As most of you know, Talk Time and AHT (Average Handle Time) are about as common of a KPI that exists in the contact center world today. This stat is very important and is, of course, something that should always be at the forefront of what is being measured.
However, a common double-edged sword I see with contact centers today is, that leaders are pushing agents to get on and off a call/interaction as quickly as possible. This makes sense for a lot of good reasons, right? For one, a lot of organizations pay their vendor based on “productive time” which is essentially tied to AHT and Talk Time. Simply put, the bill rate is in play from the time the agent starts the interaction until it is completed and then the bill rate stops while the rep is no longer on the call or in an active state of handling that consumer interaction. There are lots of variations of productive time but overall, that is what it comes down to. This is not necessarily a bad way of doing things and it is a very common thing for contact centers. By the way, Timecard Billing is better than Productive Rate for several reasons (when executed correctly) and this is one of them!
Secondly, you want your agents to be able to get on and off calls/interactions as quickly as possible, so they can “get to the next call”. We have all had situations where we call into an organization (for example, an airline like American or Delta, etc.) and you will almost always get a long wait time. The agents need to move quickly on the calls and interactions so those who are waiting can be helped. Pretty basic and easy to understand, correct? Kind of a no-brainer.
Those are good and valid reasons and I appreciate them, but for every action, there is a counteraction (thanks 4th grade science teacher), and with AHT and talk time, if you are not paying attention, this can be a real problem. The goal of a contact center, with its many communication channels AI tools and reporting, and all the latest and greatest technology out there is to serve the customer or caller well. To gain customer loyalty. To have interactions consistently that make that customer or caller want to continue to do business with you because they had a positive experience with the contact center. The opposite is also true. A bad experience can lead a consumer to say… that was awful, and I am never going back to XYZ company (we have all been there).
So, how can AHT and Talk Time be a negative thing? Simple! Pushing your staff to handle interactions quickly can lead to callers (or whatever the channel is) being rushed off the call. So, here is where the rubber meets the road. Let’s say your agent is getting pretty good scores on phone reviews and scorecards but they are not meeting the metric on AHT or talk time. The call is running long. Other agents are getting calls done 30 seconds faster than this rep and you are going to push them to get through calls faster. So, the rep does what you ask, and they start to sacrifice quality for quantity. Now, they are rushing the consumer through the interaction. The agent is being more abrupt, almost not letting the caller finish all their sentences, etc. Clearly, this leads to a more negative customer experience.
Why would an organization do this? They have lost the spirit behind AHT and talk time. It is just a stat “that we have to hit”. Things like production bonuses are on the line and overall scores with report cards, etc.. But, you have to be very careful that this does not come at the expense of rushing people through interactions. A lost customer (or potential customer) is astronomical, as you all likely know and have nightmares about. Not to mention, when that person is telling everyone else how awful the interaction was because the agent “kept rushing me through the call”. As a contact center leader someone in the organization has to step back and really get a good measure on what the actual Talk Time and AHT should be. And just taking the average of all calls, is a lazy and dangerous way of doing it (to be frank).
Bottom line, you would be amazed (it is very common) how many times I am working with a client or prospective client and this rushing through of the caller is happening. When you ask why, the answer is always… “We have to get to the next caller”, or “We bill on productive time”. Those are not good enough reasons for a negative consumer experience because of the very difficult-to-quantify loss of a consumer and the ripple effect they may have on other future consumers with negative comments and so forth. Be willing to take more time on a call (not a ton or a tremendous amount but some) and serve the consumer well and don’t get caught up in that one stat. There are all types of strategies and benchmarks you can put in place and get a holistic view of the Customer Experience. And you better believe that having a good contact center partner/vendor is a huge help.
You may be nailing this stat, and it is one of your contact center’s strengths and that is awesome. But, if you have not looked at it lately (and I don’t mean took one stat from a report and went with it), it would be a good practice to confirm that AHT and talk time are working for you and not against you.