Two Minutes and 11 Seconds

How much importance are your agents placing on Average Handle Time and After Call Work metrics? Is it producing the results you’re looking for?

During the latter part of my consulting days, I worked on a Workforce Optimization Planning project designed to empower the agents of an already world-class center to “be the best.” Part of the client’s initial vision was to provide as many stats to the desktop as possible so agents could self-manage. They figured that if agents had all the data then they would be empowered to deliver even more exceptional customer service.

One of the stats already displayed to agents was Average Handle Time (AHT). We probed each focus group on the topic to investigate the impact…

 “We display handle time, but we don’t consider the metric in performance reviews. We want to stress the importance of delivering exceptional customer service.” – Contact Center Manager

“They say handle time doesn’t matter, but we all know calls better be handled in two minutes and 11 seconds.” – Call Center Agent

Not surprisingly, while observing calls, we found agents clearly sacrificing the customer experience to hit the AHT target. The same type of behavior happened with After Call Work (ACW) (a stat also displayed). Agents would take the next call even though they had additional work to do for the previous one and then finish the work as they made the new caller wait to be serviced. The interesting finding – which sure seemed like common sense later – was that agents were clinging tightly to any hard measurement they could, even if the customer experience suffered.

The really cool thing about this client is that they were willing to modify their end-state vision based on the collective findings. Instead of displaying all stats to agents, they decided to place a priority on training supervisors to become better “coaches” and spend less time as “monitors.” Their focus would be on managing to desired behavior rather than operational metrics. Don’t worry, the stats weren’t thrown out. In fact, a new performance measurement and management role was created to place an even greater emphasis on analyzing trends and exceptions and, importantly, offload supervisors so they could spend the necessary time coaching – and have the data they needed to be more intentional in doing so.

This is just a snapshot of what came out of the project, but the big lesson learned was that agents feel far more empowered when they are managed as people rather than points – when the discussion is focused on behavior rather than statistics – when they are treated as  valued assets rather than measured, expendable commodities.

During the “Workforce Empowerment” session at this year’s annual user forum, Interactions ’11, we talked about this issue and how the greatest coach of all times, John Wooden, placed his focus on managing players not points. The results are staggering:

  • Ten NCAA championships in 12-year period
  • Seven consecutive NCAA championships
  • Record winning streak of 88 games
  • Four perfect 30-0 seasons
  • “NCAA Coach of the Year” in 1964, 1967, 1969-73
  • Received “Sportsman of the Year” award from Sports Illustrated in 1972

Let’s learn from Coach Wooden and coach our agents to be their very best – success will surely follow.

“Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable” – John Wooden

Jason Alley

Jason Alley

Jason Alley

Jason Alley is a senior solutions marketing manager for Interactive Intelligence. Since his employment in 2010, Jason has helped Interactive Intelligence develop market requirements and go-to-market strategies for contact center, customer experience, and cloud solutions. Prior to Interactive, he spent ten years consulting with large enterprise contact centers and suppliers for Vanguard Communications, and a company he later founded, SmartContact Consulting. Jason spent the first seven years of his career in sales, marketing, and product management roles working for Aspect, Hipbone, Nortel, and others. Jason received his bachelor’s degree in business economics from UCLA.