5 Ways to Reduce Average Call Time

Reducing average call time, call handle time, etc. is something that all customer service managers want to do. Even the ones who really want the best customer service experience don’t mind reducing average call handle time. Customers don’t mind being on the phone less time, either.

With that in mind, here are six ways to reduce average call time.

Encourage self-service.
Encourage the use of self-service tools. If the tools are useful and easy to use, more and more customers will use them. The reason for customers not using self-service tools is not because they are out to get you – it is because the tools are useless, hard to find, and/or hard to use. From my experience, customers like tools that are interactive, FAQs, tutorials with pictures, and searchable knowledge bases. Keep in mind that there is a fine line between encouraging and forcing self-service, though.

Build tools to answer common questions.
If possible, build tools that help answer common questions that you would normally have to ask to find out about an issue. For example, have me to go a page that diagnoses my computer automatically of asking me a whole bunch of questions that does the same thing. It makes the experience easier for everyone.

Pre-verify.
A lot of support calls require verification of a customer’s identity. Or at the very least, gathering of the customer’s personal information. There are always ways to include some sort of verification or reduce call time through your IVR. Invest in a system that can look up a customer’s phone number and ask for the last four digits of their credit card number. Most importantly, once the customer has verified their information using the IVR, don’t ask them to repeat it.

Get to the root of the issue.
Train your representatives to get to the root of the issue. Doing so usually involves learning how to ask the right questions and finding out what happened, what the customer expected to happen, and what the customer wants to happen (or a variation of that). If they know how to find out what the problem is, representatives will be able to resolve it much sooner.

Have fast systems.
I am sure the IT managers, software engineers, etc. looking at this are groaning right now. As an executive, it is worth investing in fast systems. If the systems ran faster, there wouldn’t be as much waiting. Use technologies that can make your systems fly and there will be less waiting.

What strategies do you use for reducing average call time?

11 Responses to “5 Ways to Reduce Average Call Time”

  1. Aleassa Schambers said:

    Aug 29, 07 at 10:05 am

    Another way to create efficiencies in the contact center to help reduce call handling time is by implementing a quality monitoring program combined with speech analytics. Together, it can automatically highlight significant trends and/or variations that can impact customer satisfaction, agent quality, sales performance and marketing effectiveness. This greater level of customer and business intelligence enables companies to immediately act to improve performance.

    With a good system, the speech analytics results can be fed back to the quality monitoring application to more effectively drive business improvements and measure quality. The solution should also have the ability to incorporate customer feedback directly into the actual interaction scorecard that evaluates the customer’s specific interaction. This enables the business to evaluate the effectiveness of its contact center from the customer’s perspective, as well as from the manager’s and agent’s perspective.

    The bottom line is, with this type of data, contact centers can easily identify either problems with processes or trends in customer feedback that when combined with coaching and training, can enable the agent to provide very specific/focused responses that can also help to reduce call handling time and provide first call resolution.

  2. Ben Hubbard said:

    Aug 29, 07 at 4:35 pm

    The one I would add is to empower the support technicians. With some organizations calls frequently have to be escalated, and that may be understandable when it’s a technical issue, but many times it is just for approval or for a minor account change. Allowing the rep to make decisions of these sorts would get the problems or issues resolved sooner and shorten the call.

    Regarding the first idea, “Encourage self-service,” actually taking the customer who would use or wants to use such a feature to the tool and explaining how it can be used and teaching them may not reduce that service time of that specific call, but if it’s an issue that will likely come up again, walking the customer through the tool would empower them to solve it on their own moving forward, and would reduce the number of future calls.

    Ben

  3. Service Untitled said:

    Aug 29, 07 at 5:37 pm

    Aleassa, those are good suggestions. Thanks for the suggestions from a slightly different and more technical perspective. Much appreciated!

    Ben, empowerment is definitely key. Elevations take a long time and are expensive, so if you can avoid them, it is probably worth it.

    Self-service is tricky. I agree fully that it should be about educating the customer that way they know where to look if a problem comes up again or if the same issue occurs again.

