Making the Case for Saving Agent-Level AHT

Average handle time (AHT) seems to be getting no love these days when it comes to metrics used to measure and drive the performance of contact center agents. What used to be a cornerstone of every agent scorecard is now being dropped from the mix entirely at many centers in favor of metrics focused on the customer experience.

Viewed from one perspective, I totally get it. Holding agents accountable for Quality, First Call Resolution (FCR) and AHT seems like a mixed message akin to asking someone to walk and chew gum at the same time. What we measure drives behavior. And we certainly don’t want to incentivize agents to hit an AHT goal at the expense of our customers.

With this in mind, we also need to strive for balance. Customer experience comes at a cost and that cost, especially as it relates to agent labor, needs to be managed. This is why I feel compelled to make the case for saving agent-level AHT.

Agents are the lifeblood of the contact center and are its most valuable (and expensive) asset. But let’s not kid ourselves- some are more valuable (aka “expensive”) than others.

Take Sally and Jimmy, for example. Both are both highly reliable agents. Both come into work on time every day and are diligent when following their scheduled activities. And both Sally and Jimmy are equally awesome when it comes to Sally and Jimmy are both great contact center agents, but Sally's AHT is better.interacting with their customers. They’re engaged and empathetic. They provide accurate information and are usually successful in resolving their customers’ issues on the first contact.

But when it comes to being efficient, Jimmy- as great as he is- takes almost twice as long, on average, to handle his customer interactions. This makes Jimmy the more expensive resource and Sally the one to watch when it comes to modeling best practices. So, all other things being equal, which would you rather have- a center full of Jimmys or a site full of Sallys?

In order to accurately assess the contributions made by individual agents, as well as compensate them fairly for their performance, it’s important to monitor, manage and measure everything agents directly impact. And that includes AHT.

Here are 5 strategies for keeping agent-level AHT metrics in the mix without driving the wrong behavior.

1. DON’T apply the same weight to all agent performance metrics. When calculating an agent’s overall score, the metrics used should be weighted. If you want your agents to focus primarily on the customer experience, give metrics like Quality and FCR a higher weight than productivity-related metrics.
2. DO break it down. AHT, when viewed as a whole, tells us little about an agent’s true performance. But when we view the individual components within the AHT metric (Talk Time, Hold Time, After-Call-Work), we’re presented with a better picture of where we should focus contact handling improvements.
3. DON’T establish an arbitrary AHT target for all agents. AHT is a complex metric, especially in environments where agents are multi-skilled. Some contact types take longer to handle than others, so AHT-related metrics should be weighted considering the contact volume mix of what agents within a given skill group handle.
4. DO consider giving agents visibility into actual AHT-related scores for agents within the same skill group. Just seeing where they stand in relation to their peers (with or without names) can act as a huge motivating force enabling agents to drive their own performance improvements.
5. DON’T make agents solely accountable for AHT improvements. Marketing campaigns, supervisor coaching, desktop technology and even adequate staffing levels are just a few of the things that can positively, or adversely, impact AHT results. You’ll get the biggest bang for your contact center buck if you take a more holistic approach to increasing contact handling efficiency.

Obviously, our contact centers cannot survive on productivity measures alone. Customer-driven metrics are critical. One could even go so far as to say that they are “King.” But eliminating AHT entirely from the agent scorecard isn’t the key to FCR utopia. Make no mistake- customers are impacted by agent-level AHT (just ask the ones who are still in queue).

-Guest Contributor- Rebecca Wise Girson, Founder of Wise Workforce Strategies, Inc.

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