In most surveys that we conduct, Average Handling Time (or AHT) is the most common metric that contact centres use to measure efficiency. It is easy to measure and widely available.
We had a fantastic response to our request for how to reduce AHT in the call centre. In fact, we had so many tips sent in that we have had to split it into two articles, so here’s the first instalment.
For part two, follow the link: 31 More Tips for Reducing Average Handling Time (AHT).
1. Gather all information at the start of the call
We encourage agents to gather as much information as possible at the start of the call. This should be relevant and about the situation, in order to best resolve the issue instead of getting information filtering in throughout the call.
Thanks to Nicola
2. Look carefully at the IVR
Problems can be caused by customers choosing the wrong options on the IVR. Carefully examine your IVR options and see if there is a way of avoiding these problems.
Also, try to include regulation information within the IVR rather than agents to read and confirm information from scripts or training updates.
Problems can be caused by customers choosing the wrong options on the IVR. Carefully examine your IVR options and see if there is a way of avoiding these problemsRobert
Thanks to Robert
3. Nip problems in the bud by paying special attention to new staff
Call monitoring can have a big impact, especially with new staff, as they can learn effective time management from the outset.
By monitoring their calls from the outset, you can identify training gaps and provide the agents with valuable feedback about the call.
This process works well for our company in keeping our handling time within targets.
With thanks to Janet
Take a look at 9 Best Practices to Develop Call Quality Monitoring, for some pointers for monitoring calls.
4. Create cheat sheets to help streamline call-handling processes
I recently analysed on-hold reasons and compared them against different agents handling the same types of calls.
We found that agents were using different methods to get the same information from the systems.
Based on that, we created cheat sheets for popular call types and streamlined our call-handling processes for the more common queries.
With thanks to Mark
5. Let agents listen to examples of low AHT
Allow agents with a high AHT to listen to calls of their colleagues with a low AHT to identify and plan where they can reduce their own AHT.
6. Recruit agents who speak concisely
During the recruitment process, identify candidates who naturally speak, ask questions and give answer concisely.
Thanks to Antony
7. Identify silence on calls
- Identify calls with a lot of silence
- Train agents who generate silence
- Reduce AHT and increase FCR & CSAT
Thanks to Denis from NICE Systems
Take a look at our article, Seven Tips to Avoid Dead Air Time in Phone Conversations, to find out what to do when you have identified silence on calls.
8. Identify silent times
Identify silent times and look at what is happening. Is the member of staff updating the system? Is the system responding?
Thanks to Carole
9. Buddy-up agents
Buddy-up agents with high AHT with agents that have low AHT to listen in, gain tips and share ideas.
Quality control is obviously important, so ensure that you have calibration between agents with low and high AHTs.
Thanks to Trisha, Charlie & Alexander
10. Avoid buddying with bad agents
Avoid agents buddying with older or ‘bad’ agents as they pick up bad habits. Instead pick enthusiastic agents who can share best practice and good habits.
Thanks to Carly
Find out more by looking at our article 20 Tips for Creating Super Agent.
11. Use call and screen recording
Call- and screen-recording tools are very effective when coaching towards a lower average handling time.
Thanks to Bart
12. Appoint staff champions
Give staff champion roles within a specific service. Make staff aware of who is the champion for each service. Advisors should attend meetings with back office within their champion role and bring back updated information, for example street scene, bad weather warnings, etc.
13. Get the basics right on the call
Ensure people follow a predefined call structure. People need to listen, question, clarify back, use hold, give overviews and deliver the solution effectively.
Focus needs to be on giving the right answer, first time.
Adapt, be friendly, helpful and enthusiastic.
Thanks to Sarah
For tips on nailing the basics, take a look at out articles on Positive Scripting for Customer Service and 15 Things a Call Centre Agent Should Never Say (But Many Do).
14. Make sure agents have the right knowledge
Professionalise the workforce in their business area. The more knowledge agents have of their whole business, the easier it is to answer customer questions and reduce time to get the correct answer.
Thanks to Richard
15. Simplify marketing materials
Simplify complicated marketing material that needs to be explained.
Work with your marketing department if you are getting lots of calls wanting further explanation of marketing materials – get them to simplify this to lower call volumes.
