William Balvanz is the Training Specialist at Voyant, a US-based UCaaS provider. He has years of experience in the call center space, as well as cloud-based communications. We have once again called on William to provide some direction as to how to improve one of the most critical cost-impacting metrics in the contact center space - average handle time.
Average Hold Time
This metric is one of the most commonly used to rate an agent’s performance due to the direct effect it has on profitability. If an agent can resolve issues while keeping the customer engaged, he or she can improve First Call Resolution (FCR) and increase the Net Promoter Score (NPS). If an agent takes too long to get to a resolution, it means that fewer customers are served by that agent.
Average Hold Time is calculated by taking the total time spent on calls in a given time period and dividing that by the amount of time the call was on hold in that same timespan.
Depending on the type of contact center in question, First Call Resolution is the more important KPI. The coaching advice here will assume that Customer Satisfaction, FCR, and NPS are not a concern with this agent. In other words, you have an agent that resolves the calls and is well liked by the callers, but puts the customers on extended holds.
The first step in analyzing this KPI, and others like Average Handle Time, is to evaluate if the expectation for meeting the Hold Time is realistic. A good clue that it might not be attainable or realistic is that this is the metric with which the majority of your agents struggle. This can be due to a low tenured staff, because of a new site or just an influx of new agents. It is not uncommon to graduate KPI targets based on tenure. If you are confident that the hold time target is realistic, you can move to the next step. If not, look to redefine your expectations so they are attainable.
This step is the interface is the human to systems part of the chain. Is your training program adequate, does it provide routine steps of evaluation and a place to work on call skills and time in a helpful environment? Does your training program specifically teach how to use your excellent knowledge base and provide practice in searching for specific articles? Do your agents have experience (even simulated experience) in handling the most common types of calls. If you can truthfully answer yes to all of these checkpoints, then we can move on. If not, you might look for advice on better training methods.
Use of Systems
Now that we have established that the support systems exist, they are adequate, and the agent has been trained on them, we can look to see if the agent is using the systems correctly. If the systems are inadequate, the agent may be searching uncomfortably, keeping the caller on hold to try to resolve the issue.
This can be observed through recorded calls, especially those with screen capture capability. You can also hot-desk and sit with an agent, but that raises a completely different set of problems. Another option is a live service observation, listening into the call from another desk.
If the agent is taking too long to use the systems, that can be a training issue. Practice can help, too, and so can job aids (listing the most common articles, for example). This behavior (correct and efficient use of tools) can be put into SMART goal format and an action plan can be written around it.
This is another agent behavior point (as will be the last two) that can have an action plan written around it. Does the agent speak with confidence and reassuringly? Does the agent get short with the customer and place them on hold frequently? Are the holds short and frequent, or seldom but lengthy?
Writing an action plan on this can be enhanced with the right job aids and motivation. But, if the agent is not placing the call on hold often in order to resolve the issue, it is time to stiffen the coaching methods in the next two steps.
Will to Succeed
Frankly, does the agent want to succeed? I have experienced agents who honestly wanted to do a great job but they didn’t fully understand what was expected, and others who feel the position they are in at the present time is not where they want to be.
If your agent wants to be a success, give them a path. Set SMART goals and milestones that can help motivate. Do not shy away from anecdotes that empathize with them. One thing that can be really frustrating is a consistent shift in focus; one week it is hold time, the next week it is adherence, the next week it is transfer rate. This can be devastating if you have not made it clear what the major plan for this agent will be.
If your agent feels unappreciated or thinks their present role is “beneath them”, then give them some encouragement. Let them know that if you do not have to spend time in your one on one meetings shoring up easy stuff like hold Time with them, you can focus on giving them more diverse training, maybe even setting them up for a promotion or other opportunities.
The Right Fit
Finally, at the top of the mountain, we get to the fundamental question: Is this agent the right fit for the job? For some managers and supervisors, this is a very tough topic. If you and the agent have done everything up to this step and they are still not meeting expectations, it might be a case that this position is just not right for the person.
Maybe they would be better in some other line of business. Maybe they are just not good on the phone and they are miserable every day. Maybe their attitude is just awful. Will to succeed might lead directly here, for example.
It is recommended to have another manager, especially one above you, to sit in on your one on one when this step is reached. If the metric in question, in this case Hold Time, is very important, and you have explained that to the agent, it might be time to put them on a disciplinary plan. Give them X weeks to hit the goal or demerits are assessed. If it comes to this, be fair, firm, and supportive. If they make their action plan and goals, celebrate with them, but if they fail it may be time to cut ties.
Look at it this way, an agent who is not meeting profitability targets is costing your business money. It is a manager’s job to protect the profit of the organization.
Average Hold Time is an important KPI in terms of productivity and profitability, but it is neither the most important metric nor is it one that can be overlooked. By working through a process of analyzing and correcting different steps in the process, you and your agent can work out the best way to tackle this issue and gain compliance - or you can discover that you may have a person who is simply not a great fit for what needs to be done.