By Mandy Pattenden, Marketing Communications Director

There was a time when the phone was the most popular channel for making enquires, complaints, and paying for goods and services. In fact, technology enabled many companies to base their entire business model on telephone sales. That being said, we’ve all more than likely experienced the process of calling company’s customer service number, navigating our way through their telephony system and hopefully getting through to an agent who could help us. But, as consumers, were we concerned with how long we spent on the phone with the call centre? If we were held in a queue listening to elevator music, then we probably did. However, if we were actually engaged in a productive conversation with a living and breathing call centre agent, we probably didn’t even notice the length of the call.

We also likely didn’t notice that the length of our call was being measured from its initiation, including hold time, talk time and any related tasks that followed the transaction. Termed average handling time (AHT), this metric is still is used by call centres to help determine appropriate call center staffing levels and analyse the productivity of each agent. Gathered at an individual, call centre or enterprise level, AHT is a key indicator for cost and workforce planning.

Today, views on AHT are nuanced, with many contact centre leaders realising that it can be challenging to reduce AHT without sacrificing customer satisfaction. AHT involves more than just total talk time plus total hold time. Numerous other factors impact AHT, including a customer’s perception of whether their call was handled sufficiently. Now, the big question is: Is it possible to reduce AHT, while balancing other key performance indicators (KPIs)? Moreover, can lower AHTs reduce operational costs? The answer to both questions is “yes.”

For those who take payments via phone, there is a huge opportunity to reduce AHT during a transaction. If customers are required to read their payment card numbers out loud, extra time is spent by agents inputting card details, confirming and reconfirming numbers to ensure payments don’t fail. Time is also added to the call if numbers are misspoken, misheard or mis-keyed. And, if an error leads to a payment rejection by the Payment Service Provider (PSP), the contact centre may face a financial penalty, along with the cost and experience challenges of informing a customer of the failed transaction. At the same time, you are likely increasing AHT, reducing customer satisfaction and forgoing any opportunities to cut costs.

While some technologies, including interactive voice response (IVR) systems, can automate payment processes and provide security, they can still cause customer frustration. If a customer mis-keys a number using an IVR system, it can be difficult to correct. Without an agent on the line to provide assistance, the customer is far more likely to hang up, thus driving down first contact resolution (FCR) metrics and possibly losing you a sale. Shouldn’t you be able to automate just the payment transaction portion of the call, while keeping a live agent on the line to assist if needed?

Semafone provides the best of both worlds. Our solution allows agents to stay on the line as customers enter payment card information using their phone’s touchtone keypad. Instead of spending valuable time repeating card numbers and correcting errors, the agent is free is handle wrap-up tasks as the customer inputs his or her information. Plus, payment card information is securely transmitted directly to the payment provider, removing your call centre from the scope of PCI DSS compliance and ensuring greater data protection. And, most notably, you’ll reduce costs by shaving time from the transactional portion of the call without negatively impacting the customer experience.

Through this more efficient and secure process, it is possible to reduce AHT, balance other call centre KPIs, including customer satisfaction, and unveil additional cost savings. Semafone’s customers regularly realise not only a lower AHT, but also improved customer satisfaction scores and increased FCR – all while keeping data safe, their reputation intact and their customers happy.

To learn more the topic of AHT, check out an article by our Global Sales Director, Iain Regan published by the International Customer Management Institute.

Can You Reduce AHT while Balancing Other KPIs to Lower Costs?

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