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Can First Call Resolution and AHT work together?

Author Penocea
#1 | Posted: 27 Feb 2008 07:49 
I have mentioned this several months ago and received wonderful feedback. I am hoping for the same here. I would really like to hear from Customer Service Management and their opinions on this matter.

At my place of work we were trained in First Call Resolution which means the customers issues are handled during the first initial contact no matter how long the call takes. We are also required to now meet the goal of a 4:21 AHT (average handling time) per call. When I brought up to my supervisor that this is a contradiction and I would like to know exactly what is expected, First Call Resolution or AHT he said "We want both!" We still have not been trained on how to handle both at the same time. Only one.

I would like Management opinion as how this is suppose to work because they have asked us to perform this and my co workers are now beyond stressed out, very unhappy and actively looking for other employement. We are also monitored for our Customer Service Skills and if the call was resolved with accurate and precise information the first time which sometimes takes a bit of legislative research and time. Our monitors are also evaluated on standards of First Call Resolution and yet we still must meet our 4:21 AHT call time. This is a standard time that will be going down to 4:03 AHT in the next 30 days.

Please help me understand how this can work because all I get from Management is that we "have to do both", not how both can be accomplished. I feel as though they are asking me to walk and fly at the same time. I would like to share your ideas with my co workers who all about giving up on trying to figure this out on thier own.



Author ayaree
#2 | Posted: 29 Feb 2008 18:50 
Hi Penny, I remember this topic. What kinds of stats are you and your team making now? Are a lot of people taking longer than 4:21 ? Are there signs that multiple people are calling back either through source phone number or recorded personal info and seeking more-than-first-call-resolution service? Are the people that call back multiple times (they need more than first-call-resolution) also people that were engaged in calls that lasted less than 4:21 (mostly, half and half, less than half of the total calls)? Those are all questions the people looking at metrics should be concerned with.

It sounds like the legislative research that is required during the call is a verification step that makes people feel like they are automatically going to be slowed down, no matter what they do. I wonder if there is anything that can be done to make the tools that make legislative answers available are the best that they can be. Can you follow your finger through some easy chart for these questions that open up the door to "legislative research" or do you have to leaf through Bible-style paper and read fine print and stand on your head to find the answer? People who are mindful of metrics will want to think about that too, and so would trainers--who would have a bigger stake in the topic.

I wouldn't know how to squeeze a full resolution that involves what you consider to be complex into a 4:21 window and guarantee that what I did was satisfactory per se, because I don't know the topics, but if I had to sit down and figure this out, the first thing I would do is scratch down a list of the things that are obstacles to being quick (or effective) and then scratch down what I could change about how I am supposed to complete the work.

I gather that there has been little secret between team and managers that this 4:21 expectation has been an ongoing concern. Your analogy about walking and flying at once might very well be accurate, but I wonder whether there is information about reps who are able to complete their most complex calls (inclusive of "legis. research") within this window of time. If there are, is there something that can be learned from them and has training already focussed on their handling and tried to find ways for others to produce similar results? If the window of time is going to drop down to about 4 minutes even, then that makes me pose the question, because there must be something that is encouraging management to believe that this target is feasible, is that not correct? What would be nice would be to find ways that the larger group can achieve the goals that are in place. A constructive goal too.

Author Penocea
#3 | Posted: 5 Mar 2008 18:51 

I was hoping you would see this. This will be long. I hope you have several hours put aside. I want to give you an idea of my work environment. Our average hold time during the hours of 11:00 and 2:00 can reach over 10 minutes. The reason for our 4:21 AHT. I feel for the customers there.

Here is an example of a typical call. I receive a large amount of these type of calls per day.

Customer: "My driver's license is suspended, how do I get them back so I can drive?"

First I must verify the account of course which includes, date of birth, address, driver's license number. If the address is incorrect or if they do not know their driver's number, then the call takes another turn. Once all information is verified I go into the record which lists all the orders on record that is causing a suspension. Sometimes these can be several pages long. Each conviction is explained to the customer including the dates, descriptions of the individual convictions along with contact numbers to the courts. This is repeated several times when you realize they lied about having a pen and paper to write down the vital information and you end up repeating the orders again. Once we have discussed the convictions, I explain how they can obtain their license. That is another monster. Every situation is different. Sometimes we must collect fees over the phone from the customer.

