So much is said and written about the Average Handling Time (AHT) metric and the implications of using AHT in your contact centre. Some people really stand by it and others want to get rid of this all together, believing we should let each call ‘take as long as it takes’ so that it provides a personalised customer experience.

However, for call centre planning purposes I bet someone is still crunching those numbers and planning shifts and schedules on it. Taking your eye of the metric all together is like working blind and you will get caught out by spikes in your call volumes and cause customers to have overly long wait times.

So rather than join the old debate, instead, let’s think about the following 3 questions:

1. Why do you want to reduce AHT?

Sure, it would mean your ‘cost to serve’ per customer would be reduced. Your contact centre could handle more calls with the same number of staff. Your productivity and efficiency would increase, thereby reducing costs and maximising profitability. This, of course, is essential for staying in business! But dig deeper. What other reasons might have for wanting to reduce AHT? Be really honest. Write them down. Now look at the list and consider this question. Do those reasons truly serve your customers? Or do those reasons serve your organisation more?

The next question I want you to answer is this:

2. What would be the impact on customer experience or sales opportunities if you were to reduce AHT?

What is causing the longer calls? Would removing this diminish the customer experience? Would it reduce the opportunities for your agents to build rapport, make customer feel special and therefore cause customers to feel less loyal to your organisation? Would it simply cause them to call back again another time, and therefore be a false economy? If you have done through statistical analysis and know this is not the case then great! Reducing AHT can improve the customer experience if your longer call times are caused by under skilled agents putting them on hold for long periods, or by disjointed processes that mean agents have to call another part of your organisation, or even worse, outside it to get answers. For example, recently our ‘Balance’ training for Boots Plc identified how to make a 50% reduction in the longer calls whilst still maintaining excellent customer experience, you can read more about it in our case study here. Remember though, be really clear on where you are taking the duration from and whether this is good or bad time in your calls.

Onto our final question:

3. Why would your agents be motivated to reduce AHT?

If you are thinking about reducing the ‘general chit-chat’ that happens between customers and some agents; then think about it from your agents point of view. This may be one of the most enjoyable parts of the job (especially if they are an extraverted ‘people’ person). Taking this away not only risks your customer loyalty as we have already discussed, but can also cause expensive churn if your agents get bored of being too robotic and leave. You may have set out to reduce AHT but now you are spending time recruiting and interviewing. Be sure to make the connection! Alternatively, if your agents are on board with your desire to change the style of calls, then you must support them with specific, practical training sessions. Taking your agents off the phones for a ‘Power Hour’ and facilitating practical tips to reduce AHT and playing them example calls where there is an opportunity to reduce AHT is key to the success of any plan to reduce AHT. Getting them to discuss HOW they would have shortened the call duration and taking that specific action away with them is vital. Follow up with plenty of support from your coaches and team leaders to ensure that these action plans are implemented.

Finally consider your systems and your use of technology. Having a slick but simple IVR, skills based routing and detailed reports of your calls with interaction analytics will all help you to get the win:win of reducing AHT and improving the customer experience.