Is average handle time still relevant now that more and more customers expect personalized services?
Many call centers have always included average handle time (AHT) in their primary metrics when determining their agents’ productivity and performance. As a call center metric, it refers to the average duration of a transaction, starting from the moment an agent accepts a call. It includes the hold and talk time as well as other administrative tasks related to a single interaction.
Measuring AHT is useful from a management perspective. It helps leaders track how many customers are being accommodated, allowing them to estimate the number of agents they need.
Although it directly influences staffing and workforce management decisions, however, AHT is a burden for many call center agents. When performance measurement and employee rewards are determined by the duration of calls, the customer experience is compromised.
Why is measuring AHT counterproductive?
Agents aiming to cut transactions short don’t exert the effort needed to really help customers. This means that although the immediate concerns are addressed, many callers are still left confused and dissatisfied. Thus, you’ll get repeat calls from those who aren’t happy with your services.
So call centers must not create a speed-focused culture. When managers incentivize their reps according to speed, they practically position the agents’ goals against the customers’ interests. Instead of encouraging agents to be customer-centric, you’re actually forcing them to focus on their own individual targets as employees. What happens is that even though agents want to enhance customer support, their actions will be limited by the policies imposed by the company. This disheartens the agents who can otherwise resolve issues efficiently.
All in all, this results in poor customer experience. If you’re focusing on the wrong performance metric, you’ll sacrifice the quality of the customer service you deliver.
Is AHT irrelevant?
Measuring AHT lets managers anticipate their staffing needs. However, what it won’t let you do is distinguish between the simple and the complicated transactions.
There are instances wherein AHT is applicable as a call center metric. Typically, these are transactions with straightforward solutions. Some of these are:
• queries about your latest promos;
• follow-ups on ongoing transactions; and
• updates on customer information.
More importantly, however, you must also know when AHT must not be measured. Intricate issues that require a high level of involvement naturally take a longer resolution time. If an agent rushes through these types of transactions, they compromise customer satisfaction. Examples are:
• technical product problems;
• financial transactions that involve sensitive information;
• complaints that require verification and investigation; and
• issues that must be escalated to managers.
In these situations, AHT becomes irrelevant. It becomes an unfair performance measurement standard for agents who take their time to walk customers through complicated issues.
Alternatives to AHT
While AHT is still an important performance metric that managers must keep tabs of, perhaps it shouldn’t be the primary measure of call center productivity, especially now that customers want personalized services. As an alternative to AHT, you may consider first-call resolution as a more customer-focused metric, since it’s much more closely tied to customer satisfaction. You may also collect customer feedback in order to understand how people view your company. That way, the enhancements you’ll be making are aligned with the preferences of your target market.