Find out more by looking at our article Go and Talk with Marketing
16. The habits of highly effective agents
Examine what your top 10 agents do in regard to AHT that makes them consistently quick. Then apply these tips to the slowest 10. Improving the slowest agents’ AHT will have the biggest gains.
Thanks to Andrew
17. Keep customer profiles up to date
Update the customer profile at first point of contact. This way there is no confusion when giving feedback to the customer on services requested.
Ensure that the caller history is up to date with all previous conversations with the customer, no matter what agent has spoken to them. The enquiry can be picked up so that this is seamless to the customer. Staff can log on at different locations to reduce call handling time when a high volume of calls is being received.
The customer often may repeat the same information to different members of the team, creating a 360-degree of the customer prevents needless sharing of the same information that can lead to irate customers.
18. Take a look at the health of your contact centre ecosystem
Does the ecosystem inhabited by your agents help or hinder them? Do they have to copy and paste from one system to another? Are your agents asking customers for information you already have in your systems? Are your knowledge resources rapidly returning helpful results or do your agents have to wait seconds or even minutes? And do they have to search more than once during the same call to answer the customer’s question? How many separate tools do you expect your agents to juggle?
By taking this kind of approach, I have seen AHT reduce by up to 25% within a matter of weeks.
Thanks to Jason
19. Turn off the queue displays on walls
We found that agents worked more efficiently when they didn’t know how many calls were queuing.
When the queue was visible to them, they extended their call beyond what was necessary in an attempt to have a bit of a breather.
When the queue was visible to them, they extended their call beyond what was necessary in an attempt to have a bit of a breather.
However, this was on a technical support account, so it may differ depending what sector you’re working in.
Thanks to David
Instead take a look at our article, to find out What Information Should You Be Displaying on Your Contact Centre Wallboards.
20. Share information on repeated questions
Staff should share information to minimise repeated questions.
Collate frequently asked questions and share good answers within teams.
21. Promote the website and text alerts
Promote website and text alerts for service disruption. For example, a lot of people might phone an energy company to say that there is a power outage in their area. If you can provide updates on the website or through text messages, users could obtain information without needing to contact you.
22. Record all of your calls
Record 100% of calls received for training purposes. This then enables you to listen to long and short calls. This should allow you to see if there is a training issue. Long calls may be a sign of the agent not listening to the problem, interrupting the caller or being unable to take control of the call.
Find out more by looking at our articles,the Call Recording Reference Guide
23. Involve staff and supervisors in creating training materials
Staff should be involved in the training along with supervisors to refresh themselves at the same time.
24. Encourage staff to do the wrap time during the call
We encourage our staff to do the wrap time during the call.
This stops customers feeling rushed and reduces AHT. It also gives the customer the confidence that their query has been fully dealt with.
If agents are having to add notes to the account after the call then you need to find out why this is the case. Why do they feel as though they are unable to do so during the call? The agents can then plan their calls better, to improve their AHT.
With thanks to Teresa and Stewart
25 …But make sure your agents don’t create awkward silences
We try to do actions in calls wherever possible, rather than using after-call work or wrap-up time.
However, this is only effective if the agents are talking to the customer as well.
You can fall foul of long silences doing it this way, which defeats the object.
It’s definitely a balancing act!
With thanks to Janice
A good way for agents to keep communicating with the customer and also types notes is to use Call Wrap-up Abbreviations.
26. Use the same advisor for callbacks
Use the same member of staff to deal with callbacks from the original call. The customer will be talking to the same advisor and will feel more valued.
27. Don’t send out updates by email
Hold sessions for providing information direct to advisors rather than using email. Make sure this is a two-way session, rather than managers telling advisors what to do. Empower the agent.
28. Create friendlier forms
Create more user-friendly service request forms for every scenario with a specific service. This gives a more consistent approach for the customer.
29. Allow access to management information for all advisors
Ensure that all advisors can view the management information on a plasma screen. This will help them manage their unavailable status and see the whole picture. This will also allow the agent to see what calls are coming in and how long they have waited. This is a good approach to having a true understanding of your average wait time (AWT).
