Saturday, February 27, 2010

Customer Satisfaction versus Average Handle Time

I am seeing a lot of articles and blogs about the virtues and sins of average handle time (AHT) and how important it is. Much of the writing lately has been focused on call centers (and for good reason since they are becoming such a vital part of a company's performance and perception).

Customer service can be considered as four distinct categories; namely service at the customer site, service at the point of sale, service at a remote location and service via some electronic communications media (e.g. phone, fax, internet). The current research suggests that the electronic media is becoming the channel of choice. This leads to the reason for this blog and why I am taking time to respond to the notion that AHT is one of the most important aspects of customer service and, by inference, customer satisfaction and loyalty.

First let me state that AHT is probably not the most important driver of customer satisfaction and loyalty. My research certainly does not support that notion. It is one of the major factors but it is NOT the most important. I am sure there are others out there who will be ready to flog me and point out that I am unaware of the real market. Rather than taking on a fight, I would suggest that the time to answer (average speed of answer - ASA) is far more important if one is looking to improve customer satisfaction and loyalty. I recall a study several years ago that showed that ASA strongly correlates with customer satisfaction. The study showed that there was no perceptible drop in customer satisfaction for up to 2 minutes. However, once the time exceeded 2 minutes there was a precipitous drop in customer satisfaction.

I have seen studies that show if the AHT get very large there is a drop in customer satisfaction. Usually the time has to increase dramatically. Think about it. If you are a customer and you are getting your problem solved, will become dissatisfied when the customer service representative takes extra time to make sure your problem is resolved. I would pose that a longer handle time when done correctly will build customer satisfaction and loyalty. When I was in industry, I made it a policy to make sure that every one who touched a customer would take enough time to "kill each call." By that I meant that I wanted every call to take as long as necessary to make sure the customer thoroughly understood that the problem was resolved. That means the problem is DEAD.

It is very difficult to control incoming calls to an inbound call center. However, if you understand the basics of queuing theory, you can staff to take the calls in a reasonable time to be sure that your ASA is within the bounds you have set. That means you must also staff to give the service representatives sufficient time to "kill the calls."

The bottom line is that AHT is not something you want to reduce, it is what you need to build customer satisfaction and loyalty. The management focus should be on managing ASA and then train the service reps on how to kill a call. The results will surprise you. Of course many will say that you cannot reduce costs when AHT is high and that most companies are looking for ways to reduce costs. My purpose for writing this blog was to point out that ASA is more important to customer satisfaction and loyalty than AHT. Secondly, I wanted to make the suggest that there may be a significant down side to reducing AHT.


Anonymous said...

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Rick Chatham said...

Dr. Bleuel:

My own work at Starbucks supports this assertion. As a manager, I worked very hard to get people out of the order queue and into the drink queue. In other words, I saw the value in taking orders as quickly as possible to keep the line length down and prevent balking. Then I would move labor over to the drink preparation area to catch up.

People were far less likely to complain once they could see their drink being made. I certainly would rather they spend an extra 30 seconds at the espresso bar than at the register waiting to order.

-Rick Chatham
MBA 2010

Phillip said...

You are absolutely right. Sometimes, it is hard to give the best customer service in a very limited time, that's why customers tend to get angry and their concerns will not be catered well. But for me I think there are still call center agents who can still give excellent customer service and be able to give what their clients' want in no time. It's really a matter of how knowledgeable these agents are with regards to their company and how great they are in handling tough situations.

But anyways, thanks for the informative post!

Outsource Call Center said...

Interesting post! Good customer service is necessary. I believe that treating the customer so politely makes them so comfortable and satisfied with your services. Anyway, thanks for sharing. Looking forward for your next post.


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