Reduce AHT to Reduce Costs

No matter the industry, reducing costs is among the top business concerns of any C-level executive. In fact, a 2016 Deloitte survey revealed that 67 percent of business leaders expect cutting costs to be their number-one priority. But this begs the question: where, exactly, are the best places to reduce expenses and, in turn, increase profit? The call center is a great place to start.

Typically, salaries are the primary cost driver in the call center, accounting for approximately 80 percent of operational expenses. Yet, rather than reducing staff (which no call center wants to do), there is a much simpler pathway to cost savings: reducing average handling time (AHT). AHT is traditionally calculated by taking the sum of talk time, hold time, and call wrap-up time divided by the total number of calls. So, if your call center is taking hundreds of calls a day, and you are able to take a few seconds off each call to reduce your AHT, the time savings quickly add up and translate into cost savings. Essentially, your call center can speak with more customers in the same or a shorter amount of time, doing more with less. Moreover, by looking at AHT alongside predicted call volume and delivery, call centers can re-examine their resource models and staff their operations to meet customer demand. Thus, they are able to better use their workforces and save additional costs. 

How to reduce AHT to reduce cost

Now that we know reducing AHT can lower costs, how does one actually do this? Some call centers are finding other ways to interact with customers beyond the telephone, like web chat and self-service applications, to lower their AHT. But what if your customers prefer to interact with customer service representatives (CSR) over the phone, particularly when making payments? While payment transactions via the phone might be more convenient for some, they are a prime culprit for increasing AHT. 

From start to finish, payment transactions can be time-consuming, especially if customers must read their card numbers out loud. If CSRs mishear or mistype the card numbers, the transaction could be rejected by the payment service provider (PSP). This not only leads to repeat calls and customer aggravation, but can also result in failed transaction charges for the call center. Plus, regional dialects, accents, and even poor connections can complicate the information exchange, further increasing AHT.

While some have turned to interactive voice response (IVR) systems or automated payment processes, these technologies have an unfavorable reputation for increasing customer frustration and often, AHT. If customers miskey their credit card numbers using an IVR system, they often don't know how to correct it. Instead, they simply hang up the phone, creating a scenario that negatively impacts both customer satisfaction and first contact resolution (FCR) metrics, as well as the bottom line.

A new approach to phone payments

To make reducing AHT when taking payments via the phone easy, you must make the transactional portion of the call as streamlined and efficient as possible. Business leaders should look to call center technologies that can provide secure capabilities for the payment transaction portion of the call, while keeping live CSRs on the line for when customers need assistance. This approach allows callers to securely enter their payment information using their phones' keypads, giving them control over their own personal data. The keypad tones are masked so that card numbers are never revealed to CSRs, who do not need to reconfirm numbers or transfer customers to an IVR or other system. And, data is securely and automatically routed directly to the payment processor, which reduces the scope of compliance with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard. The technology performs early BIN and Luhn checks in real time, significantly reducing the risk of failed transaction charges and time-bound reattempts, allowing CSRs to carry out other wrap-up activities and focus on first contact resolution.

Furthermore, this approach ensures that customers' sensitive information does not enter the call center infrastructure. Information is shielded from CSRs (and nearby eavesdroppers) who might intend to use it for fraudulent activity, and is also kept safe from outside cyberattacks. This drastically reduces the risk of a brand-damaging data breach, which could potentially cost a company millions of dollars.

Real-life successes in AHT reduction

Using such an approach, a global insurance company decreased AHT by approximately 30 seconds per call. CSRs no longer create errors by mishearing or miskeying numbers. They can take care of other tasks while customers enter their card details, thereby increasing productivity. Similarly, a global telecommunications provider lowered AHT by 26 seconds per call (an 8 percent decrease). For large call centers that receive hundreds of thousands of calls, an 8 percent decrease in AHT is extremely significant and can add up to millions of dollars in savings per year.

In a day and age when cutting costs is top of mind, businesses can quickly realize tangible results by reducing AHT in their call centers. Through new technologies that securely allow customers to input their card information, organizations can eliminate errors, improve CSR productivity, prevent failed transactions, safeguard their reputations, and positively impact the overall customer experience. The resulting cost savings, along with happier customers, prove that less really is more when it comes to AHT.

 Ben Rafferty is gloabl solutions director at Semafone.