Thanks to Lynn
30. Make your knowledge base searchable
Put a search engine on the knowledge database. It will make it much easier to find information.
Thanks to Yasmeen
Find out more by looking at our article Turbo Charge Your Knowledge Base
31. Show agents that longer AHT doesn’t always translate to great service
We tracked AHT against customer feedback and identified the optimum AHT target to drive customer experience within our main call types.
This showed our agents that longer calls don’t always result in great service.
With thanks to Craig
32. Allow the agents to control the call
Put in place a structured call opening, allowing the agent to control the call from the outset. This is called a call structure, a vision of the call flow, which in turn gets the agent to think about system navigation.
Thanks to Robert
33. Produce a set of troubleshooting questions
Design a structured question/flow for the agents so they have a set of questions to ask the users and troubleshoot accordingly rather than coming up with their own set of questions.
Thanks to Maheswaran
34. Share agent best practice
Encourage your top agents with the best call control to share their experiences/strategies with colleagues in team briefings. It’s more powerful than coming from a team leader or manager as agents can see it really works.
Thanks to Victoria
Find out more by looking at our article Best-Practice Ideas for Improving Performance
35. Give agents the chance to listen to their call recordings
Let agents pull some of their calls and listen to them and I guarantee they will hear the customer driving the call and that they had been repeating themselves.
Agents may also notice that the call info and questions were out of sync, meaning that they had to go back and get the info again. Also, agents can listen for open and closed questions in the wrong part of the call, open at the front, closed at the end. They may be using them in the opposite places, therefore taking longer to get to the issue and resolution.
Thanks to Craig
36. Put information at the agents’ fingertips
I ensure that the agents have the information at their fingertips and use the internal chat feature so that they can get information from other agents where necessary.
What I find is that agents do not have time to do a lot of reading, so really the most effective way is probably to split the team and bring them into a sit-down setting where the interpretation will remain the same.
Thanks to Tanya
37. Keep the customer in the loop
If it is absolutely necessary to go silent when processing things, advisors should keep the customer ‘in the loop’, e.g. “Sorry to keep you waiting, I’m just updating the account.” That way the customer doesn’t feel the need to fill the silence with conversations that can ultimately prolong the call and distract the advisor.
Thanks to Gina
For more information on keeping the customer in the loop, take a look at The Best Courtesy Words and Phrases to Use in Customer Service, which provides tips on relaying what the agent is doing to the customer.
38. Use frequently asked questions
Channel your customers through the FAQs so that they already have clear answers and will either chat, call or email based on their query.
39. Use personality profiles
Give agents personality profiles to allow you to understand if they are extrovert/introvert, analytical, etc. Then place them in the right queue that fits their personality.
Thanks to Sarah
Find out more by looking at our article Using personality profiles to personalise customer interactions
40. Improve the use of questions and listening
Structure key questions along the call, use closed question (yes/no answer) when possible; let the client know what you heard by summarising it. Then spell out the steps to resolve the issue(s).
Thanks to Jose
Structure key questions along the call, use closed question (yes/no answer) when possible; let the client know what you heard by summarising it. Then spell out the steps to resolve the issue(s)
41. Review your IVR call-flow
To reduce AHT and improve customer experience you must regularly review your IVR call-flow to keep it simple for the customer.
Thanks to Neil
Check out our Articles and Forum posts about IVR
42. Don’t scrimp on induction training
Invest in your staff’s technical knowledge, rather than rushing them through a short induction. Invest in educating staff over a period of time, teaching them background information. This should remove the need for referrals to team leaders and help the staff member take ownership of their customers’ needs.
43. Implement a knowledge base
Introduce a knowledge database. I have just spent a year setting up ours. It’s only been live a few weeks and is already helping to reduce our AHT and increase staff confidence, consistency of answers and customer satisfaction.
Thanks to Rebecca
44. Don’t chase the number
Don’t chase the number; get the experience right first and the scores will take care of themselves.
Thanks to Jerry
45. Mini briefing sessions
Conduct mini briefing sessions in small managing groups to update on changes in service.
