Is it time to kill off the call centre AHT metric?
In what’s looking to be a mini-series of articles on productivity in Contact Centres, it’s time to talk about that old favourite - Average Handling Time aka AHT.
It’s normally expressed in seconds so a call centre agent may have an AHT of 300 seconds.
As well as agents having an AHT result, you can also have an average AHT by team average or the whole call centre average.
So put your feet up on the couch and tell the Dr. for heavens sake, why are you still talking about Average Handling Time?
Why the AHT metric should be extinct
The more you talk about the AHT metric, the less you talk about Quality
I have a theory thats been proven out over the years.
The more a call centre and its inhabitant’s talk (or fret) about the AHT metric the less they talk (or fret) about Quality.
Sure, Quality gets lip service (whos going to bash Quality?) but it’s AHT that reigns supreme.
And for some inexplicable reason, it’s almost always about the call centre agents.
Yeah, you know those agents who brush their teeth in the bathroom mirror every morning and plot how to sabotage AHT.
“Hmmmm (they say to themselves) how could I drag out the calls today? A few more holds and a bit of nonsensical small talk and Im sure I can knock AHT out of whack.”
How AHT Flows from Quality
Any Quality Assurance professional will tell you a simple truth – AHT flows from Quality.
It’s an output…a byproduct…an emission.
You know those Monitoring Forms with the checklists and standards that QA likes to hand out to let you know how youre doing with regard to Quality?
Those Forms dictate your AHT.
Want Agents to use the Customers name 3x? Ok, that’ll be about 15 seconds.
Want Agents to say Is there anything else I can do to help you today (and mean it)? – that easily adds 7 more seconds.
Need Agents to conduct 2 levels of verification – yup – takes time.
Are you fearless enough to put First Contact Resolution on your Form? Well, thats gonna cost you too (in time that is).
If your Agent scores 100% quality on their call and you still have to talk to them about their AHT somethings wrong with the Form or somethings wrong with your Quality process.
As I like to say when I transition into guru mode when your Agent achieves Quality and it just feels right then AHT will be what it will be
AHT flows from Quality.
But most assuredly Quality does not flow from AHT!
Did you ever order chocolate lava cake for dessert in a restaurant? It’s delicious.
But the menu often says please order early, or just be aware it will take about 20 minutes for us to make you this delicious chocolate lava cake.
I’ve never seen it happen that a Diner bangs the table and says “Hey, Chef baby make me one of those delicious chocolate lava cakes in 10 minutes you hear? ”
What’s the best way to correct the AHT metric at the Agent level?
The best way has always been and it will continue to be conducting root cause analysis at the Agent level.
Watch the Agent at work, listen to calls, correct what needs to be corrected (sometimes it’s a piece of equipment, sometimes it’s knowledge or skill).
When you fix Agent Quality you automatically fix AHT.
It’s an outcome, not a driver.
Of course, having a guideline helps.
The AHT metric lends itself beautifully to measurement as an ‘acceptable range’.
What is an acceptable range of AHT variation?
For example, an ‘acceptable’ range for your call centre AHT in the mornings might range from a low of 3 minutes to a high of 6 minutes.
I’d set my ‘acceptable’ range based on my high performers in quality – if your call is great quality-wise – then by default the AHT is acceptable (if it isn’t something is broken in how you measure quality).
Armed with a range, you can track performance across your Team Members and identify outliers – for example, those who are consistently above or below the acceptable range for that time period.
This approach allows you to focus in on folks who may have some barrier in their way.
Do remember though –
Acceptable ranges are not consistent throughout the day – most Centres see longer AHT in the night hours as compared to the morning hours (for example).
You have to adjust your ranges based on your call mix, customer mix and the like.
If you’re in WFM or Process AHT matters
Of course, if you are in WFM or you are in Process improvement and/or Customer journey mapping, the AHT metric is super important.
And WFM folks tend to understand that the biggest improvements in AHT come from technology and process improvement.
When you look at all the factors that ‘drive’ AHT, Agents themselves have only minor control over AHT namely applying their knowledge, skills & abilities as trained and coached.
Industry-wide AHT for voice calls is going up
Coupled with the digitization of simple inquiries the outcome is clear while voice volumes may be stabilizing in volume for some Centres, AHT continues to climb.
Feel better? I do!
In an era of Customer experience, it won’t do you or your Team Members any good to have an artificial clock ticking in their ear while trying to listen, empathise and resolve a customer call.
If you’re a Manager or Team Leader who still harps on individual Agent AHT its time to rethink your value.
It’s not 1973 anymore.
Recommended further reading: The 10 Most Popular Call Centre Metrics and KPIs
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