Tighten Up Your AHT Projections

Average handling time, like the volume of contacts, must be incorporated into planning by the half hour. Assuming the same average handling time all day for forecasting purposes will not reflect the environment accurately.

Some relatively simple analysis can go a long way toward tightening up your projections. Here are a few important prerequisites for getting this part of your forecast right:

1. Look for patterns. For each answer group, identify how average talk time and average after-call work vary. You may also discover patterns by day of the week, season of the year, billing cycles and marketing campaigns. For a deeper look at average handling time, make separate graphs for average talk time and average after-call work. This will reveal the patterns for each.

2. Train your agents to use work modes consistently. Each agent has an impact on the components of handling time (talk time and after-call work) and, therefore, on the data that will be used in forecasting and planning for future call loads. When the queue is building, it can be tempting to postpone after-call work that should be done at the time of the call. This skews reports, causes planning problems and may lead to increased errors. An important and ongoing training issue is to define ahead of time what type of work should follow contacts and what type of work can wait.

3. Identify the average handling time for different types of contacts. This presupposes that you have defined and categorized contacts by type, that you are accurately tracking contacts based on the categories, and that you have the reporting capability to link average handling time to the categories. A Pareto chart is often the best way to represent this data.

You can use this information in a number of ways. For example, when you are forecasting an increase or decrease of a specific type of contact, you will be able to project the impact on average handling time. A marketing campaign will generate certain types of contacts. A new Web-based service or mobile app will likely reduce some types of contacts agents handle (and may increase others). In each case, you’ll be equipped to estimate average handling time.

4. Assess the impact of new agents, languages handled, and process changes. Less-experienced agents often require more time to handle contacts as they learn how to deal with processes, systems, cultures and callers. Further, some languages require more time than others (for example, French takes somewhat longer than German, and Spanish requires more time than English).

Compare average handling time to the experience levels of your agents, languages handled, etc. Doing this will enable you to estimate the impact of these variables on AHT, and will be useful in establishing realistic expectations.

These same steps are recommended, regardless of contact channel. For example, look for patterns in the social contacts you are handling, ensure agents are using work modes consistently, identify the handling time for different kinds of contacts, and assess the impact of new agents and process changes on handling time.

Excerpt from Call Center Management on Fast Forward by Brad Cleveland.