Here are some tips and best practices that you can follow to reduce your average handle time, without diminishing the quality of your customer service or killing yourself in the process:
1. Collect Information First
When you are contacted by a customer, there are certain bits of information that you know you will need to proceed. This information might include the customer’s name, their account number, and/or the reason why they are calling.
You can save time by collecting a visitor’s information as early on as possible. This helps to ensure that the customer has been routed to the correct channel, and that you are the right person to provide them with the help that they seek. In some cases, you may be able to obtain that information through a pre-chat survey, an email questionnaire, or through the options that the customer dialed into their phone before they reached you. Other times, you might have to ask your customer for additional information.
Before you begin a process, it is also crucial that you collect the information that you will need for that specific process. For example, if a customer tells you that they need a statement to be posted to them, but halfway through processing the statement they tell you they’ve changed their address, you might need to run a different process to edit their address before beginning the statement. By having to start a process over due to a lack of information, you waste valuable time, and end up doing double the work. You can avoid this by using great questioning to anticipate problems later down the line, and by asking all queries upfront.
Another point to remember is to make sure that the information that you are gathering is relevant, and that you are listening to your customers’ responses; customers don’t like to waste time any more than you do, and will feel annoyed if they feel like you are going off track or if they have to give you the same information twice. If your computer system is malfunctioning, and has had a history of erasing a customer’s information mid-process, start jotting that information down on a sticky note so that you don’t have to collect the same information a second time should the system time out.
By collecting information at the right time, in the right way, you will save both yourself and your customer the hassle of having to do more work, while reducing your AHT.
2. Stay Up-To Date on Policy, Procedure, and Products
Having to search for the correct information during a call can be a waste of time. That is why in order to reduce your average handle time, it is important to be in the loop and understand different elements of your company’s products and operations. This means being familiar with the following information:
- Your company’s FAQ section
- Your company’s products
- Shipping times
- Return/refund policy
- Other elements related to company policy (such as if your company will accept coupons from competitors)
- Any changes relating to policy, products, or special accounts/events
- Any active discounts
Make sure to be aware of this and any other information that you see fit or find yourself referring to often. If you see a need to learn new information, learn it! You will be doing both yourself and your customer a favor, and will be able to reduce AHT through your efforts.
Although digging for the right information may take some time, it is always better than giving out the wrong information. If you are ever unsure of something, don’t be afraid to invest a little bit more time in figuring it out: remember, quality service always comes before speed! Just be sure to give your customer the most precise hold estimate you can while you look up the relevant information; customers typically don’t like to be put on hold without knowing for how long. Whether you ask them to hold for one minute or one moment, they will appreciate the guesstimate.
3. Use Keyboard Shortcuts for Live Chat and Email Inquiries
Using keyboard shortcuts can make a difference when it comes to the amount of time you are spending on live chat and email inquiries.
Live chat especially has a number of shortcut options available. By setting shortcut keys for frequently used operations, such as to access canned messages or to switch between chats, you can save time in the live chat console and reduce your average handle time.
4. Keep an Organized and Active Live Chat Presence
With live chat gaining popularity among consumers, it is important to consider that the way in which you operate live chat means potential time-saving opportunities.
Customer service representatives often handle more than one live chat session at a time. The average customer service representative is often expected to handle at least two live chats simultaneously, and an experienced representative may be asked to handle upwards of three or four live chats at a time.
Your visitors don’t care about how many chats you are currently juggling—if you leave a customer waiting too long for a response, they could abandon the chat session and leave unsatisfied. This is why knowing how to effectively manage your average handle time for live chat is so important.
By improving your chat efficiency, you can save time and toggle more effectively between two or more chats. Here are some basic practices that you can adopt to improve your efficiency and lower your average handle time:
- Use features such as sound alerts to let you know when you have received a new message from a customer. This can help you respond immediately to the message and not keep your customers waiting.
- Set your live chat requests to be accepted automatically to avoid losing time.
- Use an automated greeting to immediately address to your customers.
- Set your live chats to be automatically sorted based on how long you have been unresponsive. This way, you can give priority to the customer who has been waiting the longest for your response, keeping your handle time low and your customers satisfied.
5. Use Canned Messages When Possible
Love them or hate them, canned messages are great time-savers. A canned message, or a canned response, is basically any pre-set response to a customer inquiry that you can copy and paste into an email body or a live chat messaging platform. With canned messages, you can greet customers swiftly and save time by avoiding repetitive typing.
When using canned messages, be sure to revise each message according to your customer’s specific issue. This means making sure that you personalize your messages, refresh your repertoire periodically, and follow other canned message best practices.
Note that while using canned messages can save you plenty of time, you don’t want to cut corners when it comes to using them. Always look over your live chat or email messages before you send them, to double check that you are using your canned messages properly. Make sure that the canned messages that you send answer exactly what your customers are asking you, and that they address all parts of their questions. If a customer is forced to enter back in contact with you over something that was not addressed properly, then your canned message will have been misused. While this might not hurt your AHT, your FCR will have been negatively impacted, which we want to avoid by all means necessary.
6. Create Cheat Sheets
Cheat sheets are a great resource for any customer service representative. You can create cheat sheets for a number of things, including the following:
- Must-know contact numbers
- VIP client information and numbers
- Notes on any recent changes to the system and/or any processes
- Key questions to ask for particular process types
- Recent promotions and their terms
- Estimated shipping times to different countries and/or states
- Commonly used wrap-up text (which you can copy and paste into your wrap-up notes for increased speed)
- Original, issue-specific canned responses (such as if you have a lot of emails one day regarding a specific system malfunction and need to introduce a new canned response to tackle them all quickly).
By using cheat sheets, you can have any necessary, frequently-used knowledge at your fingertips. Whether you save your cheat sheet as a document on your computer, or as sticky notes on your desk, this useful information will always be within sight, ready to help reduce AHT.
7. Keep Your Sights on the Goal
The goal of your call, email, or live chat session is to help the customer resolve their issue. Although you don’t have to do it at a running pace, it’s good to keep your contact with the customer focused and on track to speed things up.
Some customers may want to talk to you about things that are unrelated to their issue—like their weekend or their recent family events. This might happen if there is a moment of silence on the agent’s end, such as when the agent is waiting for the computer system to respond, or looking up relevant information.
If a customer gets off topic, respond in a polite, friendly way, and then gently nudge the topic back on track. When corresponding over the phone, it is very important to avoid interrupting customers or cutting customers off to try and get them off the phone faster. If you are unsure of how to keep the call on track without offending the customer, try something like the exchange mapped out below: