Amy Smith

I love Dilbert cartoons. My favorite closely aligns with my day-to-day work and portrays Dogbert as a frontline rep for tech support.

Scene One: Dogbert picks up phone.

Scene Two: Dogbert says “Shut-up and reboot!”

Scene Three: Client relays that it’s working and Dogbert interrupts “Shut-up and hang up!”

Scene Four: Dogbert reflects that his average call time is improving.

Average handle time is a call center metric that isn’t going away – it’s invaluable to workforce management as they piece together an elaborate puzzle of shifts, as well as to leadership while planning out the right growth strategy to manage increasing phone or chat queues.  But what has been the savior for staff planning has become extremely negative for customers who feel rushed off the phone.


Guess what folks – you might have reps on your team who are gaming the system, even if your scorecard is “balanced” between productivity and quality.  My father had a recent interaction with a company where he used their “request a callback” feature, and when he finally received the callback, the agent immediately hung up (no conversation at all!) and put him directly through to the voice of customer survey.

It could have been a legitimate mistake, but the stark reality is that it actually could have been a rep who was willing to sacrifice a few other customer quality metrics in order to lower their AHT for the month and salvage their shift bid process or incentive money.  Imagine how loyal a customer would be if they knew they had been interrupted and rushed off the phone not because of a rep’s poor soft skills, but because what leadership is prioritizing is how quickly that rep can move on to the next customer.

We frequently hear the rationale that “we don’t want to waste a customer’s time” or “customers are busy, so we move them through quickly.”  We’d definitely agree that extraneous small talk is not the way to spend your customers’ valuable time.  Interestingly, however, if the customer feels like the conversation itself is valuable, they are willing to spend more time with your people, learning about your products, understanding how to leverage your services better, and even opening up to cross- or up-sell opportunities. 


Our partners over at Tethr recently delivered some of their initial, aggregated findings from years of measuring customer effort through voice analytics with their clients.  One of the most interesting pieces of data he shared was that high performers are spending approximately 5% longer with their clients.  Said differently, longer calls are often the lower-effort ones!

What is the secret sauce that occurs in that extra 5% of time?  When Tethr analyzed the call flow of high performers, it was validating to see that they were utilizing the skills we teach in our Effortless Experience™ Capabilities Builder. 


For example, Tethr pinpointed skills that combat experience issues that customers have – such as acknowledging a customer’s baggage or conveying to the customer that the rep is their advocate.  The absence of these skills drives callbacks through a process we call rep fishing – the customer lacks confidence in the rep and chooses to hang up and call back for a different answer.

Another key skill that high performers embrace is forward-resolving a future issue  for the customer.  The customer doesn’t know what might lead them to call back in two weeks, but chances are, a rep does.  We teach reps to properly target the right callbacks and position them naturally in the immediate call.

In summary, don’t drive down AHT with the customers you have on the line today.  Instead drive down AHT by ensuring they don’t have to call back tomorrow.  If that call doesn’t exist – your AHT there is ZERO.

Amy Smith

Amy Smith is a Client Director at Challenger’s Effortless Experience™ team. In her role, Amy implements several tailored product offerings designed to help companies grow in their journeys to becoming low-effort service organizations.