We have an intranet system which we navigate through. Each scenerio is covered. They are very helpful and I have no problem knowing exactly where I need to go to find the answer. But to explain these laws to a 65 year old lady sometimes takes more time than a quick read. My mother is 65 years old and I am not getting off that phone until Miss Daisy is comfortable with my answers to her questions. AHT or not.

No one is making the numbers all around. Some have low talk times and great monitors. I fit into that category. My monitors are great at 98%. I give accurate information and have a great repore with the customers. My attendace is at 100%. My phone availablity is at 98%. My average call time is 5 minutes. I am concidered a poor performing employee. Some of the Reps have horrible monitors but great AHT times. They are also considered a poor performing employee.

The target is not feasible. Management wants the average hold time for the customer to be under say 7 minutes. Average in the number of your call center agents and number of calls on any certain day and this produces the 4 minute handeling time. Results so far. Repeat call backs from customers. Management response to this is the First Call Resolution philosophy.

As to training. We have none. I have asked several times for training on some of the topics that really slow me down like salvage vehicles and Commercial Driver's License. I am still waiting.

Author ayaree
#4 | Posted: 6 Mar 2008 19:33 
Howdy Penny, what a nice opening line for me to find!

There will definitely be other voices out there who deal with call center stats on a daily basis and have responses that are more in tune with the points you are raising. But I will try to do you some good with my own brand of thinking cap while I look at this as a problem to solve with reasonable intelligence as my foundation--which may not be enough, ha ha.

It sounds like I see two types of things that slow you down. One is the running through the list of charges when you call up a record and coming to "this is how you are going to get to drive or not." The other type are specific topics that you don't feel versed in.

In the first one, running through the list on the screen: is there anything you can do to speed yourself up (I think I have asked this, but I have not circled back to our old posts), can you break the wording down, can you spell it out faster as you go through each one or are you being monitored for using the word-for-word kind of speech? You handle calls in a way that ensures a good rapport on a subject that is not exactly about winning free tickets to a rock concert, and that is a really good skill. Can you take that and build on it, and use phrases or vocal techniques that can take charge of the conversation more, so that you end up increasing speed? Call this your self-help "delivery" kit. This is where you can look for anything in your speech and the way your brain works to create a desired effect. (I have in the past studied myself--independently as well as through a seminar--and changed the way my body moves, used certain ways of moving, using my hands, using my eyes, my smile, my voice intonation, my voice level, where my head/eyes move.....in order to increase my effectiveness at talking to people face to face or to a group. If you have ever played a musical instrument, you will recognize this as learning to play an instrument with what you were born with, yourself. If no instruments, what about learning to drive a car? Make yourself the car. Good at ironing? Applying cosmetic make-up? Compare this to those things. You want to look at yourself with a microscope and see if there is ANYTHING you can find in YOURSELF that is already a solution. You just have to be the instrument you are playing.

In the other one, the specific topics: if you have not already done this, can you start a sheet (or sheets!) with specific questions from callers that you know darn well made you slow down because you were not armed with information. Can you list specific phrases (not necessarily used by callers but you know of them--just don't know how they fit in) and include those on this sheet. Then make another version of this sheet with your approach to the things you wrote down on the first one. In other words, on the first one, just list out everything with a dash next to it and a blank. On the second version, put what you think you are supposed to do or what you think the definition is. And leave blanks where you can't fill anything in. Then ask yourself if there is a person in your team that has intentions similar to yours (success at eliminating any cases where you are not armed with information and have not received training that would put these questions to rest). Is there a person? Who is it? Is it a coworker? Do they want to put a stop to the problem for the sake of success too? Or do they want to complain and add to worries? (Then don't choose them.) Is it the manager? Is it a trainer? If you ultimately have no one that you can work with to bang out these problems, then I can only say that you would have to present your boss with either the list that has a bunch of blanks OR the list that has some Penny thinking included after the dashes. This is your intention to succeed at attaining the targets our team is looking for and here are the places where you are going to eliminate obstacles to that, can you get some clarification on these things, was anything missed in training, was there change in job knowledge that did not make its way to you? You will want to make sure you are making this a construction step, no matter what you do.

