Decreasing Talk Time

Average handle time

Apr 01, 2003

I need help trying to get my call center representatives to decrease their talk time. My call center's goal is 180 seconds and it is attainable. However, the majority of my crew averages between 203 seconds to 275 seconds per call. Please give me some tips to help get these numbers down. -- Ms. Jones

Answers

  • Posted at 12:00AM on May 1, 2003

    In my call center we are just starting to measure average handle time. We are using an average handle time of the group and setting a range to see where the agent falls. We are a skill-based call center so we have different averages for different skills. We review this quarterly with the agents and provide feedback on how they are doing. Next year this will be part of their performance review. I hope this is helpful to you. -- Diane Rausch

  • Posted at 12:00AM on May 1, 2003

    In our outsourcing call center, we have been charged by one of our large clients with reducing overall handle time on one process by as many as 30 seconds. Already quite efficient, the task is large, but has allowed my amazing staff to look at some creative avenues to achieve the goal. I'll be developing an article for publication which will detail some specifics, but for now my recommendation would be to follow some basics.

    Rank your agents according to overall handle time. (We have done so more universally using handle time as only one basis for an overall productivity rating). Once you have established your high and low performers, conduct learning groups. I would recommend discussions with those with the highest handle times first so that you may present their considerations to your next learning group -- those with the lowest handle times (in conjunction with high quality scores).

    Establish interventions based on what you learn. There will be generalized "tips" that can be shared with the entire floor, and more specific one-on-one training with those in the highest handle time groups (up to and including peer coaching and monitoring for improved performance). You can then continue to measure results on an ongoing basis. Remember also to include your new "learnings" in your new hire training classes as applicable.

    In conjunction with this people as resources approach, you will also want to conduct a process analysis. If it is talk time specific, you want to have your QA (Quality Assurance) team monitor for trends in calls or some extra steps in database navigation that a few of the staff might be using. If you are looking at overall handle time, which includes after call work (ACW), you may want to review manual processes that with automation or an online component could decrease the overall AHT (average handle time). Placing a formerly manual form online allowed a test group of 20 to reduce ACW by an average of 13 seconds after just two days.

    Finally, as I am sure you have already done, communicate your targets to your agents. Give them a goal to become more efficient, and make sure your QA team stays focused so that the quality of the call remains high while your agents seek to bring their talk time more in line with the new standard. -- Jane Moore

  • Posted at 12:00AM on May 1, 2003

    I would assume that you have listened in on the phone calls of these representatives in order to determine where the extra conversation is coming from. If not, that is where you need to start.

    There are a number of objectives in any customer contact -- some deal with the customer's objective in contacting your organization, and some deal with your firm's objectives in that customer contact. The trick is to marry these objectives as much as possible so that both parties are satisfied.

    Without knowing your business, the service you are offering, and what you hope to achieve during a customer contact, it is difficult to provide tips on how to decrease the talk time. Quite honestly, if the length of the talk time is having a positive effect on your business, you should not be looking to decrease that time.

    Here are some questions to ask yourself:

    1. Is the added talk time contributing to relationship building, such that the customer feels more positive about my firm when they hang up the phone?
    2. If they feel more positive about my firm, will that make it more likely that they will do future business with my firm?
    3. What is the relationship between revenue generated and talk time?

    Clearly, these questions might be more appropriate for a revenue-generating call center operation.

    In summary, you really need to be listening to the telephone calls and the requirements of your customers. Through doing this, you may find alternate means of handling certain types of repetitive contacts (speech applications, web applications, and the like), while allowing more time for conversations that require human interaction and that may ultimately benefit your business.

    Hope this information is helpful. -- Diane L. Halliwell, Align Communications, Inc.

  • Posted at 12:00AM on May 1, 2003

    Not sure that I can assist you in how to get your talk time reduced. Wanted to only comment that we have moved away from measuring talk time as such an important factor. In our call center, there are some customers who want to be on/off the phone in 30 seconds and we make every effort to do that, while other customers want to spend 2 to 3 minutes in gathering information as well as building a relationship with their customer service representative.

    It will depend on the type of call center you have. However, keep in mind that by using talk time as a measurement, there are pros and cons. One of the cons is that your representatives may focus too much on trying to quickly end the call vs. providing the service a customer requires. Make sure that you have some form of customer satisfaction measure that is as important as the talk time.

