Average Call Time is, First, a Coaching Issue

StopwatchIn the past few days I’ve received two emails from frustrated Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) who wrote simply to vent their frustration over the same issue. In both cases, the CSRs were written up and reprimanded for being over on their Average Call Time (ACT). I’m  honored that they felt free to write me.

This is a common issue in call centers and I’ve written about it before, but I take these emails as a sign that it’s time to revisit the issue. Too many managers manage their CSRs by numbers or metrics off the phone switch because it’s easy to look at a number on a report and then manage to that number. The problem is that customers are not numbers, CSRs are not machines and each call can be different in its complexity.

Too often, companies who manage to ACT will cause their CSRs to make sure they keep their call time down to a given number of seconds, even if that means the CSR provides poor service, hangs up on customers or fails to document calls properly. You think you’re being efficient and saving money, but a disgruntled customer with unresolved issues will call again and again and again – ultimately taking more of the company’s time and costing more of the company’s resources than if the CSR had simply taken the time necessary to resolve and properly document the customer’s issues the first time they called.

It’s quite common to analyze a call in which a frustrated customer calls back on an unresolved issue and the poor CSR finds scant documentation from the initial call. Now it’s going to require more time to define the issue again, investigate what happened, figure out what did and didn’t take place, and try to get the issue resolved. If the CSR taking the subsequent call looks at the issue and realizes that it’s a quagmire of problems which will hurt their own ACT to resolve – they will be tempted to say "there’s nothing we can do" and get the customer off the phone rather than providing resolution and the resulting customer satisfaction.

Having said that, it is appropriate to look at ACT over time as an indicator of a CSR’s efficiency and productivity. Nevertheless, it is disrespectful (and unproductive) to simply reprimand an agent for excessive ACT without helping that person understand what they are doing inefficiently and coaching them towards improvement. Instead of saying, "You’re ACT is above the limit – get it down or else!", the ACT report should lead managers, supervisors or the QA team to say, "We need to pull a sample of this agent’s calls and try to figure out why they are consistently taking longer than the rest of the team."

If a manager or supervisor provides examples of what is driving inefficiency, gives the CSR specific behavioral goals for improvement and the ACT still does not improve – then you can start the disciplinary process. But, for the sake of the customer, the company and the CSR, excessive ACT should first prompt analysis and coaching – not a simple slap on the wrist.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and Yukon White.

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