Why that call centre wants to get you off the phone…

I’ve just run a session for Coventry Chartered Management Institute and asked the audience “Who has felt rushed off the phone when calling a call/contact centre?”. Most hands went up. I then asked how many people had experienced the frustration of being kicked off the phone without having their problem resolved. A similar number of hands went up.

Why does this happen? In one word (or three if you are being pedantic) – AHT – Average Handling Time.

Call centres have the mixed blessing of being able to measure a huge number of things automatically. Many call centres seem to go through the following thought process:

We pay for agents. We have X calls per day. If we can minimise average handling time then we will get through those calls with the minimum number of agents AND SAVE MONEY!

As almost everyone in the room discovered, agents will do this by getting you off the phone, problem solved or not. It must be hugely tempting for an agent to mark an issue as resolved, even if they know in their heart that it’s not.

What’s the real impact of this measure? Firstly, very aggravated customers and a “poisoned well” of customer good-will. It also means that the “total call time to resolution” will almost certainly be greater than if the initial call had taken a bit longer. We have all experienced the painful follow-on conversation where the second or third agent reads your notes and you have to fill in the gaps. Handoffs take time and cause waste (including mistakes).

All this was caused by a seemingly sensible and straight-forward measure.

Do you have measures that drive self-defeating behaviour? If you do then the question you should ask is not “What activity do we want to count?” but “What outcomes are we looking for?”

1 Comment

  1. Avatar Emma Jenkins on November 22, 2010 at 11:20


    One of the sensible metrics used by government-operated contact centres is NI14. This (broadly) targets the reduction of unnecessary calls to contact centres. The phrase they use is “avoidable contact”. Makes sense, right?

    Unfortunately, because this KPI proved “too hard to measure” (huh?!), it was withdrawn as part of the Smarter Government initiative.

    Regardless of whether it’s actively used in government, I think you’d agree that a sensible aim for contact centres is to reduce _avoidable_ contact – i.e. repeat calls, chasing calls, etc, in any sector?


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