Systems Thinking

Working on Average Handle Time and First Call Resolution? Stop It . . . Now!

Tripp Babbitt
Contributor: Tripp Babbitt
Posted: 06/07/2010

I know . . . here we go again, but the insanity has to stop at some point. Changing thinking sometimes becomes a redundant activity that if whacked on the head enough something might stick. When it comes to FCR (First Call Resolution) and AHT (Average Handle Time) nothing could be more true.

As I read comments, visit contact centers, and join discussions on Linked-In the same wrong thinking is evident. I hear comments like:

"We are a large contact center and if we shave off 9.801 seconds off of every call we save $233, 614.34."

OR

"We have increased our FCR from 50 percent to 70 percent"

Here’s the problem. They all start from the same spot – treating all calls as work to be done. The formula is even predictable:

# of Calls x AHT x Service Level = # of Agents Needed = Cost of Contact Center

So, naturally if I reduce the variable AHT we reduce the need for agents and we in turn reduce costs. Simple, yes? . . . but dead wrong! Your largest opportunity to improve is customer demand. The demand that customers give you is either value or failure demand (demand caused by a failure to do something or do something right for a customer).

Contact centers rarely have less than 25 percent failure demand and usually in the vicinity of 40 – 60 percent failure demand. With AHT we are reducing the time on calls we do not want . . . this is ridiculous.

The Combination of Reasons Why Contact Centers Persist in the Game

  • It is in our DNA to treat calls like a production line in manufacturing. Frederick Taylor taught us this in the early 1900s and we still persist.
  • Cost accountants love numbers they can see. What they don’t see is the damage to customers to rush a call or beat up an agent over some arbitrary target for AHT.
  • Contact centers can control AHT as a functional target and we love to work on things we can control. When we talk about failure demand this is systemic and not all failure demand is caused by the contact center . . . it is caused by other functions. This makes it difficult to "control."

AHT may be important only if the customer says it is a problem and I do hear that sometimes. I usually find it is not the agent that is having the problems it’s all that junk we give agents to "help" them. Scripts, procedures, escalations, entrapping technology and other things to standardize the work are what slow them down. These are systemic issues that the agent can’t control, but managers and monitors hover over the agent like they’re the problem.

Bottom-line is . . . know what AHT is, but work on the system.

FCR is more of the same. When I see contact center managers measuring FCR they are still looking at all calls as calls to be worked. We may want FCR for all calls, but quit perfecting recovery of failure demand (as part of FCR) and get rid of the failure demand.

Contact centers are in desperate need of changing thinking from function to system . . . begin now!

First published on Customer Management IQ

Tripp Babbitt
Contributor: Tripp Babbitt
Posted: 06/07/2010

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