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Reduce average call handling time not by focusing on it, but by improving Agent’s call handling skills!

We tried to reduce the average call handling time (AHT) in our Contact center by following the standard advice given out by some "experts". When this proved unsuccessful, we modified the average handling time formula and started to track and control more variables which we considered contributed to Agent handling time.

It was a disaster; morale went through the floor, staff turnover increased, customers started complaining and the average handling time increased! So we stopped listening to experts.

We realised that to reduce average call handling time, we needed to focus on upgrading our Agents' call handling skills! The first problem we encountered was identifying which skills should be improved. We tried a few options, but we couldn't find a solution that worked for us. So we set our software engineers the task of creating a bespoke system. After a lot of work, our in-house call evaluation software bebexs was born, and we decided to share!

Impove your Agents with our Call evaluation software

bebexs reduced our Agent's average handling time by not focusing on it! bebexs had a dramatic effect on the way our agents approached feedback, this change of attitude led to dramatic call handling improvements, the reduction in average handling time was just a natural result of our call agents enhanced call handling skills.

It worked for us. Will bebexs work for you?

We are so confident we will offer you a 60 Day, 100%, no quibble risk-free refund, guaranteed!

We are so confident that bebexs will you give you the same results that it gave us, that we are prepared to offer you this guarantee. If at any time in the next 60 days you are not happy with the service provided or the result you are getting with bebexs, then let us know, and we will refund 100% of any money you have paid to us.


What is average call handling time?

Time is money, and the more time each Agent spends on a call, the more it costs to operate a call centre. To reduce this cost, Contact centers have tried different methods. One of these methods is reducing the Average call handling time (AHT) for each agent.

Calculating average call handling time

Each Call centre may define it differently. The definition we would give it is "The average time a Call agent takes to deal with a call and is unavailable to deal with the next call".

Using this definition average handling time would include:

hold time (the time an agent places a customer on hold while dealing with internal procedures)
talk time (the time the agent and the customer spend talking to each other)
time on follow up calls (issues related to the original call)
wrap up time (time processing data, or on internal procedures connected to the call)

It would not include:

the time the customer spends on the call before the agent answers it
the time after a customer has been transferred to another colleague
any time the agent is available to answer another call

Average handling time (AHT) as a mathematical formula:

Setting a maximum average handling time for each agent is used as a management technique by some call centres to reduce costs. It can also be used as a basis for planning shifts.

Original formula for calculating average call handling time in a call centre, which is hold time plus talk time plus time on follow up calls plus wrap up time, divided with number of total calls

So, the question arises: how easy is reducing an Agent’s call handling time?

Reducing call handling time is easy!
All you have to do is tell your agents, "You will lose your job unless you reduce the average length of your calls by half".

Some of the results you would expect are:
  • more calls handled per agent
  • customers waiting less in queues
  • happier customers
  • more profits
Average handling time measures the Agents' efficiency, but not effectiveness. So, what you will get is:
  • dissatisfied customers
  • increased callbacks
  • customers spending more time in a queue

Focusing on it doesn’t reduce average handling time!

The irony of average handling time is that focussing on it doesn’t help Contact centers at all. It just increases the number of calls.

When the focus is on average handling time, Agents feel pressured and reduce their call time mechanically. They don’t worry about the quality of the call, nor the customer’s needs. They focus on finishing that call faster and then starting another. This rushing of the call leads to dissatisfied customers who sometimes have to make repeated calls to solve their problem.


We followed expert advice

We wanted our agents to work efficiently. So, after reading the advice of "experts", we instructed our agents to cut their average call handling time.

It didn’t work.

This instruction led our agents to make terrible calls faster.

So we tried to control more variables...

We decided to expand the calculation and increased the number of things we monitored. Our internal programming team designed a system that could track call time, hold time, break time and bathroom breaks. The software worked well enough. So, we hoped this would produce the outcome we wanted.

Modified formula for calculating average call handling time in a call centre, which is call time plus hold time plus break time plus bathroom breaks, divided with number of total calls

It still didn’t work...

Our expansion of the original average handling time calculation initially looked promising. But, it led to agents becoming stressed out.

We realised the focus needed to be elsewhere!

After initially following the crowd and getting disastrous results we decided to take a different approach

Starting a consultation process, we talked everything through with our agents and supervisors encouraging them to give us their honest opinions. Eventually, we concluded that to reduce our handling time, we had to improve our agent’s call handling skills.

Our new mantra would be,
"First quality, and then both quality and quantity."

We concluded that,
if each of our Agents developed their call handling skills and delivered a better experience to our customers, reduced average call handling time would just naturally happen.

The first thing we needed to find was a tool that would help us evaluate Agents calls and identify which skills needed improving.

Peak performers don't follow the crowd

We couldn't find the right tool, so we created one

We checked out all the available tools, but nothing matched our needs. Our programming team had just finished a project, so we decided to create one ourselves.


We designed a system to identify where each agent needed to improve

We added great features:

  • instant access to phone calls (You just click and your phone rings, and you listen)
  • an easy way to evaluate phone calls
  • automatic assigning of evaluations
  • reports comparing assessments
  • reports displaying missed calls
  • reports listing how long we took to call back missed calls

Our programming team had created an efficient evaluations and call centre quality monitoring machine, and our managers and supervisors were busy assessing calls and giving lots of great feedback and coaching to our call agents.

We thought that finally, we had cracked the problem!

We were wrong!

Our call agents, under constant pressure, became demotivated and ended up resigning. Or, even worse,they stayed and became unmotivated employees. So, instead of having quality calls done faster, we just increased our staff turnover and our training costs.


Self assessments to the rescue

We realised that people don't like to be told what they need to change. Just because we call it feedback, that doesn't mean the agent doesn't regard it as criticism.

