Customer Service by the Numbers: Average Call Duration

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When businesses want to improve customer satisfaction, they often think of improving the communication skills of their front-line representatives. Improving communication skills is critical, but it’s equally important to take a look at the numbers, or call center metrics, behind your operations to see how they affect both customer satisfaction and profits.

For example, customers like to have their questions answered or their issues resolved quickly. So if you can improve the call handling skills of your agents so that the calls are shorter, that would be a good thing. In addition to having happier customers, you’d save money as well. Right? Maybe, and maybe not.

Let’s think this through. BenchmarkPortal reports that the average call duration across all types of call centers is 5.97 minutes. Let’s say you’re right in that neighborhood but think you can do better so you implement an initiative to reduce your average call duration to 10% below the benchmark rate. If your center fields 50,000 calls per month at a cost of $3.50 per minute, then you’re saving around $105,000 per month. Looks great on the bottom line!

But what if by shaving off that 10%, your reps are not giving complete information or telling the caller what to expect next. That might mean expensive callbacks and less satisfied customers. If reps know there’s a big push on reducing call time, they may not take the extra time to add value by giving additional information, advising the customer of self-service options, or offering a complementary product to increase the value of the order. That means just average service, expensive call-backs for future problems, or lack of revenue. So as you can see, when looking at metrics, you have to consider not only the positive effects an improvement might make, but also the opportunity costs of making that improvement.

When making judgments based on metrics, it’s important to know where you stand vis a vis your peers. Call center benchmarking is a place to start. Here are some things to keep in mind when benchmarking:

  • Benchmark against companies with similar types of transactions and volume of calls. You may want to know how you stack up against your competition, but if you only provide customer service and have a large volume of calls while your competitor’s customer service function includes up-selling and they handle a small number of calls, benchmark data may not be meaningful.
  • Benchmark against companies who use similar processes and measurements. For example, if you define average call duration as including only the time the agent is talking with a customer, you want to benchmark with companies who define it the same way. Comparing yourself to companies that include talk time and post-call administration in their definition of call duration will not provide you with an accurate benchmark.
  • Benchmark not only within your industry, but outside it as well. While it’s important to know how you stack up against your industry peers, it’s also important to compare yourself to other industries in order to determine which new ideas, processes, and technologies can help improve your performance.

Keep in mind that the heart of customer service is a balance between performance on the people side of the equation-and performance on the profit side. What is the appropriate balance for your company given your own unique service strategy?

1 COMMENT

  1. Great advice. I think it is important to find the balance between providing good customer service while also increasing your bottom line. After all, it won’t matter that your average call duration is lower than that of other call centers if your are not being able to provide solutions to customers.

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