Productivity – can’t live with it, can’t live without it.
When it comes to productivity measurements within a call center environment, we are all but too familiar with the AHT (average handling time) indicator. Basically, it refers to the total time spent talking with a customer plus the total time in post-call processing divided by the number of calls answered.
Lately many call centers have decided not to hold agents accountable to this measurement to create a better environment while aiming for better call quality. Other call center managers put too much emphasis on productivity as they try to improve the service levels and prevent productivity cost from rising.
I suggest that there is a balance that can be achieved – there is no need to “throw the baby out with the bath water”. There is a way to hold agents accountable for productivity without sacrificing quality and maintaining a positive environment.
For most organizations each call is unique in that they the call duration varies greatly. Yet quite often managers seem to forget this fact. Ultimately, managers tend to put a lot of pressure on agents to keep their AHT down, and to make matters worst they tend to go back and forth between talk time and post-call processing time which sends mix signals to the agents! This obsession makes agents feel like quantity is more important than quality.
Here is what I suggest: come to terms with the fact that every call is different, and every agent is different and allow some flexibility in how they handle the calls. Do not emphasize lower post-call or lower talk time. Some agents groove better with less talk and more post-call or vice versa. Instead, keep your sight on the overall AHT and let them decide how to split their time. (Obviously be aware of extremes).
Let’s go one step further. You are concerned about productivity because you want to be able to keep costs down to deliver the expected service level yet you want the best call quality. Be aware that in the equation used to calculate the number of agents required to achieve your goals, you may need to consider other factors.
- are your agents allowed to make outbound calls (when on inbound queue)? If they are, factor that time as well into their overall use of time.
- Are they allowed to listen to their voicemails? If so, factor this in your productivity equation.
- Is your ACD set to “force calls”? If not, factor ring time in your productivity equation.
- Do agents make calls to their supervisor, or helpdesk to get support? If so, add this too.
You get the picture.
You might be thinking “how can I keep track of all this?”.
Simple. Start using “True Calls per hour” as the indicator that will encompass all and any other form of process that affects the overall productivity of an agent. “True Calls per hour” as opposed to “Calls per hour”.
What is True calls per hour? It is easier to define by showing what the formula is:
True Calls per hour = (Total Calls answered DIVIDED by Busy Time*)
(*Busy time = Total Logged in Time MINUS Total Agent Idle time)
By removing the Idle time (time agents spend waiting to receive calls) you get the total amount of time an agent is busy. Busy is the keyword; if they are on an outbound call, or on the phone with your helpdesk, they are still actually unable to answer calls for you and this still reflects their level of productivity. If you focus solely on AHT you will completely miss other important areas of productivity losses or gains.
It is possible to have an agent who has a low AHT but spends a lot of time on outbound calls or calling the helpdesk or other forms mentioned above. They are actually less available to answer calls which in turn means you would actually be short on staff which translates to lower service levels. Yet, you would be unaware of the cause because you focused solely on AHT. If you focused on True Calls per hour you would have had the necessary information.
Removing your focus from AHT to True calls per hour provides a more empowering environment for the agents as they are no longer subject to nit-picking on talk-time or post-call processing time. Instead they are coached with a different language such as: “You seem to be experiencing difficulty, do you need help with managing your time?” – it might even be possible for a manager to understand the effect of all processes before talking with an agent. The essence of micro-managing vs macro-managing.
And remember, an agent is demotivated by how you treat them when you handle the situation when they do not achieve their goals much more than by a demanding goal.
Next time, I will conclude the 5 great ideas with a talk on Process vs People as a more positive coaching approach.