Does Average Handle Time (AHT) Matter?

I see a lot of chatter on my various social feeds around Average Handle Time. The major thrust of the communications is that AHT is now useless as a metric for anybody other than planners and to understand how effective you are at transacting with customers it’s all about measuring Customer Experience (CX), having effective customer journey maps and measuring NPS or some other Voice of the Customer Metric.

I am not usually one for blogging, however, whilst I don’t disagree with the importance of CX and having effective customer journeys, I do not believe that AHT is a resource planning metric only and offer my view that organisations should really be tracking AHT as a measure of CX. Let me explain.

In any contact centre the ability to handle calls efficiently and effectively impacts both operating costs (and bottom line) and the CX. Within our space at CallMiner, Interaction Analytics, I am constantly amazed as the opportunities that are presented to organisations to gain real insight into what is actually happening when consumers/customers are talking to the organisations who provide products and services to them. In almost all cases there are great opportunities to understand the AHT and so improve the CX. It’s not always the case that analytics points to opportunities to reduce AHT either, sometimes the opposite is true.

Some examples

1.      Why are customers calling you in the first place? Analytics will help to identify call reasons and can point to problems or issues on the customer journey downstream, which if addressed meant the call did not need to happen in the first place.

2.      A customer shared with us recently they did a pilot for a new project, product and process and were surprised when their assumption that lower AHT would result in optimal outcomes, was proven wrong. In fact, their analytics revealed that their best customer contact outcomes were almost two minutes longer than calls with less ideal outcomes! They discovered the agents who took more time explaining the virtues of the product or service, setting the right expectation for the process and closing the calls properly had higher close rates, lower cancelation and less compliance risk as well.

3.      We see examples of clumsy call flow, unnecessary transfers from one agent to another, the agents lacking the training to be able to handle objections quickly and effectively, hold or silent time whilst the agent does a look up of data that should be readily available, confusing verbiage on the agent script that requires repeating and confirming, poor audio quality, agents speaking too quickly and needing to repeat themselves regularly. These unnecessarily drive up AHT.

4.      Absence of objective training and development. Traditional QM sampling might only uncover a very small element of what is really happening on the calls. Unless you can analyse 100% of the audio and provide objective feedback to each agent based on consistent trends, you will never really be able to improve the agent interactions and the overall contact centre performance.

Organisations who address these insights get optimum AHT, frictionless CX and operational savings.

So in summary, AHT does matter. Great CX depends on reducing customer effort and one element of this is the time it takes them (and you) to get what they need done. There are opportunities to optimise AHT but these opportunities might not be visible without effective analytics. Only by understanding what is happening on your customer interactions will you really be able to positively impact both CX and AHT. I would suggest that having effective interaction analytics is the key to bridging the AHT and CX conundrum. Without analytics maybe AHT remains a domain of the resource planners only, with analytics it takes on a whole different perspective