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Does Decreasing Average Handle Time Improve Customer Experience?

How much value should a company place on Average Handle Time (AHT)? It’s a tricky, loaded question. Betteridge’s “Law of Headlines” states that “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.” While it’s usually ill-advised to speak in absolute statements, Betteridge might be correct in this case.

First, let’s unpack the alphabet soup in the headline. AHT is an acronym for “Average Handle Time.” That’s the amount of time it takes to arrive at a resolution that works for the company and an escalated customer or a sales prospect.

Here is a salient precept that many companies wrestle with: “If we can resolve the customer’s issue in the shortest amount of time possible, then that means our CX is on point.” But is it? In depth studies have shown that customers want a seamless experience that resolves their issues effectively. They are not concerned with metrics like AHT, they are concerned with results.

The Basics of AHT

AHT is a measurement that starts when a customer initiates an interaction with a company, all the way through to the resolution of the issue, concern, or completion of a transaction.

This includes hold time and frustrating Interactive Voice Recordings (IVR) loops.

We’ve all experienced IVRs and the first letter of that acronym usually proves itself to be a misnomer. There is nothing interactive about constantly pushing ‘0’ on a keypad, or repeatedly yelling “Operator!” into a mouth piece.

The problem with the current perception of CX is that companies subscribe to the notion that the less time a customer spends on an interaction, the better. So automated solutions like tone-deaf IVRs and poorly developed chat bots are put in place in efforts to cut down minutes when dealing with customer conversations.

This creates a gap between company policies and procedures and the end result from the customer’s perspective.Chalk it up to generational gaps or experiential conditioning, but today’s customer does not want to be rushed off the phone or a company website.

Here are some action steps that can pull a company’s CX back to facing an on-message direction:

The Three B’s of a Seamless CX

Bespoken

No matter how tight a company’s demographic might be, there is going to be a wide range of proclivities that are based on any given customer’s preferred means of contact. This means a healthy option pool of communication should be provided. Some customers prefer chatting via text with a live agent while they jugglelattes, their kid’s daycare schedule, and their date night plans.

Other customers are going to want to interface in a much more personal manner, like live video chat.There may also be those that want to sit back and let their agent take the wheel with solutions like CoBrowsing.

Think about this: 40% of U.S. consumers say they have purchased something more expensive than they planned to because of personalized service.

Be Heard

Any sales or customer service agent worth their salt will tell you that the best way to de-escalate an issue or drive the conversation towards a sale is to let the customer vent or speak their mind.

Entrepreneur Magazine confronted this concept by highlighting high-leverage and open-ended questions that make the customer feel like they are being listened to while also pointing the conversation towards mutually effective resolutions.

While it may sound simple, a question from an agent like “How can I help?” or the statement “I can solve that problem” can deliver sizeable measures of confidence between the customer and the agent.

Be Resolved

At the end of the day, customers are not concerned with the architecture of a CX. They don’t have an investment in the company. They are not attending the board meetings. They simply want their issues resolved.

Here’s the bottom line:78% of consumers have bailed on a transaction or not made an intended purchase because of a poor service experience.If you put yourself in the customer’s shoes, which do you think is more important? The amount of time it took to resolve your issue or the end result?

When it comes to AHT, it doesn’t matter if it’s a 10 minute interaction or a 20 minute interaction. What’s important are the results. With that in mind, companies should stop over analyzing AHT metrics and start focusing on resolutions that result in customer promotion and satisfaction that can build momentum and become consumer-based ambassadorship.

In Conclusion

Nobody is going to complain if a company can effectively resolve an issue or complete a transaction in the shortest amount of time possible.At the same time, when companies shift their focus too hard on short AHT, they may be missing the forest for the trees.

It may take a company an extra five minutes to deliver a well rounded and completely resolute journey. Those five minutes are completely worth the time of the company and the customer if it means leveraged customer-driven brand ambassadorship.

If the customer’s journey is seamless and effective, that customer is not going to care if the interaction is ten minutes or fifteen minutes long. The key is to provide a well-rounded suite of channels that allow them to spend that time in a comfortable place that results in a happy resolution or a completed sale.