4 Ways to Slash AHT With Call Center IVR

4 Ways to Slash AHT With Call Center IVR

Post summary:

  • AHT makes a poor agent target but remains an important number for call centers to monitor

  • Call centers which manage to organically reduce handling time have lower costs and higher CSat

  • Many call centers are missing the ‘low hanging fruit’ of reducing handling time with their existing IVR systems

AHT Average Handling Time

Most call centers are smart enough to not make Average Handling Time (AHT) their main focus.

That being said, it’s still important to keep calls down to a reasonable length. For one thing, long calls are expensive calls. For another, customers generally want contact center services to be quick and easy to use.

In this post we’ll see how a few simple changes to your IVR can help to lower AHT. 

(About 20% of contact centers have never updated their IVR – so this is a good place to find competitive advantage!)

Refresher: What is AHT?

AHT is a call center metric that measures the total length of a typical interaction.

It usually includes everything from when the caller reaches an agent until that agent has completed all the work associated with the call.

Things to remember:

  • AHT doesn’t start as soon as the caller is connected to your call center (it starts once they reach an agent)
  • AHT doesn’t end once the caller hangs up (it ends when the agent finishes after-call work)
  • Hold time that happens during the call is included in AHT
Slash AHT with call center IVR

#1 Automatically identify your callers

Let’s start at the beginning.

The identity of your caller is pretty much the first thing you’ll need to know. That means using a totally unique piece of information to identify them.

Lots of businesses opt for a customer reference number (CRN) here. That’s useful internally… but CRNs can cause problems when you make customers rely on them to identify themselves.

For one thing, customers are prone to forgetting or misplacing their CRNs. 

(This problem can actually generate its own calls, often when customers trying to use self-service can’t find their CRNs!)

For another, entering a CRN always slows down calls.

Identifying callers automatically is easier!

Luckily, all your customers come with their own unique number; their phone number! Using CTI, your IVR system can identify each customer based on the phone number alone.

Is that a massive time saver? Cumulatively, yes!

More importantly, it’s what customers want. Around 70% of customers expect you to know who they are and what they’ve purchased immediately

So let your agents get straight into problem solving – rather than figuring out who exactly they’re talking to.

customer service priorities


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#2 Let your call center IVR do the data collection

Have you noticed that a lot of modern restaurants give the waiters iPads?

When you place your order with them, the details go directly to the kitchen so the chef can start cooking.

It’s definitely better than the old system of running hastily scribbled notes back and forth.

Why is that?

In this system, each resource is playing to its strengths. Sure, the iPad is better at recording and delivering information. But the waiter is still better at making sure diners have a good experience.

It’s the same with IVR and agents. IVR systems are great at gathering data before the caller is routed, and handing it over to the agent. Agents are great at using the data to solve the problem.

How do you get call center IVR to collect data?

You need to get data from the IVR to the agent, probably in a screen pop. That’s pretty simple to achieve – provided you’re able to integrate the IVR with your agent’s desktop systems.

The easy method is to use API integration to share the data. The API acts as a bridge between the systems, across which the data passes easily.

The bigger question is what kind of data your IVR can collect. A traditional DTMF system is quite limited. A caller might be able to indicate that they’re calling about an existing order. But what if they have a specific problem with one of several orders?

The best solution – move to a conversational IVR that uses Natural Language Understanding (NLU).

That lets customers simply state their issue (e.g. the shirt I ordered is the wrong colour).

An NLU system can also transcribe what the caller says. That means the screen pop contains a succinct but highly specific summary of the problem.

conversational IVR


#3 Make call routing more sophisticated

Your ACD bases routing decisions on many categories of data. Or… let me rephrase that. 

Your ACD should base routing decisions on many categories of data!

In practice, few call centers get more sophisticated than service / sales / other.

There are at least two data sets which should inform your routing:

  1. The historical data you have about this caller
  2. The call context, i.e. why they’re calling today 

Call centers fail to use historical data because their systems are poorly integrated. There’s no straightforward way to put that data – which lives in systems like your CRM or Helpdesk – to good use.

They fail to use call context because DTMF IVRs aren’t very good at gathering that information.

So what can call centers do?

Step 1: Integrate across APIs. That will connect tools like ACD, IVR and CRM. Then, create an automated ‘lookup’ where one system accesses data in another.

That’s your ‘historical’ data taken care of.

(Sound complicated? It’s not! Read: ‘Could you automate these 4 front-line contact center tasks?’)

Step 2: Improve your IVR’s data capture. In practice, this probably means adopting conversational IVR. That takes you from the long guessing game of DTMF systems, to a simple ‘I need to talk to someone about my bill.’

That’s your call context handled.

(And that’s not the only major benefit of conversational IVR. Read: ‘How Delta saves $5million per year with conversational IVR.’) 

Step 3: Create your routing methodology. The best call routing tools allow you to apply ‘tags’ to agents and teams. For example, you might want to route based on language. Your English speaking agents have the ‘English’ tag added to their profile, and so on.

These tools (including babelforce!) let you define and add as many tags as you need to organize your routing.

So once you have the caller data, your tags guide them gently to the exact right agent for their query. 

And it goes without saying – get the caller to the right agent and they’ll have a much smoother, faster experience.

IVR experience


#4 Integrate SMS with your IVR system

Usually, when we talk about the ease of integrating SMS with IVR it’s with a different purpose in mind: preventing calls.

(We made that case in: ‘SMS is the unsung hero of call center technology. Here’s why…’) 

It’s certainly easy to make the case for SMS. It’s a well established and widely trusted technology that practically everyone has access to.

But how does this impact AHT?

The simple answer is that key parts of many interactions – parts which an agent would otherwise  need to handle – can go through an IVR process instead.

For example, when a caller needs to confirm their identity. Security checks are a routine part of many interactions. They’re also a highly time consuming part, so it’s better all-round if callers can handle it in self-service.

A simple and unobtrusive automated process could easily halve AHT for some call types – as could any of the tips in this list! 

The path to achieving that begins with building bridges between different (often siloed) systems, and automating simple processes across those bridges. 

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