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Seven ways to reduce average handling time

Seven ways to reduce average handling time
Stuart Clarke
Stuart Clarke Head of Business Development

Discover how time management, knowledge management and technology can reduce average handling time (AHT) without impacting CX.

July 13, 2023 3 min of reading

First, let’s address the elephant in the room. Call length is longer than ever! ContactBabel recorded yet another year-on-year increase taking it to a new high: the average sales call duration is now 8:36 minutes while services calls are 7:06 minutes long. This means that talking about reducing call length doesn’t imply magically reversing an industry-wide trend with a complex set of drivers, it’s about aiming for as near to ideal as possible.  
 

Of course, ideal is subjective and establishing the appropriate average handling time for any contact centre is another topic entirely, influenced by the industry, team of agents, best practice and success metrics. Even with this variability, there’s more than wiggle room when it comes to improving average handling time, part of the importance of AHT is its link to cost-per-call, so even a small reduction can mean big savings.  
 

How to safely lower average handling time  

Handling time starts when a customer is connected to an agent. A good place to start identifying potential areas for improvement is by applying time management principles to the elements that make up handling time: talk time, hold time, including internal transfers and wrap-up time.    

There are plenty of different time management techniques and anywhere from four to twelve principles to apply. Let’s keep it simple and adapt the 4 D’s to agent interactions: 

  1. Do: what agents do during a call needs to address the customer’s query in the most efficient way.  
  1. Defer: some things don’t need to be handled in a call; they can more efficiently be dealt with at a later date, through some sort of follow-up or pointing willing customers in the direction of self-service touchpoints.  
  1. Delegate: this isn’t passing the buck, it’s about the intelligent division of tasks, involving a specialist for example or automating elements of an interaction.  
  1. Delete: are there any elements of working process that can be eliminated completely, perhaps outdated working procedures, updating software to minimise switching between platforms or ways to minimise manual searches for information. 

By examining both the customer and agent-facing experience during voice interactions it’s possible to use this framework to identify ways of reducing average handling time. 

7 ways to reduce average handling time  
 

1. Qualification 

Even before the customer is put through to an agent, it’s possible to influence handling time. Getting an accurate idea of the reason for their call and then providing that to the agent is a high-impact strategy. The number of DTMF options on an IVR, even with sequential menus, is limited. Using natural language processing (NLP) to refine the qualification process enables analysis of customer speech to more accurately categorise the reason for their call. When these qualification details are provided to the agent, it jump-starts the beginning of the call and eliminates additional questions to narrow in on the call intent.  
 

2. Routing 

Matching a customer with the most suited agent is common sense, how refined that process is varies. Skill management and dynamic routing make efficient use of resources easier by factoring in, in real-time, contact centre conditions.  
 

3. Personalisation 

Personalising interactions reduces average handling time by enabling agents to offer only the most relevant advice or suggestions contributing to quicker progress and more accurate help. To do this however, you need to know who the customer is. Instead of identification and verification (ID&V) being an agent-led process it can be partially or entirely removed from handling time. Speech analytics can be used to confirm identity using a series of questions. Integrating voice biometric capabilities can also provide additional verification and security without impacting on time with the agent.  
 

4. Knowledge management 

Ensuring agents have the relevant details prior to a call connecting can prime them with the information they need. This should include access to a 360-degree customer view and the qualification details. Agents may, based on this information, preemptively open knowledge bases in anticipation of specific questions. Even better is a more active form of knowledge management. Rather than manually searching, AI-powered prompts are delivered in real time based on speech analysis using NLP. This reduces the need to put a customer on hold while protocols or working processes are confirmed. Agents can immediately follow established working processes reducing the ‘empty space’ in calls and thereby average handling time.  
 

5. Utilisation of specialised skill sets  

This goes beyond simply routing. Functional teams should be encouraged to up-skill and cross-skill as well as having access to a network of specialists for highly technical queries. Involving employees with the knowledge to provide detailed accurate answers obviously speeds up resolution. Problems come when visibility on internal transfers is low, risking dropped calls or multiple transfers. This is when UCaaS integrations, or Odigo’s Workspace app for external experts using Microsoft Teams, can boost the speed and success of internal transfers or requests for advice, reducing average handling time. Knowing exactly who is available, or busy, and what their skill set is, takes the guesswork out of collaborating on cases.   

6. Balance FCR with AHT   

Depending on your customer base and industry sector there may be times when service priorities need to be clearly laid out. There can be a big trade off between first call resolution (FCR) and average handling time (AHT). Having a customer on hold for long periods with multiple transfers all in the name of FCR can have a huge impact on AHT and customer satisfaction.  
 

It’s worth pointing out that any average figure can be thrown out by a few VERY long calls or, because average handling time includes wrap-up time, if an agent forgets to close a ticket. This is why some professionals advise using median values. Regardless of the figure, customer experience must be considered. There are situations in which arranging a call-back or completing a task after hanging up will be quicker for the agent and more convenient for the customer, improving satisfaction and lowering average handling time.   
 

7. Omnichannel  

Although we are talking about voice interactions that doesn’t mean alternative channels can’t play a role in reducing average handling time. Rather than waiting on-the-line while agents complete a task, customers can receive confirmation via another channel. Equally some lengthy terms and conditions may be suitable for email, or links to online versions can be shared by SMS or instant messaging. With an omnichannel contact centre solution all these touchpoints also become part of a customer’s history so continuity and visibility are maintained.  
 

CCaaS solutions help in the quest to lower average handling time 

It all comes down to user experience. When agents have accurate information and the intuitive easy-to-use tools they need to accomplish their tasks, KPIs like average handling time naturally improve. It’s worth repeating that this means reducing in-house average handling time by employing best practice techniques and cutting-edge technology not reversing the industry-wide trend for increasing call length.  
 

Contact Centre as a Service solutions can help eliminate pain points and streamline working processes for agents. With the information and tools at hand, customer experience can be the real focus of agent attention, even when that means choosing between FCR and AHT. The Odigo solution is AI-driven and natively omnichannel giving agents the visibility they need, and businesses the scalability and innovative solution to orchestrate amazing customer experiences. 

Find out more about how to provide fast efficient service by customising agent consoles in the Odigo use case. 
 

   

Stuart Clarke
Head of Business Development

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