quick and easy-to-understand answers can be provided to customer inquiries.
4. Encourage In-Call Data Handling
By integrating the after-call work (ACW) element into the AHT, this can eliminate normal ACW tasks. On average, this reduces average call times by as much as 15 - 20 seconds, which is particularly important for increasing customer satisfaction. This ensures all of the client's details are intricately recorded and it streamlines the beginning-to-end processes of handling a call.
15 - 20 seconds per call saved across an entire call center operation can result in significant operational cost reduction as well. By reducing ACW and AHT, agents are free to take the next customer, which has a cascading effect across major KPIs such as hold times and blocked calls, exponentially improving CSAT and NPS.
5. Monitor New Staff
Another way to easily reduce AHTs is with quality assurance, by heavily monitoring new staff. This allows you to identify training gaps and communicate valuable feedback that alters agents’ mistakes before they become a habit.
6. Provide a Vast List of Examples
No two calls are exactly the same, but a lot of them are extremely similar. Providing agents with a list of examples that feature calls with low AHTs is an effective way to learn how to approach calls in a manner that exceeds customers’ expectations. Ideally, you will create your list based on real examples from your agents who boast the lowest AHTs.
7. Automate Demanding Processes
Evaluate the normal call handling process and look for parts that can be automated. Also look for areas of duplication. You can remove these in call elements and lower agents' AHTs. For example, an agent could be able to ask the customer to fill out their details over a secure web session from the customer's mobile device, which could then automatically populate pdfs, and input accurate information into the CRM.
8. Ask for Full Explanations of the Problem or Reason for the Call
It might seem counterproductive to ask customers for a full explanation of their inquiry, but if agents will listen closely to the issue being explained, this can actually improve AHTs. It allows agents to thoroughly understand the problem from the get-go and then provide solutions that quickly resolve the issue. Listening closely to the explanation is key to making sure the agent doesn't have to ask the customer to repeat the same information later on in the call.
9. Evaluate Agents for Peak Performance
New agents should be rotated to different shifts. During the rotation, managers must closely analyze when the agents are displaying peak levels of performance. You may find certain agents perform better during the evening hours while others achieve low AHTs during the morning. As you pinpoint agents' peak times for performance, you can then optimize your agent scheduling to ensure everyone is working when they perform the best. Consider using workforce optimization software to help you create a schedule that leads to superior AHTs.
10. Have Agents Repeat Back Information
Another strategy that might seem counterproductive to reducing AHTs is having the agent repeat back what the customer has stated. It doesn’t have to be, nor should it be a word-for-word repeat, but more of a summary.
Repeating back a summary of the problem ensures the agent and the customer are on the same page. More importantly, it reveals to the customer that the agent was listening and is concerned about addressing the inquiry. It also reduces the likelihood of the customer having to spend more time during the call repeating the same information to further clarify what the request is. A five- to 10-second summary-repeat of the inquiry can reduce AHT significantly.
The Bottom Line
Looking for a way to reduce your call center AHT? Lightico specializes in expediting customer calls through the use of innovative smart automation and collaborative tools and resources. By equipping your agents with critical tools that speed up resolving issues in real-time, Lightico reduces AHT. We also help clients pinpoint repetitive processes to further improve AHTs and increase sales.
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