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For a while now, it’s been popular to hate on Average Handle Time or AHT as a metric. I’ve been to quite a few centres who have dumped this metric and read lots of articles written by experts who decry its value.

The advice usually comes in the form of it being the “wrong” metric to focus on and we should all scrap it from objectives and instead focus on the Customer Experience.

The thinking goes that it creates bad behaviours. That it focuses the Advisors to concentrate on how quickly they can get through the call instead of how well they can meet the customers’ needs or the customer experience.

As a result, the customer experience is left wanting, as Advisors sacrifice quality for quantity.

Sounds like good advice, except – it’s not true at all.

Here’s why. If we are saying that measuring and managing advisors AHT means we’ll sacrifice the quality of the customer experience, then what we are really saying is that low AHT = low Quality experience. Conversely, High AHT = High Quality experience.

So the AHT should correlate with quality something like this:

But this is simply not true. In every call centre we’ve visited, we’ve yet to find a single instance where the AHT correlated with the quality performance.

That’s because some people with low AHT have great quality and some have terrible quality. And vice versa – Some people have high AHT and great quality and some have terrible quality. There is usually no correlation.

What this means is that how long Advisors spend on a call has no bearing at all on the quality of the services provided.

So if I am a call centre owner and I have the option of hiring people who provide awesome quality with an average of 5 minutes per call and hiring people who provide awesome quality with an average of 10 minutes per call, which people do you think I should fill my centre with?

Clearly, the people who provide awesome service at 5 minutes per call. They are effectively, half the price of the other group.

But you can’t recruit that way. People are different and some are quick and some are slower. However, what I really want is for people to be providing high quality in the fastest time practical.

That being the case, why would you dump AHT metrics in favour of Customer Experience Metrics like Right First Time, CSAT etc?

Why not have both?

AHT absolutely has to measured. It’s an essential part of call centre forecasting and resource planning (can’t do that without it). But how you use the metric in performance management is an entirely different matter.

It shouldn’t be a stick that you beat people over the head with. And if you think that simply reporting the metric and telling staff to “do better” will get you the desired results, think again.

If you’re a Team Leader – ask yourself this:

As a manager, what are you going to do differently this month to help your staff member bring their AHT under control?

Because if a staff member was consistently delivering an AHT of 10:00 instead of the ‘targeted’ 5:00, it means they are doing something different. It’s highly unlikely that they spend their time trying to think of things to say that will keep the customer on the line and increase their AHT.

Will you sit with them and observe their performance and provide them with appropriate coaching and development to help improve performance?

Which brings me to targets – why would AHT ever be a fixed target? Everyone needs to achieve an AHT of 5:00 please!

That’s pretty much impossible. Speaking to a customer is a variable activity. No two customers are the same (even if the enquiry is the same). So why attempt to bring performance down to a fixed number?

Why not target an effective range?

Lastly, should it even be the advisors who are targeted with the result? If performance will improve only with the right coaching and support from the manager, then perhaps it’s the manager who should have the target?

Something to think about…

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