Not sure how much that will help you, but if you gave those a try (sought ANYTHING you could possibly develop in your speaking manner, computer navigation etc for the charges; and sought and hopefully obtained answers to specific topics and phrases that need meat between the slices of bread to make a sandwich)......then you could take a look after about a month and see what your stats are looking like.

Now, it's going to depend on a positive outlook, and you are interested in arriving at a good outcome. You have been living with this topic for a while and it is significant to you. Ideally your management would be impressed with your demonstrated intentions of finding a way to increase your performance, and that you are a helpful resource in the larger picture of "change."

There is a phrase that comes from a religious context I have always liked and it is " the Lord helps those who helps themselves." Not trying to ask anyone to be religious or to look at the words in a religious way, but I find the phrase pretty interesting, just because it sounds so encouraging to me, it makes me feel confident. Being confident is the "point" that need to matter here. The other way of saying it is: "It can start with me." And something really important can happen after that.

Penny, what can you start? Try to go uphill a little bit more and see what you can do. Will check in on you :)

Author johnny458
#5 | Posted: 9 Mar 2008 22:12 
Hello Penny,

First Call Resolution and Average Handle Time - Two of the most frequently used terms in the industry...and two of the most important parameters of any operation ! When you look at it from your management's point of view, they would feel that that time they have given you - 4.21 minutes is good enough to provide any information to a caller. They would probably have a lot of data supporting that decision.

However, from the operations point of view - it might seem to be a lot to deliver in a very small amount of time. And this would be more complicated if you have agents who are stressed out or unconvinced about the possibility of this requirement. In such a situation, I always look for "work-arounds" - In this case, I know I cannot get the management to agree to a longer AHT and I also have to work within my time constraints. So here are my suggestions:

1. Firstly, I'm sure you would agree to the fact that not ALL calls are long ones. Some of them might be very short calls and some very long ones - at the end of the day, the Average Handle Time should be 4.21 minutes or less - thats what we need to work towards.

2. In case you feel a caller needs a lot of information which would mess up your AHT, why don't you offer to send him an email with the necessary details. You could build up templates for common issues that usually extend the talk time/ handle time and just email it to the customer. The good thing about this option is that you can go over to the next call and simultaneously send that email - saves you a lot of time.

3. You could also encourage the customers to try and help themselves by providing them with the necessary weblinks to information on your company's website.

4. The most important part is the team - you need to keep them in good spirits and your team should be willing and capable of standing up to the challenge. Work out some good incentive schemes - anything would do - even chochlates, fancy pens, movie tickets, "Top Performer of the week" certificates...etc. (I leave that to your imagination !). The funda is AHT is a direct reflection of the efficiency of the agent and FCR reflects the agent's knowledge of the subject. Encourage your team to deliver precise and quick information, taking care not to sound rude or in a hurry. It might be difficult at first, but certainly achievable !

Good Luck !

Author ayaree
#6 | Posted: 7 Apr 2008 18:26 
Penny, what do you think about what Johnny has said on ways to look at the metrics? Has anything evolved in the situation you were describing?

Author perkydishong
#7 | Posted: 7 May 2008 20:01 
In my organization we believe that you should try and resolve everything on the initial call because it saves time in the long run plus it makes the customer happier b/c you took the time to resolve their issue.
You cannot have a 4 minute handling time and first call resolution. It just doesn't work that way, at least for those of us that truly have the customers best interest in mind.
I do agree that you need to look more into what is the average handling time now versus what they are asking of you? What was the average call time when you did first call resolution?
Are you taking other calls besides call that need resolution? For example are you on a customer service team that answers product questions, order questions and issues and concerns or are you in a specified resolution dept?
If you do take other calls what is the percentage of calls that you handle that need resolution? Maybe that average is within what your management is asking of you.
I agree it does need further analysis in regards to numbers. I would think that management would have taken all of those variables into consideration and maybe they just did not explain every detail to you guys.

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 Can First Call Resolution and AHT work together?

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