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February 17, 2021

How to Improve Average Handle Time

Average handle time (AHT) is a metric used to measure the amount of time each call or live chat takes in the call center.

How is Average Handle Time Measured?

Average handle time (AHT) is the amount of time an agent spends handling a customer inquiry from beginning to end. It includes call connection, hold time, talk time, and after call work (ACW). To calculate, AHT is split into three components:

Talk time

This is the amount of time the conversation between your customer and agent takes. This time also applies to virtual agents andIVR. 

Hold time

Hold time is the average amount of time a customer waits in a queue before or in between talking to agents.

After call work time

After call work time (ACW) is the time after the conversation has concluded. Agents log call reasons and outcome. They may schedule follow-up calls or carry out actions. 

These three components are added together and divided by the number of tickets to find the average handle time. 

total talk time + total hold time + ACW time

# of tickets

Why is AHT Important? 

When you improve AHT you improve the overall customer experience. Long hold times, unnecessary back and forth, repetition, and unresolved calls that necessitate follow ups decrease customer satisfaction and increase customer and agent churn. Using handle time as a metric uncovers inefficiencies and opens the door to more productive conversations with your customers. 

How Do You Improve AHT?

The thing about AHT is that you don’t necessarily need to reduce it to improve it. In fact, reducing AHT often leads to sacrificing customer satisfaction. Some areas like customer care or those that deal with complex customer solutions naturally have high handle times. Cutting down the time spent on those calls could have a negative impact on CSAT. 

Also, rushing customers off the line is not a good look for customer service. Customers feel valued when agents and organizations take the time to hear them out. To improve AHT is an attempt to decrease overall agent work time while still maintaining high levels of customer satisfaction. 

AHT can be lowered in 3 different ways:

  • Increase the number of tickets each agent works by setting daily volume goals.
  • Decrease the amount of agents required to work on a single ticket by simplifying ticket or query workflows.
  • Decrease total time spent on each individual ticket by frontloading information collection either via an IVR or embedded web form. 

By leveraging ticketing technology you can improve AHT without harming CSAT. In fact, you might even enhance your customer satisfaction levels due to the increased visibility provided by cleaning up workflows and centralizing information. 

 Here we examine 5 tips for how to improve average handle time with and without ticketing software. 

Provide adequate agent training 

When agents have a sufficient knowledge base they are able to resolve calls the first time around. They have to put customers on hold less often to search for relevant information or find answers to their question. Make sure your agents are at the very least familiar with your organization’s products and services. 

Let’s have a look at how you can provide the best training for your agents’ success. 

Target your training

Use speech analytics to target keywords in calls that indicate longer periods of silence on calls. Words like hold, holding, and one moment can indicate long periods of silence on a call. Use of these words usually indicate the agent is unsure of procedure or doesn’t have the full knowledge base needed to meet your customer’s needs. These agents can be filtered out and given training to improve their skill sets. 

Teach abbreviations

Abbreviations can shave a significant amount of time off after call work. Instead of writing out long cumbersome terms agents can shorten them up to abbreviated versions of words or symbols substituted for words. Some examples of helpful abbreviations in the call center are:

  • Date of birth = DOB
  • Information = info
  • + for also or and

Providing training on these abbreviations may seem elementary but, it will significantly improve AHT. 

Quartile analysis

There is always a variance in individual agent handling time. Use performance analysis to analyze individual agents’ performances. You can then group agents into four sections: the lowest performing 25%, the mid lowest 25%, the mid highest 25% and the highest 25%. 

These groupings can be used for training purposes. Study the habits of the top 25% and train the rest of your agents on these habits. Agents can also partner up for training. This provides not only a valuable source of information for your lower performing agents but also cultivates a culture that emphasises teamwork. 

Useful agent desktop

The tangible impacts of an organized space are often underestimated. Tidying up isn’t just a good habit, it’s actually necessary to productivity. When everything is right where you need it when you need it, activity flows seamlessly. This is true for your agent’s desktops as well. When our environment is cluttered, the chaos inhibits our ability to focus and process information.   

Unified CRM

A unified CRM presents a clear picture of your customer to your agents. A single pane of glass with focused information allows your agents to create a seamless customer experience for you customer. It improves AHT by eliminating the need to toggle between screens or put the customer on hold while your agent searches for the information they need. A unified CRM can provide a few key things but aren’t limited to this list: 

  • Customer directory with omnichannel conversation history
  • Relevant website access via APIs and integrations to make accessing outside data easy
  • Customer conversation and ticket history
  • Agent Script panel with knowledge base

Make sure your knowledge base is reviewed and updated often so that your unified CRM can be leveraged to the fullest degree. 

Optimize call routing 

AHT and CSAT can be improved by correctly routing customers the first time and cutting down on menu-mazes that bounce people back and forth. Customers appreciate not being bounced around between departments and agents and having to continually repeat themselves. 

More intuitive call routing can help assign agents based on their availability, skill level, and overall call volume, ultimately transforming how you structure omnichannel teams. Delineating routing actions by agent availability and volume can also assist in cross-training efforts by expanding the types of issues agents are exposed to.   

Further analysis of repeat queries also allows you to Identify call types and route them to agents with specific skill sets to handle them. Part of this will involve monitoring your agents and their skill levels, which can be done separately or in tandem with a call routing optimization exercise. Managers can then build intelligent IVR workflows to self-navigate customers to agents that cater or specialize to the reason for their call. You can even incorporate soft skills like empathy and active listening into how you route your calls when using a call recording tool like speech analytics. 

Start the call early

The more information your agents have about the customer prior to getting on the line, the better they will be able to resolve issues – it’s that simple. AHT is improved when agents don’t go into conversations blind. It is also improved when calls can be resolved without agents This is where your IVR can really shine.  

Inbound & Conversational IVR

Inbound and conversational IVR can gather helpful information about your customer and the reason they’re calling while your agents are assisting other customers. That way, upon connection your agents are as prepared as possible. Your unified CRM can fill in any gaps. 

You can leverage inbound IVR to take care of some rote tasks. This frees up agents to have conversations with your customers that requires a human touch. Some rote tasks that can be carried out using inbound IVR are 

  • Updating contact information
  • Answering account information queries
  • Statement requests
  • Taking a payment

Create quality focus around AHT

Certain behaviors like cycling, idle conversation, and long periods of silence negatively impact AHT. Use speech analytics to identify these behaviors and act accordingly. You can provide training and connect customers to the right agents faster and more efficiently.

When you think about how to improve your AHT you are also thinking about how to improve the customer experience. Call centers with better AHT flow more smoothly and serve customers more efficiently. Make sure you agents are equipped with the knowledge they need going into each call and provide training often. AHT is more than just a calculation of time on a call. It is an accurate measurement of the health of your call center. 

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About LiveVox

LiveVox (Nasdaq: LVOX) is a next-generation contact center platform that powers more than 14 billion interactions a year. By seamlessly integrating omnichannel communications, CRM, AI, and WFO capabilities, the Company’s technology delivers an exceptional agent and customer experience while reducing compliance risk. With 20 years of cloud experience and expertise, LiveVox’s CCaaS 2.0 platform is at the forefront of cloud contact center innovation. The Company has more than 500 global employees and is headquartered in San Francisco, with offices in Atlanta; Columbus; Denver; New York City; St. Louis; Medellin, Colombia; and Bangalore, India. To stay up to date with everything LiveVox, follow us at @LiveVox or visit livevox.com.

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