average hold timesWe’ve all had the experience of calling customer service to resolve a question or issue only to feel that the agent is rushing us off the phone, needlessly transferring us to another person or even worse, just cutting us off. I recently had this experience with my health insurance provider. My daughter and her doctor have been trying to get approval for a specific medication. The request submitted by our doctor’s office has been rejected more than four times over the last two months.

My daughter asked if I could help. I started by submitting an email with the details of my request from the website. The response I received was a boilerplate indicating that my daughter’s request had been rejected due to being incomplete. There was no indication as to what was missing or incomplete, and the reply only addressed the most recent rejection, not the previous rejections.

So, I decided to go with the old-fashioned approach and called customer service. After getting cut off on the first call and transferred to someone’s voicemail on the second, I called a third time and reached a really helpful agent. I quickly explained my journey of the boilerplate email response, getting cut off and the transfer to voicemail. The agent reviewed the notes on the rejections and informed me that the doctor needed to indicate what other treatments have been attempted. The agent also said she would send an additional message to the doctor’s office so they can properly resubmit the approval request. I hung up feeling like I finally accomplished something, but I also felt exhausted from the experience.

You can’t measure what you don’t manage

We have all heard the business mantra “you can’t manage what you don’t measure,” and while this is true, an incorrect focus on specific contact center metrics can drive the wrong behavior. In other words, using another common refrain, “you are what you measure.”

One of the foundational metrics used by almost all contact centers is Average Handle Time (AHT). So just what is AHT? It is the total talk time, total hold time and total wrap up time divided by the total number of calls. While often used by contact center planning and forecasting systems to determine appropriate staffing levels, in some contact centers it is used as an agent-level performance measurement. According to Callcentrehelper.com, a few of the symptoms that when a contact center is using AHT as an agent performance metric are:

  • Cutting off calls as they approach the AHT target
  • Transferring difficult calls to another department
  • Rushing the caller off the phone

The challenge is that agents become focused on the speed of service more so than on the quality of service.

As more companies transform their services to be more digital and mobile, customers will address their simple issues and requests through digitally based self-service options. The result is that inquiries in the voice channel are for the most complex issues not easily resolved in other channels. If your contact center is focused on agent performance using AHT, you and your customers will increasingly see the symptoms noted above.

So what can a customer service leader do to rectify or prevent this type of situation?

First, if your contact center is using AHT as an individual performance metric, make sure it’s balanced by other measurements such as first contact resolution (FCR) rate, customer effort score, and Net Promoter Score (NPS). Also, as you build toward a true omnichannel capability, understand that as Forrester points out, voice will increasingly become an escalation—not a primary service—channel. The simplest issues will be resolved in the digital channels leaving the most complex and time consuming issues for your voice channel. Consider adding call avoidance or no call resolution to your dashboards to balance the view of AHT.

With the advent of newer digital solutions, and web- and mobile-based self-service, be sure to reassess previously conceived performance metrics and targets.

Also, when developing your omnichannel strategy, look for a solution provider who can deliver on the customer experience promise. Today, the world’s leading brands use the Genesys Customer Experience Platform to deliver next generation customer experiences. Using Genesys, companies such as Akbank, Canal+, Plated, and many others are able to improve agent productivity and efficiency of customer service across all digital and voice touchpoints, channels, and journeys. They accomplish this while increasing revenue and significantly reducing technology and personnel costs. Forrester Research conducted a Total Economic Impact (TEI) Study that quantified specific costs, benefits and metrics that matter most to customers.

For further understanding of the metrics that matter for delivering exceptional customer experiences, see the recent white paper from Nemertes Research.