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AHT is The Sometimes Forgotten Contact Centre ROI Metric

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As a great Direct Marketing (DM) professional, you no doubt know your Return on Investment (ROI) attributes, metrics and calculations backwards. However, there always seems to be one Contact Centre metric that flies below the radar for a lot of consummate DM professionals –  Average Handle Time.

I’d love an extra dollar for every time we have worked on a project where we have been able to identify opportunities to improve the client’s business with a focus on AHT as a key metric in their ROI calculations and modelling.

What is Average Handle Time?

Average Handle Time is the average handle time of either an Inbound or an Outbound call and generally includes talk time (TT) and processing times (PT).

Another way to look at the metric, is to say it’s the measurement of time the Customer Service Representative (CSR) is dealing with the call transaction; being broken down into the time they talk to the caller, as well as any processing time they have to facilitate during or at the end of that transaction as a result of that particular call.

As we all know, the time a CSR spends talking and dealing with a customer is a direct cost, therefore, a direct expense in your ROI model and therefore really is important!

How or Where Do I Find AHT Information?

It is a metric that is generally regarded as a standard inclusion on Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) and Dialler systems reports being provided at both individual CSR and summary levels.

The metric is usually reported in minutes and seconds or just seconds and should appear in your most commonly produced reports.

Why is it so Important as an Inbound Metric?

All Inbound calls coming into your business have an associated cost. Hence, any opportunity to potentially reduce the call handling time may reduce your total transaction costs, positively altering your ROI values.

Be warned, though, that it’s not simply a matter of focusing on reducing the average handling times to increase ROI values. Falling into that trap can prove to be a dangerous mistake!

Potentially, you can end up reducing your service offerings to the customer at the time of their initial call which can result in blowing costs out further down the line or missing entire opportunities to increase overall sales.

A classic example is a project with a large financial institution. The client had a strong focus on reducing their AHT for all incoming calls. Aggressive targets were set for reducing this metric, and subsequently achieved with the transaction savings results being considerable.

All seemed good and for a few months with the operational budgets reflecting increased savings.

Then the Company saw an increase in operational expenditure as a result of increased incoming calls (not as a result of any new business initiatives), and a decline in cross and up sell opportunities (in other words, “sales”).

You guessed it, the focus of managers and CSR’s to achieve reduced AHT’s meant that incoming calls were not being prompted for cross and up sell opportunities. And first call resolution metrics plummeted as CSR’s were not asking if they could help the caller with anything else when talking to them. And the result is they called back again!

Another relevant opportunity this metric provides is giving operational and campaign managers the visibility of where they may be able to make process, campaign, skills or system changes to alter the AHT to benefit the business, whether that be by reducing or increasing the AHT times per call type. Generally speaking, “process changes” should always help to reduce AHT!

Why is it So Important as an Outbound Metric?

As with inbound calls, all outbound calls being produced from your business bare an associated cost, making this a pivotal metric which can greatly affect your ROI values.

Once again, though never fall into the trap of assuming that you should decrease your AHT’s on outbound calls, as this may have the opposite desired effect of what you are ultimately trying to achieve.

An astute company that is fully aware of the importance of AHT metrics tests and models every campaign before going live.

This sounds like a lot of hard and extra work, but the effort eventually pays off!

For every campaign that goes live, they have massaged their offers, scripts, and CSR expertise so that they maximise the AHT component of the campaign transaction and reap the best benefits of the campaign whilst still meeting their budgeted transaction costs.

What Things Can Change AHT?

The obvious answers here are the time your CSR’s are talking to a customer and the time taken to process any needs the customer has during that transaction time.

Let’s dig deeper on both fronts and identify broadly the opportunities that go hand in hand with these two components. They include:

  • Scripts
  • Offers
  • CSR abilities
  • Systems and Technology
  • Processes

Any or all of these attributes can have a dramatic effect on your ability to meet or exceed desired AHT KPI’s.

What is Best Practice?

This is a question that we are asked constantly and the stock standard response is, “how long is a piece of string?”. This leaves most of them puzzled!

The bottom line is that AHT is dependent upon so many attributes (as tabled above) and is different in every client company or silo within a client company. It can sometimes be misleading to quote “good” or “best practice” value.

How Do I Get a Feel For a Reasonable AHT?

Constantly look at the metric from your inbound and outbound reports, notice the variances between the highest and the lowest results, take into consideration all of the variables that have an effect on AHT, and start creating a picture of how your AHT should look, what attributes will have the most effects to change it and what’s right for your business!

Why is it so important as a ROI value?

Well, figures speak volumes so here is a couple of real case examples.

One company modeled their AHT figures and acknowledged that by reducing the call times on a pool of relevant incoming calls by one second per call, they would save the equivalent of 1.5FTE.

They undertook the initiative, made the savings (without reducing their service provision) and then apportioned those savings to their incentive budget, which in turn saw an increase in the percentage of conversions!

Another company modeled their AHT for their outbound operations and saw that by increasing their AHT by 30 seconds per call (on a specific campaign type), they were able to increase their conversion percentage by 0.75% – yielding a $300,000 increase in profit. Another win-win situation!

Let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment below!

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