So we decided to start getting our agents to assess their calls, working on the theory that they wouldn't mind giving themselves feedback!

We also implemented a policy of comparing feedbacks between managers and staff.

We assigned a percentage of their calls to each agent for self-evaluation. Then we assigned a percentage of the calls each agent had assessed to their supervisors for evaluation. And then, assigned a percentage of the calls each supervisor had assessed to the supervisor's manager for evaluation etc. until it got to the MD.

We finally thought that we must have cracked the problem!

It nearly worked!

The theory was good but unfortunately in practice call agents tended to score themselves generously, usually 100% for every call even the terrible ones, undermining the whole concept.
Then we discovered the "Not so secret sauce!"


Eureka!

We finally found the solution; it was so obvious, yet hard to see. And it changed everything.

Same staff, better calls

Suddenly we started getting results, Really, really good results.

Our agents were finding and correcting their mistakes, and more importantly, they stopped repeating them. Agents were even identifying where they needed further training. The feedback we received from customers was very positive they loved our new positive and knowledgeable Call agents. What our customer didn't realize was that they were not new staff members; they were the same staff members, just more knowledgeable, and far more motivated.

And without focusing on it, our average call handling time reduced!


bebexs was born

Although we initially created the call assessment software as an in-house solution to solve our call centre problems, our results were so good we decided to launch it as a standalone solution and named it bebexs.


How do you reduce each Agent’s average call handling time?


In our experience, the way to get the average handling time down is to develop the call handling skills of each agent. This increased competence improves the quality of the customers' experience by professionally resolving the reason for the call the first time.

An elephant surrounded by the text 'Remember: To reduce AHT, focus on improving call handling skills'

How did we reduce average call handling time with bebexs?

We solved our average call handling time with bebexs by not focusing on it!


bebexs call assessments system, some of the benefits

The benefits of using bebexs are immense. Here are some of the biggest benefits your Contact center will have:

A good use for your call recordings

With the user-friendly design of bebexs, your call recordings will become much more than just copies of conversations!

bebexs uses the enormous potential they have and puts them to good use.

You can use your call recordings for:
  • call evaluations and self-evaluations
  • identifying what agents need to improve
  • call agent coaching

Timely coaching is better than eventual appraisals

bebexs makes call evaluations an easy process. Instead of allowing a problem to fester by tackling an issue months later at appraisal time, provide immediate and timely coaching and rectify the issue quickly.

Appraisals, do they work for you?


I'm not a big fan of appraisals; why wait a week, a month, or even a year to tell a worker that they are not performing well or even worse wait a year to tell them that they are doing a good job?

One of the reasons why call centres have a high turnover rate is because of poorly implemented appraisal systems.

"Three weeks ago you did this wrong."
or even worse
"Three months ago you did this wrong."

What is the agent thinking? My guess is "What! I've worked hard today, taken calls and dealt with lots of issues and they dragged up a problem from three weeks (or months) ago, that's pathetic. Why pick on me, when I'm doing my best?"

I'd also guess that instead of wanting to improve after the appraisal, the agent is demotivated and might start looking for a new job.

With high staff turnover, there is no point in doing yearly or quarterly appraisals when a percentage of Call Agents work for a few months and then resign.

Why are traditional appraisals not working? Because

  1. Nobody likes to be judged, especially if the outcome is not good
  2. They are too far apart for them be meaningful
  3. When faced with their flaws, the agents are in denial
  4. They tend to be an excruciating process and demotivate everyone involved

Agents are evaluated by relevant staff

With bebexs, your call recordings are well organised and easily accessible, allowing evaluations to be done by everybody with permission to listen to them.

Calibrate your call centre

When evaluating, it’s vital that everyone is on the same page. The aim should be to have everyone scoring a call in the same way. With bebexs, you can easily compare the MDs evaluation with all other evaluators.

Have everyone evaluate a call the same way as the MD.

Call agent wondering why his call handling score is differently scored by every relevant staff member in the call centre, representing that scoring without calibration can be confusing for the agent

Timely coaching is better than eventual appraisals

bebexs encourages agents to score themselves fairly! When self-evaluating calls using the bebexs method, agents give themselves honest scores.

Improvements are identified and sorted quickly

It is easier to accept feedback when you're telling yourself to improve. Agents Identify problems and solve them faster.

Coaching and Training opportunities

Easily identify what training and coaching you need to give each agent to improve their call handling. Reduced average call handling time is a natural result of this improvement.


Transform your call centre

We hope that by sharing the real-life struggles we faced, and the content of this page, we can help you to avoid some of the problems we caused ourselves by following some of the expert advice offered elsewhere. We also hope that you will try out the bebexs call evaluation software. This opportunity wasn't available to us when we were struggling with our problems. If it had been, we would have solved them a lot quicker and saved ourselves a lot of grief in the process.

We can’t turn back time, but hopefully, by making bebexs available to other Contact centers, it will save them making as many missteps as we did. We offer you our short-cut to success for a fraction of the money we spent developing it.

What is immediately noticeable when you start using bebexs

  • Motivated agents
  • Motivated superiors
  • Reduced repeat mistakes
  • Fewer repeat calls

Benefits of using in the medium term

  • Reduced staff turnover!
  • Superstar agents!
  • Reduced call handling time!
  • Reduced queue lengths!
  • Satisfied customers!
  • Better utilisation of staffing!

It worked for us. Will bebexs work for you?

We know it will, so we offer you a:

A red stamp guaranteeing a risk-free 100% refund within two months

We are so confident that bebexs will you give you the same results that it gave us, that we are prepared to offer you this guarantee. If at any time in the next 60 days you are not happy with the service provided or the result you are getting with bebexs, then let us know, and we will refund 100% of any money you have paid to us.