    Tread lightly on measuring talk time. -- Jane Bowers, Horizon Lines, LLC

  • Posted at 12:00AM on May 1, 2004

    In fact, I was challenged with a similar problem for one of my projects. The things we did to reduce the talk time apart from what Jane and Daniel have mentioned are to give your agents better coaching on the product. This is the key, if your agents know the product in and out then they will be able to handle the queries effectively and get off the calls quickly, leaving behind a satisfied customer whose time was valued.

    The other tips are to enhance multi-tasking on the calls, since the agents need to listen to the customer, understand it, go to the required screen if necessary, give transitional statements, think on feet, handle the query effectively with short sentences or phrases, ask the customer if there are any other queries they have, thank the customer and get off the call.

    Pacing and pausing also plays an important role in reducing AHT. If the agent avoids giving wrong pauses when speaking he can save 1 second on every wrong pause given, this saves a lot of time (e.g. 10 wrong pauses avoided on a call, then at the end of the day the agent has contributed by reducing 10 seconds in his AHT, which was and unnecessary increase. This comes with a little practice and a lot of product knowledge). Pace yourself with the customer’s pace and don’t speak too fast to reduce your AHT, you will end up in only repeating yourself and increase your AHT. This needs to be explained to the agents and once they get the hang of it with of course your help and coaching, it will do wonders for your overall AHT, effectiveness of reps on the calls and of course your quality. -- Ugesh Kumar Sarcar, Immaculate Interactions (India) Ltd.

  • Posted at 12:00AM on Aug 1, 2004

    I suggest the following:

    1. Rank all calls in the order of the length .
    2. Identify your performers (Top & Low) – identify the strengths & weakness in the groups.
    3. Apply your learnability skills, bridge the gap.

    TIPS:

    1. Avoid long sentences; keep your sentences short and to the point.
    2. Avoid wrong phrasing.
    3. Take help from Quality Assurance (QA), have a constant watch on after call work and product knowledge.
    4. Educate your team members not to rush, but to maintain good pace, or else you will have repeat your sentences (this contributes to 40% increase of your talk time).

    -- DS Madhusudhan, Immaculate Interactions (India) Ltd.

  • Iqbal yaqub Posted at 12:00AM on Jun 15, 2005

    Some tips that may be of use : 1. Comprehension:The agents have to have an above-average comprehension of the caller's language. 2. The process of converting the words heard and multi-tasking on the part of the agent which will be a part of the process of the caller's request has to be, again, above average. 3. The CRM tool used to access to the caller database has to be lightining fast. 4. The agent should not be subjected to any kind of IVR at the end of the call by the caller as a part of the call. -- Iqbal Yaqub

  • Jason Posted at 12:00AM on Jun 29, 2007

    I do not know your industry, but I would evaluate your call script to see if you can eliminate certain items. If you have an IVR, maybe adding items that the customers can do themselves to save verification time could eliminate some seconds. I can’t imagine what After Call Work will be with a goal of 180 seconds. -- Jason

  • Richard Rice Posted at 12:00AM on Sep 6, 2007

    In addition to verbal clues for longer AHT, look at business and behavioral ones. Are there call documentation requirements that can be streamlined? Is reference material easily accessible and logically arranged? Is PC network response time adding to talk time? You might try evenly distributing the consistently <180 CSRs throughout the call floor. The slower CSRs may think that everything is okay because they are handling calls at the same rate as those around them. I'd also post everyone's weekly results and make a big deal about the CSRs meeting or exceeding goals. As noted above, we, too, were able to shave off 20+ seconds a call by having disclaimers played in the IVR rather than spoken by the agent. -- Richard Rice, Great-West Healthcare

  • Prithwijit Mukherjee Posted at 12:00AM on Oct 5, 2007

    AHT is an output of the process and system efficiencies of the business and agent and customer behaviour. One needs to evaluate and improve three of the these four parameters (we can't change customer behaviour easily) and reduce the variation between agents' AHT. The best call centers in the world do not have AHT as one of the agent's KRAs, as his role in AHT is merely limited to discipline and that is taken care of by putting schedule adherence and call quality as his KRAs. -- Prithwijit Mukherjee

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