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Reduce average call handling time by improving 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 professionals in the field. When this didn't give the expected results, we modified the average handling time formula and started to track and control more variables which we considered contributed to the reduction of Agent's call handling time.

It wasn't what we hoped for. Yes, Agent's did make more calls, but the quality remained the same! We stopped going with the crowd. What was needed was thinking outside the box.

We realised that to reduce average call handling time, we needed to focus on upgrading our Agents' call handling skills. The first challenge we encountered was identifying which skills should be improved. We tried many off the shelf options, but we couldn't find a solution that gave the results we wanted. 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!

Improve your Agents with our Call evaluation software

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

It worked for us. Will bebexs work for you?

We are so confident we will offer 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 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 paid to us.

An eye test containing call centre terms with glasses in the foreground focusing on the term 'call handling skills' and surrounded by the text 'Focus on call handling skills to reduce average call handling time'

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.

How to calculate 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 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 that needs be done is to warn the agents of negative consequences if they don't reduce their average call handling time.

The projected outcome would be:
  • more calls handled per agent
  • Customers waiting less in queues
  • happier Customers
  • more profits

The problem is that the average handling time measures the Agents' efficiency, but not effectiveness.

Being pressured to make more calls, Agents will strive to achieve lower handling time with no regard to the quality of the call.

Call agent nervously working under pressure while a hand is measuring his call handling time.

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 improve effectiveness. 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 unhappy customers sometimes forced to make repeated calls to solve their problem.


Our journey started with following 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 worked, but only on the surface

This instruction led our agents to make poor calls faster.

So we tried to control more variables...

The next step was to expand the calculation and increase the number of things 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 bring us results.

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 didn’t...

The expansion of the original average handling time calculation initially looked promising. But, in practice it led to agents becoming stressed out and produced terrible results.

We realised the focus needed to be elsewhere!

After initially following the crowd and getting less than expected, we started noticing that the issue is much deeper than initially imagined. So, we took a different approach.

Starting a consultation process, we talked everything through with our agents and supervisors encouraging them to give their honest opinions. After this exhaustive research, the conclusion was that to reduce average call handling time, we had to improve our agents' call handling skills.

Our new mantra became:
"First quality, and then both quality and quantity."

And we came to the conclusion that
If each Agent develops their call handling skills and delivers a better experience to the 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 need improving.

Footsteps of different colours are going in the same direction, but at a point one pair of feet starts moving in a different direction which leads towards a mountain peak, while the rest continue towards an abyss followed by the text '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 the needs. Our programming team had just finished a project, so we decided to create one ourselves.

A man fixing his car and having to choose a tool from a pile of different objects surrounded with the text 'Choosing the right tool will make the job easier'

A software solution to identify which skill each agent needs to refine

We added great features to our system:

  • 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 got on the right path!

Still we did not get the results we were hoping for

Call Agents, under constant pressure, started becoming demotivated and dissatisfied with their job. It was obvious that some of them were thinking about leaving.


Self assessments to the rescue

The realisation that people don't like being told what they need to change changed everything. Just because it's called feedback, that doesn't mean the agent doesn't regard it as criticism.

The theory that Agents wouldn't mind giving themselves feedback lead to the push in this direction.

A policy of comparing feedback between managers and staff was implemented.

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

We finally thought that we are close to the heart of the issue!

Nearly there!

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


Eureka!

We finally struck gold; it was so obvious, yet hard to see. And it changed everything.

Same staff, better calls

We finally got to the core of the issue.

And we started getting results. Excellent results.

Agents began finding and correcting their mistakes, and more importantly, they stopped repeating them. They even started identifying where they needed further training. The feedback that started coming from Customers was very positive: they loved the new positive and knowledgeable Call Agents. What customers 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 started reducing!

Soon, the reduction of average call handling time became substantial

Our Agents were no longer preoccupied with how long their calls were, but with delivering a quality customer experience. They focused on improving the quality of their calls, this self-analysis led to them becoming more and more experienced and better at solving Customer's queries. The effect on AHT was impressive all our agents, even the top performers reduced their averages.


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 to reduce average call handling time?


In our experience, the way to get the average handling time down is by developing 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. In time, Agents become incredibly proficient at handling Customer's queries and they do quality calls faster.

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 reduced our average call handling time with bebexs by not focusing on it! bebexs focuses on Agents improving their call handling skills, adapting to the fast dynamics of solving customer problems fast and efficiently. This improvement leads to reduced average call handling time.


bebexs call assessments system, some of the benefits

The benefits of using bebexs are immense. Some of the aspects of bebexs that will elevate any call centre to a completely different level:

A good use for the call recordings

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

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

The call recordings are used 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 an issue to fester by tackling it months later at appraisal time, bebexs provides immediate and timely coaching and rectification of the issues quickly and efficiently.

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

Calibrate the 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. Being able to see where different staff gives different scores will lead to proper calibration of the scoring process.

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

Agents are encouraged to self-evaluate correctly

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 their weaknesses on their own and overcome them faster.

Coaching and Training opportunities

Easily identify what training and coaching you need to give to each agent to improve their call handling skills. 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 struggles we had 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 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 paid to us.