For most call centers, a key performance indicator is a low average handling time (AHT). Managing the amount of time callers spend in contact with the call center typically includes hold time, total talk time, and any additional work an agent must complete after the call; this number is divided by the number of calls handled by the agent to determine AHT.
Call managers are responsible for keeping the AHT at a healthy level—if the call times are too low, it’s possible the callers aren’t receiving great service; if the call times run too high, it’s costing the call center more money. Here are several ways to reduce handle time without sacrificing excellent customer service.
1) Improve Employee TrainingEmployees that feel confident about their service knowledge will perform better on the phone. Agents should be trained to use every software, communication device and business tool available. What’s more, employees should know who they can go to for help, and leadership should be ready to provide assistance whenever it’s needed.
2) Recording CallsMangers should be regularly listening to live calls. If unavailable to do so, use call recording software to record every call made or received in the center. Not only does this allow you to review calls you might have missed, but this also allows you to personally mentor agents that have exaggerated silence, long hold times, or dissatisfied customers.
3) Peer-to-peer LearningPeer-to-peer learning can be a useful tool for managers stretched thin during the week. Select team leaders or agents with particular areas of strength to mentor struggling agents.
4) Improve Call Routing with IVRCall routing can save the customer (and agents) a considerable amount of time. With an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) routing system, the caller won’t only go to the next open agent; he/she will be routed to an agent that specializes in a particular problem. The less time a caller spends on hold or being transferred the better.
5) Always Collect Important Information FirstThe first thing an agent should do when receiving a new caller is review the basic information that pulls up the customers previous call history, personal information and so on. This will ensure the customer’s information is up to date and correct; saving the call center a tremendous amount of time down the road. Additionally, all call center software should be well integrated so that a change made by one agent is reflected everywhere and for everyone.
6) Limit the Busy WorkIf call agents are spending more time pushing paper than on the phone, there’s a huge problem with workflow and processes. Managers should be looking at every step an agent works through on and off the phone to identify areas that do not contribute to customer satisfaction. Extraneous work should be fixed or cut completely.
7) Take Time to Meet with Agents FrequentlyOne of the most effective ways to decrease average handling time is by providing tools, resources and information to agents in a timely and effective manner. Most agents don’t have time to do a lot of reading, so make it a priority to speak with agents in small groups to review changes to protocol, tools or resources.
8) Don’t Mistake Efficiency with QualityLowering the AHT should never come at a cost to customer satisfaction. Mangers should always practice caution when lowering AHT, and should look for customer feedback that ensures quality of service and experience do not change as AHT is lowered.
9) Open New Help ChannelsThere are several ways to solve a customer’s problem before they place a call. Make sure all company websites are up to date, including a thorough section for frequently asked questions. Also, provide an online help desk for quick online chats with customers.
10) Take Control of the Conversation
Agents who are articulate and in control of a conversation are more likely to keep a caller calm, engaged, and willing to provide necessary information. One of the best ways to take control of the conversation is to ask positive questions up front. Have agents ask the caller if they’ve ever used the call service before. This is a positive question because regardless of how they answer, an agent can move the conversation in a positive direction quickly.
Implanting these skills will help reduce a call center’s AHT and help managers provide an informed and positive experience for customers as well as call center employees.