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 ways to help to reduce AHT. We have had so many tips sent in that we have had to split it into two articles, so here’s the first instalment.
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 throughout the call.
Thanks to Nicola
2. Put the regulatory information in the IVR
Include regulation information within the IVR, rather than agents continuously reading and confirming information from scripts or training updates.
Thanks to Robert
3. Be there for your team
Be there to answer your team. If you can save them from searching through an online resource you will save them time. Be accountable for them.
Thanks to Luke
4. 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 where they can reduce their own AHT.
5. Recruit agents who speak concisely
During the recruitment process, identify candidates who naturally speak, ask questions and give answer concisely.
Thanks to Antony
6. 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
7. 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
8. 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
9. 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
10. Use call and screen recording
Call and screen recording tools are very effective when coaching towards a lower average handling time.
Thanks to Bart
11. Team champions
Have team champions for each call driver who can then disseminate key points to the rest of the team.
Thanks to Michael
12. 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
13. 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
14. Simplify marketing materials
Simplify complicated marketing material that needs to be explained.
Work with you marketing department if you are getting lots of calls wanting further explanation of marketing materials – get them to simplify this to lower call volumes.
15. 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
16. 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.
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.
18. Share information on repeated questions
Staff should share information to minimise repeated questions.
Collate frequently asked questions and share good answers within teams.
19. Promote the website and text alerts
Promote website and text alerts for service disruption. For example a lot of people phone an energy company you to say that there is a power outage in their area. If you can provide updates on the web site, or through text messages, users could obtain information without needing to contact you.
20. 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 enable 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 able to take control of the call.
21. 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.
22. 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 warning, etc.
23. Use the same advisor for call-backs
Use the same member of staff to deal with call-backs from the original call. The customer will be talking to the same advisor and will feel more valued.
24. 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.
25. 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.
26. Allow access to management information for all advisors
Ensure that all advisors can view the management screen 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.
Thanks to Lynn
27. Process all information on the call
Encourage agents to process information whilst the customer is talking
After-call work (ACW) should be replaced with admin time, where advisors log the main points of the call and then they are given admin time to process all the calls they have taken. – NO more ACW!
28. 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
29. Encourage cross-functional working
Encourage cross-functional working together to ensure outside service areas understand the impacts of their actions, e.g. R&D.
Thanks to Karl
30. 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
31. 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 out with their own set of questions.
Thanks to Maheswaran
32. 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 they can see it really works.
Thanks to Victoria
33. Agent self-reviews
We think self-reviews are crucial in reduction of AHT – this encourages the agent to identify the problem and provide the solution.
Thanks to Vickie
34. 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 to probably split the team and bring them into a sit-down setting where the interpretation will remain the same.
Thanks to Tanya
35. 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
36. Use web chat to process more customers
Introduce a chat function to handle concurrent customers, therefore dealing with more customers within the same amount of time.
37. 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.
38. Use personality profiles
Profile the agents with 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
39. Use screen pop to identify callers
Invest in a good IVR screen pop and ensure that it gives the agent and customer what is actually required.
40. 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
41. 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.
42. 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
43. Let agents listen to recorded calls
Agents should feel the support by listening to recorded calls. If you coach them after listening, this has the added benefit that they will learn from their mistakes.
Thanks to Mohammad
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
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
What tips do you have for reducing average handling time? Why not drop us a line and we can see if we can add them into our next article. Stay tuned for the next article.
Great tips! I’d add co-browsing with customers – it can speed things up tremendously if the caller is having trouble doing something online. It takes out all the time involved in articulating what the customer is seeing/doing and describing verbally what he should do next.
Hi, do anyone on this website work in a sales centre where you are primarily selling services (resort vacations) in contrast to a service centre with more trouble shooting elements?
Improve the use of questions & listening
Structure key questions along the call, use closed question (yes/no answer) when posible; let the client know what you listened to by summarizing it. Then spell out steps to resolve the issue(s).
To identify top 10 FAQ and work on them for correct/effective, smart and breif and most effective solutions, this will automatically reduce a huge % of handling time overall
lead the agent to discover the notes that affecting his progress and evaluate him/her self in order to get a quicker results.
Question- what is the average aht for back office / multimedia requests in customer care
Is it okay to go out of a call flow?
Hi I would like to know that I almost take 39 to 40 calls per day for Talk Talk and my AHT always remains at 500 secs or 700 secs… Is this good or bad?
Sachin, 500s or 700s is bad. However, it will depend on the type of calls that you are handling. I do general customer service. and troubleshooting. I get around 400s average.
Thanks. Good stuff here. I will suggest some of these to my superiors. More to come.