15 Tips to Reduce AHT (And Improve Your CSAT)

April 21, 2023 Andrew Reiter

According to the latest Zendesk CX Trends Report, 66% of customers choose to resolve their issues via telephone, meaning that customer service hotlines are still crucial for a holistic and successful CX strategy. In most cases, your average handle time (AHT) is a key indicator of your service team’s efficacy and productivity. That means prioritizing a low AHT can deliver valuable returns on your customer satisfaction score (CSAT). Throughout our experience, our team has found that improving our clients’ results comes down to these practices. Here are 15 tips for lowering your AHT and improving your CSAT. 

How to Calculate AHT

You can calculate your AHT using the following formula: 

[Total Talk Time + Total Hold Time + Total Follow-up Time] / Total Number of Calls

According to Call Centre Magazine, the baseline standard across all industries is six minutes and 10 seconds. (Keep in mind, this is a baseline overview that can shift depending on the type of call, i.e. outbound sales vs. tech support.) Additionally, reducing your AHT can involve several approaches, including minimizing hold times, increasing the number of calls processed, and optimizing the time each agent spends resolving customer issues. 

15 Tips For Reducing AHT

1. Create a Playbook 

Establishing a solid process and standards for your call center agents will help them stay focused and organized during a call. Consider creating a playbook or guide as a source of truth. This can include scripts, AHT standards, cheat sheets for streamlining processes, information checklists, and protocols for handling tricky situations.

2. Start With Coaching

Get your agents started on the right foot. Reducing your AHT could come down to educating and training your team on your company’s products and services so they can speak confidently. Additionally, coaching your team can help prepare them for tense situations, such as frustrated customers or unexpected roadblocks. Coaching is especially important for onboarding new agents. 

3. Evaluate Your IVR

Your IVR, or interactive voice response, can easily make or break your AHT. If your customers are being directed to the wrong place, your agents may be wasting valuable time trying to get them to the right department. Make sure your IVR options are clear and take customers where they need to go. This is a simple way to avoid miscommunication and is an easy win for improving your CSAT. 

4. Gather All the Right Information Before You Start

Filtering and gathering information throughout the call can easily disorient your agents, jeopardize their communication with the customer, and increase your AHT. Make sure your agents gather as much information and context at the start of the call. This will allow them to quickly identify solutions ahead of time.

5. Identify and Reduce Silence on Calls

Periods of silence, or “dead air time”, can often leave customers feeling unresolved or abandoned. While agents aren’t expected to fill every second with talking, a little communication can go a long way. Keep your customers updated on where they are in the process. If your agent is entering data or searching for the right answer, they can politely communicate that to the customer! Utilizing interactive analytics can be a powerful way to identify and reduce dead air time. 

6. Automate What You Can

Reduce your AHT by automating parts of the process that don’t require an agent. For example, you can save valuable time by asking customers to input information on their mobile devices or a secure web session. This can also help your agents determine solutions beforehand instead of resolving the issue in real time. 

7. Ask Customers to Explain Their Problem 

While asking customers to fully explain the problem may seem redundant, doing so gives your agents a deeper understanding of the issue. Customers may provide greater context, allowing your team to quickly identify the right solution or redirect them to the correct department. However, the key here is ensuring that the customer doesn’t have to repeat themselves too often, which can generate frustration. 

8. Have Agents Repeat and Confirm Information

This is another tactic that may seem to increase AHT, but can have tremendous payoffs in the long run. Verifying customer information is crucial to making sure that everyone is on the same page and that the agent has a clear understanding of the problem. Your team doesn’t need to devote more than ten seconds to clarification!

9. Update Customer Profiles

Keep your caller history updated with statuses on issues and previous conversations. The goal here is to provide a seamless experience for your customers every time they contact your call center. It’s likely that they won’t receive the same agent each time they call, so customer profiles are integral to reducing AHT. 

10. Consider Different Measures of Success

This may sound counterintuitive, but some companies may find that focusing solely on the number of calls in the queue may actually increase AHT. According to a study by Call Centre Magazine, using queue numbers as your only measure of productivity can add stress. The result? Call center agents may purposefully extend their calls to alleviate the pressure. Consider adding additional ways in which you can measure productivity and motivate your agents, such as overall issue success rate or holding your CSAT in equal importance to your AHT.

11. Use Examples of Low AHT Calls in Training

Often, the best way to train your agents on what to do is to show them. Gather and save your best calls and use them as examples of reducing AHT. This can be a key part of your customer service coaching and training program. 

12. Process After-Call Work During the Call 

Integrating ACW or after-call work into the AHT can help increase the number of calls each agent receives and processes. Make sure your agents are entering all of the necessary information during the call to prevent lengthy periods of after-call processing. 

13. Record All Calls for Evaluation and Coaching 

Documenting your agents’ performance is an integral part of lowering AHT and improving customer satisfaction. Use call recording as a part of your greater customer feedback strategy and be sure to deliver feedback to your agents. Positive feedback is a great way to keep your team motivated and clear on expectations. 

14. Gather Customer Feedback 

Seek opportunities to learn about what it’s like to work with your brand. After each call, consider implementing an automated survey that allows customers to tell you about their experience. Not only does this provide direct feedback on how to improve your CSAT, it also builds a relationship with your customers. 

15. Always Look for Ways to Optimize 

Reducing your AHT isn’t something you do once and can forget about. Maintaining a stellar customer experience is about constantly learning about your strengths and weaknesses, as well as staying up to date on best practices. Build rapport with your team by establishing open communication on their experiences and how you can support them. Ultimately, optimizing your processes is a continuous journey. 

Ready to Take Your CX Strategy to the Next Level? 

Our team is here to help you build an experience that increases customer satisfaction and retention. Whether you’re looking for a highly trained call center support team or want to optimize your CX strategy, we’re here to help. Contact us today to get started.

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