“Lost time is never found again” – Benjamin Franklin
Resolving issues in a timely manner is the bedrock of agent productivity and customer satisfaction. We tend to summarize this in just three letters – AHT (Average Handle Time). But there is a lot more going on here – we need to break it down.
Average Handle Time = Wait Time + Talk & Hold Time + After Call Work
It’s fairly obvious that in an inbound environment insufficient staffing can negatively impact customer wait time. It boils down to the simple equation – too many calls coming in and not enough agents available to answer and resolve them.
However, while we can say intuitively that this is true, it’s worth digging into the data to see exactly how this scenario can play out.
It’s common to see patterns like this:
The first chart shows staffing levels, with visible peaks and troughs representing when more or less agents are available to handle inbound calls.
The middle graph shows average handle time for the same period. There is a clear correlation between lower staffing levels and increased average handle time. This might not seem like much, but it carries a cost.
The last graph shows those costs – it’s those same peaks and troughs again. But, this time they don’t just represent an industry metric, they represent real customers losing their patience and giving up on trying to get in touch (i.e., abandoning the call). The negative impacts that this is having on customer experience and the bottom line go without saying.
But, what to do about it?
It’s easy enough to understand that too few agents handling too many calls would cause a problem, but responding to this in an efficient and cost-effective manner requires insight and an approach that goes beyond just hiring more agents. Think about these three things:
- Smart staffing. Staffing strategy should be data-driven and based on customer demand.
- Operational Agility. You can’t always predict spikes inbound traffic, but you can make sure you’re able to respond quickly to the unexpected.
- Preventative Strategies. What if you flip the problem on its head? Maybe the issue isn’t that staffing levels are too low, but that you’re receiving too many inbound calls in the first place.
- Schedule your agent’s time intelligently.
Use inbound call data and then monitor how it affects AHT and other key metrics like abandonment rate at different times of the day and week.
It’s important to look at volume on a daily, not just a weekly basis. If your staffing on Monday is the same as on Tuesday but the average inbound call volume is higher on Mondays then that is going to impact wait time.
Then drill down further – are you getting more calls in the morning or the evening? Are your shift patterns lining up with this?
- Make work-from-home work for you.
The sudden move to large scale, work-from-home operations, but having agents set up and ready to work from home could help you run a more agile operation. Having agents standing by to jump online if you experience an unexpected spike in inbound call volume is going to be a lot more practical if they don’t need to commute into the office.
Surfacing relevant data in an accessible form when and where you need it is key when making insight-driven decisions. Setting up wallboards, configurable dashboards that display key performance indicators related to inbound and outbound contact center volume and performance, can be a great way to keep you and all your people on top of things – and be reactive when you need to be.
Prevention is always better than the cure. Think about how you can address the problem before it becomes a staffing or customer experience issue
- Factor in your own activity.
Sending out an SMS alert? Depending on the content it could create a spike in inbound calls. Sending it out on a Friday? Maybe customers want to enjoy the weekend and won’t get in touch until Monday.
Make sure you try to monitor and anticipate how actions taken on your end can affect customer behavior and then tweak your staffing levels accordingly.
- Make sure your customer self-service is up to par.
Prevention is always better than the cure! One of the most effective ways to improve Customer Experience and decrease the burden on your agents is to make sure you have the mechanisms in place for consumers to resolve simple issues themselves without the need to get in touch at all.
- Employ an IVR.
Through providing your customers with self-service opportunities and introducing virtual agents to support human counterparts, a well deployed IVR can allow an organization to handle far more call volume, while maintaining a balance between efficiency and good customer experience. And, the good news: more customers would actually prefer to self-serve these days.
- Explore the digital alternatives.
Another effective way of reducing inbound call volume is by offering your customers an alternative – many of them probably would rather use text, email, or webchat with you anyway. An advantage of this approach can be that, unlike with phone calls, it’s often possible for one agent to manage multiple digital conversations concurrently.
That’s not all — excessive wait time can also cause problems in an outbound environment
We tend to associate wait time with inbound operations, but it can cause problems when running outbound activity too.
What could be more infuriating for a customer than receiving a call only to pick up and immediately find themselves in a hold queue?
A chief culprit of this can be pacing – if you’re connecting too many calls, too fast for the number of agents you have working, then customers could be picking up the phone to no one – it’s not a good look.
So, when setting the pacing of outbound calls, remember to take into account all the factors that might affect how quickly your team can get through the calls, like how many people will be working that shift and how long the calls are likely to be based on what type of operation you are running.