Thanks to Lin
Find out more by looking at our article Set up daily briefing sessions
46. Create a good opening question
My tip for reducing the AHT is to create a good opening question to have control of the conversation directly from the start. An example could be: “Good day, my name is….. did you call us before?” Whether this is answered with a yes or no, you can take control over the conversation.
Thanks to Richard
47. Don’t confuse quality with efficiency
Never jeopardise call quality for AHT as you will not only provide bad service but also encourage ‘bad behaviour’ in the advisor population.
Thanks to Jurgen
48. Challenge all aspects of AHT
My top tip to manage AHT is ‘just because it is doesn’t mean it should be’. This means challenging every aspect of AHT, including clear visibility at daily, weekly, monthly levels, at both agent and department level. Also let the agent know that they have the power to reduce AHT.
Thanks to David
49. Quick ‘how to’ guides
Have quick ‘how to’ guides for your most regular enquiries which you can send through to the customer and enable them to self-help.
Thanks to Chris
10 More Tips From Our Readers
We have had more some more tips come in from our readers about how to improve Average Handling Time (AHT), without damaging the advisor or the customer experience.
Bonus Tip 1 – Co-browsing with customers
If the caller is having trouble with doing something online, have the agent go through the process with them using co-browse technology.
It reduces the time while the caller is trying to explain to the agent what they are doing or seeing, and vice versa with the agent explaining to the customer the next steps.
Thanks to Michelle Brusyo
Bonus Tip 2 – Make sure your computers keep up with your agents
Ensure your system is up to date, and running as expected. Agents will take longer if they have to wait for the system, which reduces their Average Handling Time.
Bonus Tip 3 – Get Your Greetings and Closings Right
Another tip is to shortening the greetings. It matters alot to open and close the call correctly, as this builds a positive rapport with the customer.
That said agents should ensure that greetings are short and pleasant, as not to waste time. I find this normally comes with practice.
Thanks to Ann Sole
Bonus Tip 4 – Self Evaluation
Have the agent evaluate themselves for things that might be affecting their AHT. This could be done by getting the agent to takes notes about longer calls as they go. This process of self reflection creates quicker results without to much extra cost.
Thanks to Hasan Odeh
Bonus Tip 5 – Address Your Top Ten FAQs
Identify the ten frequently asked questions asked to the agents, and create solutions for them. This will reduce the overall percentage of handling time, as the common queries can be dealt with in a effective and efficient manner.
Thanks to Sourav Dhar
Bonus Top 6 – Calculate Customer Handling Time as an Additional Metric
Measure customer handling time as well as average call handling time. This gives the overall effort time per customer combining AHT & FCR.
By doing so, we can any overall effort, instead of concentrating on reducing individual call time, as this may impact calls per customer.
Thanks to Allan
Bonus Tip 7 – Train Advisors to Take Ownership of Calls
Empower your agents to have the confidence to take responsibility and ownership of their customer’s issues.
This ownership is taught directly through trust and open communication between Team Leaders and advisors via regular meetings, updates and buzz sessions.
Having this open channel will reflect your agents enthusiasm with your customers and therefore improve First Call Resolution.
Thanks to Mohammed
Bonus Tip 8 – Use One CRM System
Present absolutely everything you need to serve the agent in one single interface.
You log into one system in the morning, you sit within one central environment and everything you need to serve the customer.
Whether it’s CRM information or another information source, make sure it is available at your team’s fingertips, without removing the need to navigate.
Thanks to Will Lusted of Foehn
Bonus Tip 9 – Involve Advisors In Call Calibration Sessions
Call analysis is one of the ways to reduce AHT. But, to take this one step further, hold calibration sessions with groups of agents asking them to listen to a number of calls of different lengths and spot what’s good or could have been better.
Bonus Tip 10 – Roleplay Ways of Reducing AHT
When coaching an agent to reduce AHT, it is useful to review a actual call with them and show them exactly when in the call they had opportunity to reduce the length of the interaction, while still providing the required service.
Then, roleplay the various situations and map out new, more efficient behaviours.
How to Measure Average Handling Time
Average Handling Time can be measured in a number of different ways. We have written a good article How to Measure Average Handling Time that looks at what you should include and what you should exclude.
Originally published on 13th February 2013. Recently updated.
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