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Challenge Solved! An Advice Column Only For Contact Center Managers
Submitted by Ulysses Learning

January 2, 2017

Challenge Solved!          
An Advice Column Only for
Contact Center Managers
December 2016
The question selected from our readers this month is:

Q:  Average handle time (AHT) – should it be a key performance indicator at the customer service representative level or not?
A: (Steven Cramer, Newbridge Telecom Solutions) With over 25 years’ experience in running domestic and international contact center environments, average handle time is a misnomer as related to performance or contact center metrics.
Organizations that focus on average handle time or even attempt to balance average handle time are missing the point of customer service and relationship management.
B2B and B2C customer environments expect a level of relationship management based on the product and service. Restricting an agent to an average handle time metrics prevents the agent from building that relationship and upselling to the client based on that relationship.
Organizations that feel compelled or are mandated to an average handle time metric are in a quandary. Their quandary will reflect below average customer expectations results and lower than desired upsale opportunities, which, in turn, produce lower customer satisfaction rates and lower upsale rates.
A: (Dina Vance, Ulysses Learning) I’ll give you a short answer and then I’ll expand it.  First, I believe AHT should be a KPI, but only for the manager.  Second, have your managers only manage AHT through behaviors. And, third, make sure your company’s business leaders (and especially your boss) understand the limitations of AHT and how it relates to other measures that do a better job to help your company achieve targeted business goals and objectives.
For years contact center managers have struggled with AHT.  On the surface, AHT seems like a smart idea.  You have to run your business.  You need efficiencies.  You need to staff appropriately to maintain your service levels.  So, you control talk times.  But there is a grave danger in that.  Let’s not kid one another.  Your reps are smart folks.  If you tell them they need to shorten their talk time, you can pretty much bet on it, they will.  And you won’t like it.  They are going to hang up on customers or cut them short.  They are going to discard first call resolution.  They are going to forget about the fact that they are going to be proactive advisors who educate your customers who in turn will buy from you over and over again and tell others about their positive experience with you.  But they will give you the AHT you want.  Question asked.  Question answered.  And sometimes they won’t even answer the customer’s question, leaving it up to the next rep to deal with.  The important take away here is to put the responsibility of AHT only on the shoulders of your managers and not on your reps.
Second, make sure your managers manage AHT by managing (and coaching) behaviors.  Here’s what I mean by that. When you’re managing behaviors, you tie a specific behavior directly to the impact it had on your reps’ talk time. For example, if the rep had acknowledged the customer’s concern on the front end (the behavior), the customer wouldn’t have had to repeat their issue three times before getting a resolution.  If the rep had asked a few clarifying questions (the behavior), you would have shortened that talk time because the rep would have gotten to the heart of the issue quicker. If the rep had provided a clear recap and next steps (the behavior), the customer would not have had to ask “So what’s going to happen now?” and they would not have become confused and needed the extra clarification.  All of these are examples of behaviors that drive long talk times.  You have to manage these behaviors and coach reps on the behaviors you want them to have. 
And that leaves my last point.  AHT is the crutch that kills us because it’s easy to measure and for others in the business to understand.  But it’s a very, very risky measure.  As a manager, you have to educate other managers, and especially your boss, on the dangers of AHT.  You need to educate on the other metrics that matter even more.  And you can’t just educate others on this once, this is not a one and done proposition.  Research tells us for people to hear your message they need to be exposed to it, in one way or another, an average of 7 times!  I have had the pleasure of working with a group of customer care leaders from a large health insurance contact center operation.  This group of managers, literally spends nearly 35 percent of their time on any given day talking about their metrics to others.  For them first call resolution (FCR) is at the heart of their metrics mix.  They talk about FCR and its negative impact on call volumes and AHT, as well as its positive impact on customer satisfaction and other meaningful quality measures.  They paint the whole picture.  They speak about it at meetings and operations forums, submit stories about it to their company newsletter, and invite other department managers and executives all the way up to the CEO to see their reps in action so they can see how it all comes together at the point of customer contact.  The cumulative effect of these education efforts is spectacular…time consuming…and necessary. 
Got a tough challenge in your contact center?
Bring it on!
“Challenge Solved” - A New Monthly Advice Column Only for Contact Center Managers
Struggling with first call resolution?  Dealing with a high performer who doesn’t play well with others?  Having a hard time attracting and retaining top quality reps?  Trying to maintain service levels despite a diminishing operating budget?  Losing customer loyalty?  Experiencing an increase in call times and dropped calls?  Getting more than your fair share of escalated calls from unhappy customers? 
Whatever your challenge, take a moment to describe your challenge in an Email to 
NOTE:  Your identity is protected; we will not publish your name or company name. 
About our experts

In this month’s installment of our Challenge Solved! advice column we have two guest experts who will offer their insights.

Steven Cramer serves as Senior Vice President Operations for Newbridge Telecom Solutions, an enterprise level provider of customized, hosted call center, and telephony solutions.  Specifically, Newbridge’s expertise in Call Center Platform, CRM Platform, Integration Client Automated Services, and Office Phone PlatformContact, helps clients get away from managing expensive equipment and focus on their core business.  To learn more, contact or visit  

Dina Vance is Senior Vice President, Managing Director North America, for Ulysses Learning.  Dina is a widely respected thought leader on developing and leading contact center staff and a pioneer in improving performance of contact centers. Vance was responsible for the ground-level startup of two contact centers before she moved into a consulting role where she also managed the call center division for an international consulting and training organization. She has worked with Fortune 100 companies to optimize their contact center performance through focus on results, people, and process. Dina can be reached at; for more details on Ulysses Learning visit    




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