Tips to improve Average Handling Time in your contact centre

By Mike BanbrookAugust 7, 2023

From the moment your agents pick up a call, the clock starts ticking for your call centre’s Average Handling Time (AHT). The amount of time your agents spend on the phone talking to customers, the total time spent on hold, and any After Call Work (ACW) carried out in relation to calls all has an impact on your call centre’s AHT.

With AHT being one of the most watched KPIs in nearly every call centre, it’s not surprising that taking steps to improve AHT is usually a top priority among call centre managers. Improving AHT is in everyone’s best interests because it has the potential to create a better customer experience while allowing your call centre to run more efficiently and reduce operating costs. Minimising AHT really is a win-win.

Looking more closely at the benefits of improving AHT in your call centre, customer satisfaction is likely to significantly improve as a direct consequence of reaching resolutions faster. At the same time, resolving higher volumes of problems and queries each day could drive up revenue for your business while improved AHT also means your team is able to ‘do more with less’, lowering overheads such as staffing, office space, and tech.

With the importance of improving AHT widely known, the question is, how can it be achieved? Here are some of the most effective ways to reduce your AHT without compromising the quality of customer service, which is a critical factor in what it means to truly ‘improve’ your AHT.

1. Set up call routing based on agent expertise

One of the best ways to boost the efficiency of your call centre operation is by playing to your agents’ individual strengths. For example, whether it’s through experience or training, some of your agents may have more expertise or knowledge in certain areas over others. This gives you the opportunity to set up your call-routing in a way that directs select call types to expert agents who are most likely to be able to reach a resolution faster.

2. Use scripts as a guide only

The use of scripts within your call centre can ensure all your agents are aligned and delivering a consistent customer service experience across the board, but they can bring a few risks when it comes to managing AHT. While overreliance on scripts can cause agents to spend too much time running through unnecessary information or verbatim, they can also inhibit agents from properly listening to customers or asking the type of probing questions that help them get to the crux of issues faster. As a rule, it could be beneficial to provide scripts that are more general in nature while actively encouraging agents to use them as a guide only, so they keep an open ear and mind to each individual call.

3. Bring your call centre technology into the new era

DTMF IVR systems, which require callers to press the number on their keypad that corresponds to their chosen menu option, often contribute to elevated AHT because callers make incorrect choices, or they simply find that there isn’t an appropriate option for their query. The limitations of DTMF means agents often spend time re-routing calls or they begin calls unprepared because they’re yet to find out the true reason for the call before seeking a resolution.

Fortunately, new cloud-based technologies that are quick and easy to implement over the top of your existing call centre infrastructure are changing the game when it comes to improving AHT. For example, Oration by Convai replaces DTMF menus with the simple open question of “How can I help?”. Oration’s speech recognition technology then determines a caller’s intent from their own natural language before routing the call to the most appropriate agent first time.

Automated solutions like Oration can help reduce AHT in other ways too, such as by automatically requesting key data (like a customer number) and passing it to agents’ screens and allowing for unlimited targeted banners or self-serve options in response to recognised caller intents. Tech-enabled capabilities like these can drive faster resolutions or even reduce the number of calls reaching agents.

4. Improve and promote your website

Your website could be the easiest and most accessible way for your customers to quickly find answers to their queries – provided it’s simple enough to navigate and always contains reliable and up-to-date information. In fact, your agents are probably receiving many calls from customers who have previously tried, and failed, to find the answers they’re looking for online.

With complete transparency over the nature of calls your call centre is receiving, such as through Oration’s advanced caller intent reporting dashboard, you could enhance your web content and design to give customers more of what they need. For example, regularly updated blogs, useful guides and resources, FAQs, and self-service portals could contribute to reducing the number of calls received or the complexity of queries your agents handle.

5. Give time for your agents to review, reflect, and feedback

Encouraging agents to spend time listening to their calls might help them identify where too much time is being spent and what’s driving the wastage. Specifically, affording the opportunity to take a step back as an objective observer can make it easier to spot unnecessary inclusions in their verbatim, or the type of communication style that either draws out the best responses from customers or slows them down. Reviewing calls could also provide agents with the insight they need to offer constructive feedback around standard call flows, script guides, or other protocols which might be affecting your AHT.

6. Focus on training

Frequent training sessions that focus on product knowledge and real-life customer scenarios are an effective way to reduce AHT in your call centre. Well-trained call centre agents will be able to resolve customer queries more efficiently and intuitively, especially if training sessions are designed to refine and hone call handling techniques in line with changing customer needs and the types of calls being received. Agent training can also be used to build specific subject matter experts in your team who have the knowledge required to resolve more complex scenarios in a shorter time than others.

7. Boost your internal comms capabilities

You could help improve AHT by taking steps to facilitate real time communication and collaboration between your call centre agents, such as implementing an internal chat app. With this capability, agents will be able to quickly help each other resolve customer queries without transferring calls. Transferring calls between agents not only wastes valuable time because agents begin interactions from scratch and repeat questions, but it can have a negative impact on the overall customer service experience and levels of satisfaction.

8. Do what you can to minimise After Call Work (ACW)

Call centre agents often spend a lot of time entering notes and completing tasks after finishing their interactions with customers. For example, this might include logging the reason for the call, what the outcome was, or scheduling follow up actions. With ACW accounting for a significant proportion of your AHT, it’s important to look for ways to reduce ACW or streamline ACW processes. Using solutions like Oration to automatically capture customer information up front or setting up easy user interfaces that allow ACW to be performed during the call could decrease the time it takes agents to wrap up a call and be ready for the next caller.

For every call centre, AHT is one of the most significant measures of performance, but it’s not about reducing your AHT at any cost. By focusing on sustainable steps that improve your AHT rather than simply lowering it, you could achieve all the goals of driving down operating costs, increasing revenue, and most importantly, delivering the best customer experience your call centre can offer.

To learn more, download this Case Study on how Big W reduced average call handling time by up to 30 seconds using Oration’s automated information capture features, and targeted banners which politely deflect certain calls.

Every second your agents spend on the phone is a cost to your business. Ensuring the full breadth of customer queries, issues, and problems are dealt with by the most appropriately skilled agent every time will reduce average call handling times. Meanwhile, Oration’s range of automated call flow features can divert more tasks and calls away from agents without compromising the speed and quality of resolutions for customers.

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