How Reducing AHT Can Cut Costs While Improving Customer Experience

No matter what industry you’re in, companies are always looking for ways to reduce operating costs and improve the bottom line. Executives often hone-in on the call center as a prime place to begin cutting costs, but are challenged with how to do so, without negatively impacting the customer experience.

CSR Team

Rather than reducing staff or altering workloads, call centers should first look for a much more straight-forward approach to decrease operational expenses, such as reducing average handling time (AHT). AHT is the sum of talk time, hold time and call wrap-up time divided by the total number of calls. For large enterprise call centers that receive hundreds of thousands of calls, reducing the time needed to address each one – even by a few seconds – can add up to significant savings by enabling customer service representatives (CSRs) to handle more calls and therefore be more productive.

But, of course, if CSRs are rushing through calls in an effort to reduce AHT, customers may not be getting their issues adequately resolved, which can negatively affect the overall customer experience; agents may even be targeted on AHT and can hide behind poor call handling to ensure an AHT reduction by having the caller make repeat calls! The key to reducing AHT while still providing a positive customer experience is to focus on reducing the call time spent on transactions, such as taking payments.

When accepting payments over the phone, many call centers today ask customers to read their payment card information aloud to the CSR, a practice that actually increases AHT. That’s because payment card details are often misspoken by the customer, or misheard or miskeyed by the CSR. Frustration ensues on both ends as customers and CSRs need to repeat numbers back and forth, and entering a wrong number can cause the transaction to be rejected by the Payment Service Provider (PSP) and a failed transaction charge applied to the call center. Even worse, the practice can put customers’ personal data at risk. If the customer is in a public place when reading their payment card details aloud, for example, they risk exposing their sensitive data to a malicious eavesdropper or a rogue CSR who could copy the information for fraudulent use.

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Likewise, interactive voice response (IVR) systems used by some call centers can also cause frustration and negatively impact the customer experience – particularly when it comes to taking payments. If a customer miskeys their credit card number while using an IVR system, they often don’t know how to navigate the system to correct it, or simply hang up in scenarios such as debt collection. Without a CSR on the line to help, the customer is far more likely to end the call, potentially causing the company to lose a sale… or worse, lose a customer completely.

Fortunately, there are ways for call centers to reduce AHT, keep customers’ payment data secure improve the customer experience, and reduce costs all at the same time. Using advanced technology, call centers can have their customers securely input their payment card information via their phone keypad while remaining on the line with a live CSR. With this approach, the CSR can continue to converse with the customer and provide assistance, or even begin performing wrap-up tasks while the customer inputs their card details – further increasing productivity. By providing a single point of numerical entry, the opportunities for error are significantly reduced, and the CSR is no longer responsible for capturing the card details. Because the CSR and the customer are not spending valuable time re-reading numbers to each other, AHT, and in turn, costs, can be significantly reduced.

Perhaps most importantly, this process also improves data security. The audio tones from the customer’s telephone keypad are masked and the data is automatically and securely transmitted directly to the payment provider. This means that the CSR never hears the card details and the tones are masked in all audio recordings, significantly reducing the risk of fraudulent activity. Moreover, the payment card data never hits the call center’s IT systems, greatly reducing the scope of compliance for Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS) regulations. The entire process is not only more secure for the customer, but it also saves the call center a tremendous amount of time and money associated with maintaining PCI DSS compliance.

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Leading companies are already experiencing the benefits of using such technologies. One of Semafone’s customers, a global insurance brand, was able to decrease AHT by approximately 30 seconds per call using this approach in its call center. Similarly, a global telecommunications provider lowered AHT by 26 seconds per call (an 8-percent decrease). For large enterprises that receive hundreds of thousands of calls in their call centers, shaving 20 to 30 seconds off per call can add up to millions of dollars in savings per year and a significant increase in productivity.

As companies in every industry look for more ways to reduce operational costs and improve efficiency, reexamining the payment processes in their call centers represents the low-hanging fruit – an excellent place to start. Through the use of new technologies, they can cut call center costs by reducing both AHT and the costs associated with maintaining PCI DSS, all while continuing to deliver superior customer service and strengthening data security.

About the Author

Ben Rafferty is Global Solutions Director at Semafone. Rafferty has more than 15 years of experience of delivering speech recognition, IVR and contact center automation on CPE and hosted platforms. At Semafone, Rafferty is responsible for the smooth deployment of solutions into hosted environments and for the overall management of Semafone’s hosted offering. Starting as an engineer and working up through a variety of roles, Rafferty’s career includes the successful delivery of programs for a wide variety of organizations, including large multi-national corporations, such as SAP, Deloitte, Interflora and Odeon, as well as local and central government, Parliament, the NHS and all “Blue Light” services in the UK and Europe.

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