Average Handle Time — Does It Matter?

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Metrics. Numbers. Data. If you feel inundated by numbers and are wondering how to sort through the various metrics you need to be tracking for a call center or your customer service department, you’re certainly not alone. In this post, we’re going to discuss average handle time, specifically, and give you the ins and outs of what it’s used for, when to apply it, and how to improve your average handle time numbers.

Straightforward and simple

The average handle time simply tracks how long calls last (called talk time) and how much time is spent in the post-call wrap-up (called wrap time). Typically, a low average handle time is seen as positive and indicates efficiency. And, among the other metrics typically tracked, such as first-call resolution, escalation rates, or even the customer satisfaction score (CSAT), average handle time is much more straightforward—it simply averages the amount of time spent helping callers over a specific number of calls.

Forecasting: Average Handle Time + Volume = Call Load

Average handle time is popular because it is so straightforward, and it seems to be a clear indicator of efficiency, but perhaps the better use of the metric is for forecasting the workload at a call center. By combining the average handle time with call volume, you will arrive at your call load, which serves as a useful guide for planning and management purposes.

Great. So reduce average handle time, be able to forecast, and reduce costs, right?

Not so fast. Measuring average handle time is indeed imperative for forecasting, and by making your call center more efficient, you will see reduced costs and (hopefully) a rise in profitability, but if you are solely focused on being quick and efficient, you may be sacrificing quality. In particular, if you have a center handling complex issues and a secondary goal is to build relationships with your customers, capture additional information, or create add-on sales, then simply trying to drive down your average handle time could work against your organization’s overall goals (and the ever-important CSAT score).

Be cautious, therefore, if you really push average handle time or incentivize your representatives to keep the number low. In doing so, they may miss chances to cross-sell, up-sell, or build rapport with the customer.

Focus on the process, not simply the result

So where does this leave us? Focusing on average handle time does seem important, but we’ve also advised not to rely on the metric too much and jeopardize call quality. Like most contact center metrics, average handle time is a dependent variable that works in conjunction with other processes in place. 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. However, by taking a holistic view of the complete process—from your overall customer service strategy goals to your customer service training process and all of the metrics that you use to monitor your center, you’ll start to see patterns and be able to fix the underlying issues without jeopardizing your overall customer service.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Peggy Carlaw
Peggy Carlaw is the founder of Impact Learning Systems. Impact helps companies develop and implement customer service strategies to improve the customer experience. Their consulting services and training programs help organizations create a customer-focused culture while producing measurable business results. Peggy is also the author of three books published by McGraw-Hill including Managing and Motivating Contact Center Employees.

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