    Thanks for your comments!

  4. Dan said:

    Aug 31, 07 at 12:51 pm

    If a customer is calling from your Website, and has already logged into your site, skip the pre-verification part altogether by offering them an escalation path that maintains the context of their online session across channels instead of forcing them to start all over again when they move from the Web to the phone.

  5. Ankit said:

    Sep 01, 07 at 10:43 pm

    In a service based industry, skill level based routing is something that should be done. Maybe not for the masses, but when one of your largest customers calls, you want to be able to pay attention to it and direct it to the right person.

    One datacenter has a special message pop up on the screen for their top 200 clients so that they can directly speak to someone at the highest level. The people who call in with the issues usually figured out and confirmed on their end should be allowed to skip the standard procedures.

  6. Service Untitled said:

    Sep 01, 07 at 10:47 pm

    Hi Ankit,

    Thanks for your comment. Definitely. A lot of companies are doing that. They are using their IVRs to send people to the right place and the right people. It is a terrific use of the already existing technology.

  7. Joe Wilburn said:

    Nov 08, 07 at 3:25 am

    I would also add that call centre management needs to collaborate with other departments that rely on the centre to accomplish their goals.

    One big one in the call centre I work at is with marketing. On one skillset alone we have no fewer than 10 promos running concurrently and agents must decipher which promo the member is calling in on (if any at all). That is a time waster and makes the agent look unprepared and sloppy.

    I also have to agree with the escalations comment. Also, the escalations process would be well thought out and with accountability to the customer the paramount importance. Nothing like getting caught in a bottleneck where a lower agent is escalating to a higher agent who won’t accept it or fights having to take on something.

  8. Service Untitled said:

    Nov 08, 07 at 7:28 pm

    Joe,

    Working together with other departments is super important in customer service. A lot of companies neglect that. Everyone has to be on the same page to be effective.

  9. Laura Kinney said:

    Jan 27, 09 at 5:40 pm

    AHT measurement is pointless. From an agent’s point of view, it’s even counter-productive to their performance. Below, I give you a humorous excerpt from the hot, new, call center fiction book, HANDLE TiME by LiNCOLN PARK; which illustrates the agent’s point-of-view:

    “In call centers, to take time and help your customer will absolutely RUIN your Average Handle Time. Ruining your handle time means that you are ruining your quality; thus ruining your agent variable pay; finally ruining your paycheck. In other words, TO HELP YOUR CUSTOMER IS TO COMPLETELY AND UNEQUIVOCALLY RUIN YOUR PAYCHECK. I’m serious! The idea is to stay on the call for the shortest amount of time that you can; in order for you to take as many calls as you can. The customer’s satisfaction with your service is incidental. And so — every call center worker must ponder the following question and make a choice each time they logon to their systems — DO I HELP THE CUSTOMER, OR — DO I PAY RENT?”

    Besides reading the fantastically crazy fiction book, HANDLE TiME, I suggest call center managers consider humanity in the calculation of metrics to produce more realistic projections.

  10. A. Vermeer said:

    Jun 01, 09 at 5:26 am

    I am very pleased to ascertain that other experts, like Tripp Babbitt, in the meantime made it clear that AHT (Average Handle Time) is very oldfashioned (rooted in the “Command and Control thinking”, a productivity mindset of over 100 years old), has completely run it’s course and is no longer tenable in Contactcenters !

    Please go here (Ctrl + click) : http://blog.newsystemsthinking.com/blog/my-brand-of-insanity/0/0/call-center-aht-average-handle-time-wrong-measure-wrong-solutions

  11. Ross said:

    Sep 03, 09 at 11:49 am

    Having an IVR that deals with the most common questions is always a given, though I’m not such a fan of voice recognition used for callers to respond to options.

    The worst type of call handling has to be when you’re required to enter your customer id and the assistant ends up asking you for it again anyway!

    Generally I find these points aren’t an issue, but broadband call centres usually don’t have very good IVRs implemented.