If you run a call center, your life is probably run by numbers, in the form of metrics. Average handle time (AHT), time on hold, number of calls in queue, customer satisfaction scores, etc. Some call centers are so frantic with keeping average handle time (time spent on the call plus after call wrap-up) low that they penalize agents for taking too long, and bungle customer relationships by rushing customer off the phone. Even if you don't do this, chances are, you're still under pressure to keep AHT low. But with the rise of a more important metric – first-call resolution – more emphasized nowadays, many people are asking...does average handle time really matter anymore?
Sure, overly long calls may cost you money. The longer an agent stays on the phone, the longer the call queue gets, the fewer the calls that agent takes and the lower your sales per call figures may be (if your contact center is engaged in any kind of selling). But in the end, isn't efficiency and call quality more important the number of minutes that have ticked by since the agent picked up the call? If the customer thinks he's getting “the bum's rush” off the phone, aren't you going to well and truly damage the customer relationship?
A recent blog by Peggy Carlow featured in Call Monitoring & Call Center Times wonders the same thing. Carlow notes that average handle time, just as with many other metrics, is a dependent variable that's only effective when it works in cooperation with other processes.
“When you focus simply on controlling one element of service, such as average handle time, you can throw a wrench in other, equally important steps,” she writes.
It's preferable to take a more “holistic view,” she notes, dropping AHT as a standalone metric and instead calling it one element of the call process. This is where your own customer service strategies and goals will fit in. Without fitting average handle time into a way to measure the actual quality of the call – as well as whether a longer AHT went toward achieving that far more important metric, first-call resolution, you're likely to be wasting your time...and that of your customers.