• October 1, 2016
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

Are Contact Center Metrics Becoming Passé?

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Besides speed to answer, another metric that is falling out of favor is average handling time (AHT), which most experts now contend has no impact whatsoever on customer satisfaction.

AHT is a way of looking at the total average duration of calls, including hold time, talk time, and the related follow-up or administrative tasks that agents have to perform after they hang up. AHT used to be a simple issue of economics: The longer a customer stayed on the phone, the more the interaction cost the company. But what’s the point of getting a customer off the call as quickly as possible if her issue isn’t fully resolved and she needs to call back?

Another problem with AHT today is that it doesn’t distinguish between simple calls that can be disposed of quickly and the complex ones that require more time. AHT could end up penalizing agents who are efficient but are taking time to help customers through more complex problems.

Also, there are often differences between agents themselves. Agents with longer tenures can probably handle calls faster than new agents.

“We’ve already started to move away from AHT, and many more organizations are abandoning it,” Robbins says. “The focus now is more on what the outcome of the interaction is and making sure that we satisfy the customers’ needs the first time.”

AHT, he says, will always play a role in helping companies plan their contact center staffing needs, but it’s “going away as an agent metric. Companies are not holding agents accountable to maintain certain levels anymore.”

That’s the case at online shoe and apparel retailer Zappos, which holds the record for the longest customer service phone call, a conversation on June 11 that lasted 10 hours and 43 minutes. Zappos broke its own record, a 2012 call that lasted 10 hours and 30 minutes. Surprisingly, Zappos doesn’t view the length of either call as a bad thing. Instead, it touted both conversations as proof of its dedication to its customers.

Admittedly, 10-hour customer service calls are rare, but companies can’t afford to limit single calls to four minutes or less, either. “If it takes seven or eight minutes to complete a call, so be it,” Robbins says. “It’s not about the time it takes. Companies instead need to look at the agent behavior during the call and the outcome.”

Jezierski says that managing AHT has taken on a new meaning today. “It’s no longer about getting customers off the phone quickly,” she states. “It’s about understanding what is the appropriate amount of time for handling each customer’s particular needs.”

That’s the guiding principle at EMS, a contact center outsourcer operating three facilities in Omaha, Neb., with between 250 and 300 agents. “We don’t focus on handle time,” says Paul Staehlin, director of operations at EMS. “We tell our agents they’re better off taking the call a little longer so the customer does not have to call us again with the same problem. We’re willing to take longer calls so we can serve our customers better.”

That’s not to say that EMS completely ignores handling time, though. “We’d be remiss if we didn’t look at operational efficiency,” Staehlin says. “We have to look at talk time versus available time. We have an obligation to our clients so that we’re not charging them for agents who sit around and do nothing.”

At the same time, though, Staehlin says his firm has taken a different approach to metrics. “Their job is customer service, so we measure our agents based on how good they are at their jobs.”

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