5 ways to shorten average handle time in your contact center

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5 min read

“Hold, please.” They’re two of the most dreaded words when you call a contact center, aren’t they? Who hasn’t had a bad experience with a call to a contact center that lasted much longer than it should have? Worse yet, maybe you’ve had one of those dreaded long calls that didn’t even end in finding a solution to your problem. As a customer, no doubt you thought that situation was unacceptable. The question is, do your customers have the same experience when they reach out to your contact center?


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How long does it take for an agent to handle a customer interaction in your contact center? Moreover, can an agent resolve a problem the first time a customer reaches out to you?

Average handle time and first call resolution are crucial metrics in a contact center, and if agents are spending too long on handling calls, or are frequently unable to resolve problems the first time a customer contacts you, that’s problematic. Read on to learn how to shorten the average handle time and boost first call resolution rates in your contact center.

What is average handle time, and why does it matter?

As the name implies, the average handle time is the average amount of time it takes for a contact center agent to handle a customer interaction.

Why does this contact center metric matter? Longer handle times could mean that agents don’t have the right training or tools to efficiently help customers.

That is not to say that all industries or all problems should have the same average handle times, however. You cannot measure average handle times in a vacuum. Some industries have more complex products or services, so when a customer reaches out to a contact center, it may take an agent longer to help that person. In addition, you don’t want agents to focus solely on average handle time at the expense of customer satisfaction or first call resolution; the goal is to solve the problem effectively and efficiently.

What is first call resolution, and why does it matter?

A contact center’s first call resolution rate measures how many issues are solved the first time a customer brings them up with a contact center. Even though many call centers have transformed into contact centers, the term “first call resolution” has stuck.

First call resolution matters because it’s closely linked to customer satisfaction.

As with average handle times, you can’t look at this contact center metric in a silo. Companies with complex services and products might see lower first call resolution rates than those in industries where products and services are simpler.

Reducing average handle time and boosting first call resolution

If you’re not satisfied by your contact center’s current average handle time and first call resolution rates, there are steps you can take to improve those metrics.

  • Empower agents with the right tools
  • Route calls to the right agent, the first time
  • Offer self-service options for customers
  • Reduce IVR  system complexity
  • Use supervisor tools to understand the root of the problem

Empower agents with the right tools

Agents armed with the right tools and contact center technology are better able to handle anything that customers may need on the spot.

What features should you look for in the right contact center technology? Here are two that are especially useful for first call resolution.

  • Internal directory with presence indicator, so agents can connect to internal experts
  • File sharing and collaboration, so customers can share all relevant information with agents and other employees

Representatives at their desks

When agents can turn to their colleagues for answers, it’s easier and faster to solve customer problems, and there’s a greater chance agents will be able to solve those issues the first time customers reach out to them.

Route interactions to the right agent

To illustrate the impact proper routing has, we’ll use an example.

Gina has just started working at a contact center. She’s learned most of what she needs to know to help customers, yet when it comes to solving issues, Gina has more learning to do. Her colleague Joe, by contrast, has worked at the contact center for three years and has dealt with a variety of problems (some of which are very complex). Intelligent routing sends more difficult, complicated customer issues to Joe, while directing more straightforward problems to Gina.

Routing interactions to the right agent can lower average handle time and boost first contact resolution. Agents with greater experience have a deeper understanding of the problem as well as how to deal with it efficiently.

Reduce IVR system complexity

Some IVR menus are complex, which leads to customer frustration and being routed to the wrong agent. By simplifying IVR menus, you can boost the chances that customers will be routed to an agent who can actually handle their problem efficiently, rather than someone who might not even be in the right department.

Offer self-service options to customers

Offering self-service options to customers allows contact centers to reduce average handle times and increase first call resolution because it enables customers to bypass the agents for simple questions.

Moreover, it gives you more accurate metrics. We’ll use another example to demonstrate: let’s say you run a banking call center without self-service options. Every time customers want to check their bank balance, they have to call you. Yes, agents are able to look up the bank balance and respond to the customer then and there, giving you a high first call resolution, but it’s not an efficient way to do business.

Use supervisor tools to understand the root of the problem

Cloud contact center solutions feature robust supervisor tools that give managers deeper insights into factors affecting agent performance. Supervisors can evaluate built-in analytics that measure how customers respond to what agents are saying or typing. They can search for key phrases and topics to better understand what barriers exist to first call resolution.

In addition, real-time call monitoring enables supervisors to detect any problems during an interaction between agent and customer. With whisper coaching and barge-in functionality, supervisors can steer an interaction toward an optimal conclusion.

RingCentral’s cloud contact center solution: improving the customer experience

RingCentral’s cloud contact center solution offers the capabilities you need to reduce average handle time, boost first call resolution rates, and improve your overall customer experience. Giving agents the right tools, intelligent routing, self-service options, simplifying IVR menus, and the right supervisor tools enable agents to work more efficiently and effectively. To learn more, download our eBook: The Future of Customer Experience.

 

Originally published Oct 25, 2021, updated Feb 11, 2022

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