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How to reduce average handle time (AHT) while improving customer experience in your call centre

Average handling time (AHT) is a key measure of the efficiency of your call centre. Very simply, the faster calls are dealt with, the more you can get through and – theoretically – the happier your customers will be.

We say theoretically, because there’s a caveat here. Reducing AHT mustn’t happen at the expense of service. Rushing calls simply to improve AHT is a recipe for dissatisfaction and, ultimately, unhappy customers.

But it doesn’t have to be one or the other. In the rest of this blog we’ll find out how to lower AHT and at the same time maintain or even improve customer satisfaction (CSAT).

What is Average Handle Time (AHT)?

AHT is a calculation based on the time agents spend talking to a customer, the amount of time callers are on hold and the time taken on follow up tasks, divided by the number of calls handled.

What’s considered a good AHT depends to some extent on the industry you’re in. Call Centre Helper’s Erlang calculator lets you enter specific metrics to work out your own AHT, but according to its own example, an AHT of 6m 10s is reasonable.

What are the benefits and pitfalls of AHT?

As a general rule, the lower your AHT, the better. It means you can handle more calls, improve efficiency and reduce costs.

AHT also gives you the information to improve resource management, and to help agents improve performance. Taken together, it is one of the key metrics of any call centre operation.

But you should never measure AHT in silo. A focus on call times at the expense of other indicators can certainly lead to a low AHT – but also to crashing customer satisfaction ratings. Agents should never be incentivised to end calls prematurely or rush through conversations.

Agents who feel pressured to end calls quickly are more likely to make mistakes or give bad advice. When that happens another key call centre metric – first call resolution (FCR) rates – also suffers.

And if your AHT starts to rise, it doesn’t necessarily mean your call centre is less efficient. It could be that your agents are handling more complex calls that require longer to resolve. It’s important to check what is leading to longer call times before deciding what to do about them.

But AHT is important and if you do need to bring it down, there are ways of doing so that won’t undermine the experience of your customers.

Why you shouldn't measure AHT in silo.

How to reduce AHT in your call centre:

Automation is key to reducing contact centre AHT

Good technology allows you to serve customers more efficiently and more effectively. The right tech can remove bottlenecks in the customer journey and provide a seamless path to improved AHT rates. For example, AI technology can be used to handle basic queries, making sure calls are accurately routed, and harness speech analytics for useful real-time information. AI chatbots can reduce frequently asked questions handled by agents, saving time and money.

Refine your call centre scripts

Many customer interactions are similar in nature. By producing and refining call centre scripts that are easily accessible, you give your agents the smoothest route through any customer conversation. That means calls end sooner, but without agents cutting any corners.

Allow customers to self-serve

Many calls don’t require agent contact at all. When customers can self-serve with Interactive Voice Response (IVR), chatbot services or a comprehensive FAQ/knowledge base, agents don’t get bogged down answering time sapping but unnecessary calls.

Direct customers to where they need to be with IVRs

Talking of IVRs, use them to direct customers to exactly the right person for their challenge or query. When customers are accurately routed to specialist agents, calls are handled more efficiently and AHT is reduced.

Improve quality by reviewing call recordings

Use call recordings to pinpoint conversational cul de sacs. Regularly review recorded calls with your agents to identify possible improvements. Skilled agents can handle calls more quickly and also more effectively.

Manage your workforce more effectively with workforce management tools

Workforce management (WFM) systems help ensure you have the right resources in the right place at the right time. By optimising staffing levels for every client or shift, you reduce wait times and improve the overall performance of your call centre. At the same time, you’re not paying for staff hours you don’t need.

How MaxContact can help

MaxContact’s industry-leading call centre software can help you reduce AHT and improve customer experience. Our solution gives you AI-driven workforce management, powerful IVR and self-serve functions, and real-time interaction monitoring to drive efficiency improvements.

In addition, our reporting and analytics tools help you identify bottlenecks in customer journeys, so you can put the processes in place to smooth the path to resolution and reduce AHT.

For more information on our contact centre solution, click here.

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