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Is average handle time (AHT) a good performance metric?

Forcing agents to watch their average handle time could lead to cutting calls short, thus reducing sale efforts and resulting in overall poor customer service.

Our customer service representatives (CSRs) are graded each pay period using various performance metrics such as average handle time (AHT). Our goal, however, is customer satisfaction, pleasant customer experience and booking reservations. It seems that having CSRs watch their AHT is counterproductive and could lead to cutting calls short, thus reducing sale efforts and resulting in overall poor customer service.

I believe that AHT is directly affecting my training (product knowledge, system navigation and call handling skills...

in general). It appears to me that AHT should be addressed as part of QA and be handled on a one-to-one basis with coaching, thereby removing it from the performance metrics. This approach would enable reps to concentrate on providing proper customer service, and in turn improve sales and customer satisfaction. If this approach resulted in a few extra FTEs (full-time employees) it would seem to pay for the extra staff based on production.

You make some good points about how AHT can influence representative behavior, sometimes in counterproductive ways. With goals focused on customer experience and satisfaction, and bookings, it certainly has risks and is a bit out of step. Your note doesn't reveal what impact this has on pay or incentives -- another factor that can must be considered.

A metrics strategy should be balanced and aligned with the accountabilities, rewards and recognition programs. Your call center may have some cost constraints that influence the ability to increase staffing. Your strategy should consider some factors that reflect productivity. However, consider monitoring rather than measuring these factors. For example, look for anomalies or trends that may have a high cost, without high return. Also, look for other indicators of productivity (e.g., utilization rate, adherence rate) that may not have the same risk as AHT, but still ensure an efficient operation. Then, if a CSR is meeting the customer satisfaction and sales goals, without being highly out of line with the norms of productivity that are being monitored, everybody wins.

This was last published in September 2005

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