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Balancing Quality and Efficiency to Reduce AHT

Contact centers are always striving to be efficient and deliver quality interactions.

But what do we mean when we say, "quality?"

Often, we mean that an agent demonstrates behaviors outlined in a rubric. Using this rubric, we can score an agent's performance. This task is often performed by either a team of dedicated Quality Assurance (QA) Evaluators or by a Team Leader or Supervisor. The rubric itself might be designed by a Quality Assurance Manager or Operations Manager with input from various stakeholders. Some of those stakeholders may also be concerned about the average handle time (AHT) of calls because longer call handling times require more staff to meet Service Level. More staff means higher labor costs eating into the bottom line.

Before you ask agents to reduce their handling time, take some time to review your quality rubric. Are there changes you can make that will help reduce handling times? Often, there are, and they can be quite simple.

What kinds of things do we typically see in a QA rubric that can be changed to reduce handling times? Let's take a look:


Structure, time-based salutation, branding, using your name - all these elements might be included in a traditional requirement. That might read like this:

"Good afternoon, thank you for calling Imperial Uniform Supply! My name is Orson, how can I help you today?”

Do you have a recording that greets every caller that has branding? If so, why are you asking your agent to brand the call again in their greeting? Are your customers spread across multiple time zones? If so, one person's afternoon could be another's morning or evening. Let's just get down to brass tacks, shall we?

"Hello, my name is Orson; how can I help you today?"

This just shaved 4-5 seconds off every call. That might not seem like much, but we're only getting started!

It's great to get the customer's name early but be careful! The misguided effort to be formal can lead to both poor grammar and longer handling times. Consider:

"With whom do I have the pleasure of speaking with today?"

There's only room for one "with" in that sentence. You could take out either one, but it's simpler and faster (and just as polite) to ask:

"May I have your name, please?"

Most customers just want to get to the solution and don’t care about flowery language. This simple change shaves another 1-2 seconds off every call.

Using the Customer's Name

Personalization is absolutely a CX differentiator, but we must set agents up for success. Requiring the use of a customer name a specific number of times (let's say twice) is often a check-the-box exercise for agents.

Customer: "My name is Eric."

Agent: "Thank you, Eric. How can I help you today, Eric?"

And then there's the name you heard or read, but if you try to say it, you're likely to butcher it. And then get corrected. Which takes time. If a customer has a name the agent finds challenging, "Sir" or "Ma'am" are not only ways to avoid offending someone, but they are also one syllable which saves time!

Don't get me wrong - using a customer's name judiciously is the best course of action in most cases, but when it's a requirement, it can lead to longer interactions. Real personalization isn't about saying a name X times. Personalization is about providing value specific to the customer, developing rapport, and focusing on their needs.

Asking for a Callback Number

It amazes me that this is still a practice, but I recently had an agent ask me for a callback number "in case we get disconnected" at the beginning of a call. This tells me one of two things - you're using an outdated platform that doesn't show you my ANI (Automatic Number Identification) or you have a problem with dropping calls. If neither of those are accurate, why are you wasting at least 10 seconds on every single call doing this?

Unnecessary Verification

There are times when it’s critical to authenticate a customer. Protecting customer data is one of the most important things you can do to earn the trust of your customers, but not every call type requires authentication. If you require the same authentication process for every call, you may be wasting precious time for no good reason. If I’m calling to cancel an order and you have my name, my ANI, and the order number, why on earth would you need to verify my mailing address?

Reference Numbers

Most contact centers assign a ticket number or reference number to every interaction. Often, this is offered, presumably as a way for the next agent to look up the previous interaction.

"I can provide you with a reference number if you'd like to write it down."

While this may reveal a larger technology issue, it may simply be a holdover from a time when different technology was being used. Most agents can look up customer interactions without any type of reference number and most customers aren't prepared to write it down anyway. Proactively offering a reference number is just setting the stage for a customer to spend 30 seconds searching for a pen and some scratch paper that will likely not be used anyway. Let's save that time on every call unless we know for certain a customer will need to call back.


This often has a shared requirement with the greeting: branding. Mentioning your company name again (as if this were a commercial) might seem like a good idea if your brand name is really short, but if it's Imperial Uniform Supply, that's about 2.5 seconds just to say the name. Your mileage may vary.

Congratulations! If you made all these changes, you've just reduced your AHT by roughly a minute. In the contact center world, that's big!