Contact Centre AHT: Who’s Responsible? (Part 2)

Running Athletes
The relationship between athlete and coach offered a fitting analogy for the bond between Team Leader and Agent in our last discussion when we sought control of our contact centre’s average handle time (AHT). However, this control extended only to performance management of AHT within a targeted variance from a median, and not control of the median itself. As reflected by our analogy “Neither athlete nor coach decides the course over which the race is run”.

It’s a simplistic view, but for a disciplined Agent I believe that the:

  • Talk time of a call depends on what needs to be discussed within the call
  • Hold time of a call depends on the ease to access information not readily available
  • After call work time depends on the complexity of post call information collation

There will always be an effective and efficient, or ideal, approach to each of these aspects of call handle time. Likewise, there will always be an ineffective and inefficient way. The Team Leader’s responsibility is to offer instruction on the ideal call handling approach. The Agent’s responsibility is to maintain the discipline to consistently enact this approach. However, neither role is responsible for determination of what needs to be discussed during a call, or the processes and systems that must be used to support a call. Yet it is these facets of customer calls that determine the ideal length of our interactions.

Responsibility for determining the AHT target for an ideal customer interaction lies with the architects of the ideal customer interaction.

The roles acting in the capacity of customer interaction architects within your contact centre will vary dependent on your centre’s interaction objectives as determined by your Customer Interaction Strategy. Most likely they will include members of your centre management, quality management, marketing, training, communications, ICT and legal teams. Initially your customer interaction architects may be difficult to spot, but will be relatively easy to identify once you answer the questions “Who determines what must be said during customer calls?” and “Who determines the processes and systems that must be used to support customer calls?”

Setting AHT Targets:
Your quality management, training team, and Team Leaders will most likely be best positioned to identify your existing ideal customer interaction. They’ll know what needs to be said, what processes need to be followed, and what systems need to be used. They’ll also know which Agents are consistently adhering to call handling standards. It is with this information that an AHT target can be determined, the AHT median from which variance targets for Agents and Team Leaders can be derived. But what if this AHT median is too high? What if your centre has been tasked with reducing AHT in an effort to reduce operating costs?

Changing AHT Targets:
This is where your customer interaction architects come into play. If AHT needs to be reduced, this group will need to identify which parts of your ideal customer conversation can be removed or shortened. Which processes can be designed more efficiently, or which support systems can be made more responsive. When a more efficient ideal customer interaction design is found it then becomes the responsibility of your quality management, trainers, and Team Leaders to ensure Agents understand how to enact that new standard.

Performance management targets for an ideal customer interaction AHT lie with your customer interaction architects, while performance management targets for adherence to that ideal lie with Agents and their Team Leaders.

Future Direction:
Core to this approach for AHT performance management is the need to associate AHT targets to the interactions that match the ideal. Targets set at an ACD skill level can be problematic when caller reasons vary tremendously. Under these circumstances AHT measures need to be considered over extended periods to assume even distribution of call reasons per Agent. However, recent technology developments in call reason identification and reporting can make AHT target association per call reason a near real-time exercise. This will give Agents and Team Leaders the best opportunity to quickly address specific performance challenges as soon as they occur. It is upon these emerging technologies and their application to AHT performance management that my next discussion will focus.

I would love to hear your thoughts on contact centre AHT performance management. Have you discovered an alternative approach that delivers the results you need? And remember, while your contact centre must own its Performance Management Framework; it certainly doesn’t have to create it alone!

Jason Metcalfe, QPC Solutions Manager