Managing Call Center Results Is More Than Measuring Average Handle Time

James Bogle

Since I changed from being the client buying services to being the vendor of choice in the delivery of "Best-in-Class" inbound/outbound Customer Service/Care, I have fought against the use of Average Handle Time (AHT) as the first KPI of every agreement for Outsourced/Vendor supplied services.

If you are looking for only cost savings over your in-house, or current vendor of outsourced services, then Average Handle Time is adequate as the first KPI to manage your business. But, do not be surprised when Customer Satisfaction starts to decline and you end up with your attrition rates (loss rate) growing.

First Call Resolution should be your first KPI, followed by other client satisfaction KPIs such as Customer Satisfaction Surveys, Up-sell/Cross Sales, adequate availability of resources to handle peak calling periods, focused service experiences segmented by value for your clients.

Of course, average handle time is important to measure at the program level, not at the call center representative level. Average handle time should be used by your supervisory personnel to recognize poor call center performances. How do you really convince your call center representatives to meet/exceed customer expectations, then take the call center representatives(s) into the back room and push the call center representatives to improve their average handle time to save their vendor’s money. Clients use average handle time as an easy tool to manage their vendors. The desire for great customer service is 180 degrees in the wrong direction from pushing every call center representative (good or bad) to meet or exceed their Average Handle Times.

I have worked for MCI, EDS, TeleTech, IBM and PRC and have not met a client or vendor that was advanced enough to not measure (reward or penalize) the vendor’s call center representative for poor average handle times.

Most companies outsourcing their customer care and business process outsourcing are attempting to save money, but say they want to improve customer satisfaction. This is a desire, but becomes more of a dream and dissatisfaction within the client’s management.

In every outsourcing engagement I have sold, migrated and/or managed, the real events went something like this:

1. Frequent call center negotiations:

  • The client puts out competitive bid Requests For Information (RFIs) to the major players, sometimes up to 12, managed by a third party consultant
  • The client usually selects five to six of the best vendor proposals out of the total number requested
  • Releases an RFP with parameters leading with Average Handle Time, Average Speed of Answer, First Call Resolution, Occupancy (if sophisticated)
  • Client continues to speak to a major requirement of having outstanding Customer Satisfaction and Workforce Management scheduling
  • They enter the negotiations leading with the requirement that the proposed vendor meets/exceeds in-house metrics for the same Key Performance Indicators: Average Handle Time, Average Speed of Answer, First Call Resolution, Occupancy, etc.
  • They usually have been informed by their third party consultant to expect Cost Savings of 35-40 percent or more
  • If you meet all of the other parameters, then they select you on PRICE, but not if you have a better way to improve Customer Satisfaction

2. Vendor challenges:

  • They assign internal management to manage the vendor(s) (the same ones that were probably not meeting their internal goals)
  • They then control the vendor’s ability to install required resources to deliver a better solution, also to control costs such as:
  • Client changes from hourly rates to ones based upon per sales, price per call, and price per minute while on the phone, to their end-customers, etc.
  • Work with the client to set up Quality Calibration requirements for the Vendor to use in call center Quality Monitoring. Then judge the vendor based upon external and internal Customer Satisfaction Surveys, which use questions that are not correlated with the Quality Calibrations

3. The Vendor gets into the mode of:

  • Moving to smaller markets when they have exhausted the local resources in the markets they currently use
  • Moving work off-shore, to an environment that is now challenged with accent neutralization and a pool of call center representatives that’s changing jobs every four to six months for more money
  • Increasing the number of call center representatives per supervisors, even exceeding contract terms
  • Promoting call center representatives to supervisor positions without providing them with any training to be successful in their new call center jobs
  • Hiring less skilled call center personnel
  • Spending less time with training new call center representatives because most Tier I clients are now not paying for attrition training
  • Pricing by the hour which allows, for all non-productive time to be recovered; Tier I and now starting with Tier II clients are developing agreements that allow them to use an external Workforce Management System that allows them to view at any time when the call center representative in on the phone to a customer

Now, you have to ask yourself, why do clients contract with Outsourcing vendors believe they will get better services and performance from vendors, while the vendors have to provide 35-40 percent cost savings in new centers, to win the contract.

You can contract with the client to take over their existing center(s). But, how are you going to improve their service levels while achieving 35-40 percent cost savings with their existing cost structures. The math does not work! Thus, you get more of number three above, while not meeting the client’s expectations.

It turns into a big circle of chasing each other.

First published on Call Center IQ.