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“Your call is important to us.” How to make sure long wait times are gone without hiring more operators

Photo by Icons8 Team on Unsplash
Photo by Icons8 Team on Unsplash

Everybody hates long wait times. Here is how you make them history.

Average Wait Time (AWT) and Average Handle Time (AHT): What they mean

Average Wait Time, or AWT, is the average time a caller spends waiting to be routed to a contact center agent. It’s also referred to as the Average Speed of Answer (ASA). So essentially, it’s about how long a customer keeps hearing the “your call is important to us” mantra before seeing for themselves whether it is or isn’t.

It is easy to calculate the average wait time at a call center. You only need to add the total wait times for all answered calls and divide it by the number of answered calls. The metric should not be considered in isolation. Some callers may abandon the call before speaking to the live agent. So, call abandonment must be considered to gauge the overall experience when accessing the ASA. 

I have seen the average waiting time confused with another important call center metric called the Average Handle Time. AHT reflects how much time an agent needs to solve a customer’s problem: from a customer initiating the call to the agent completing the follow-up tasks. 

Calculating the AHT is a little more involving than the ASA. You need to add all the time spent from the moment the customer dials your support number to the time they terminate the call.  It’s also necessary to add the After-Call Work tasks performed by the agent after ending the interaction with the customer. So, the formula entails:

Average Hold Time = (Total Talk Time + Total Hold Time + After-Call Work)/Total Calls 

What is the acceptable call wait time?

Experts state that it’s conventional for contact centers to try and answer 80% of calls in 20 seconds (also known as the 80/20 rule). 

This is not to say the rule can be applied to all industries. Research conducted by Call Centre Helper shows some customers don’t mind longer call wait times– it depends on what company they’re calling. It turns out in a sales contact center, more than 50% of callers hung up after 45 seconds of waiting, whereas in a tech support center, over half the callers did so after 95 seconds. 

The key takeaway is that customers’ expectations shape their views on acceptable wait times. 

The attitude towards waiting in a phone queue is changing over time. While most companies aim to answer calls within 20 seconds, they are generally not succeeding. 

So, what is the call center average wait time? Well, it tends to be above the time that most customers are willing to tolerate. While no recent comprehensive studies into average waiting time at call centers have been published, some sources have conducted surveys by calling into multiple call centers. When Formilla tested the phone customer service at 50 leading e-commerce sites, the call center average wait time was 3:12 minutes (102 seconds). 

If the problem impeeds the customer from performing a critical action or involves their funds rather than being informational, they may have no option but to wait, only that there is a breaking point. In 2014, Talkdesk reports, one study found out that the maximum hold time consumers could tolerate was an unbelievable 13 minutes. A 2018 research states that whereas over 60% of customers would settle for less than two minutes in a queue, 13% refused to accept any hold times at all. It turns out nearly one-third of consumers abandon the call and don’t ever try calling again if they don’t get a quick reply. Get your heads around this one guys. They don’t. Ever. Call. Back. Again. It is as bad as it sounds – these companies are losing customers. And I don’t need to remind you that acquiring a new customer costs five times more than retaining an existing one. 

Why are companies not giving a hoot about their call wait time? 

Well, they are. It’s just that the world isn’t what it used to be. The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted every single on-shore call center operation. Many were still struggling to transfer fully to WFH in August, some are still struggling today. As the world shut down, customers were stuck at home and the telephone was the closest thing to a human interaction with their favorite brands and service providers. Were the phones overloaded? You bet. Were the wait times long? I’ll just leave you with a report of a Las Vegas resident holding for 11 hours on the line to speak to the Nevada unemployment office. 

So it seems that the customers’ patience is running thin and the call center capacity is running thinner. 

How to improve average wait time call center with an AI conversational app

Interactive Voice Response Systems (IRVS) were touted as a solution but the consensus today is that they only make things worse because companies make mistakes with them and their limited capabilities. For instance, the information is often poorly organized with many options. IVRS may lack personalization, and companies may flood them with incessant promotions. 

Still, 67% of consumers hang up because they get frustrated that they can’t talk to a real person. 75% of customers say it takes too long to reach a live agent. 

Let me emphasize this again. At least 75% of customers are trying to reach a live agent the whole time they are talking to the IVR. The customers do NOT expect the automated system to solve their problems. At least, that opinion has been reinforced by interacting with other IVR automated response systems. 

Call center automation by leveraging the capabilities of AI conversational apps may be the ideal solution, and the technology far surpasses the capabilities of IVRS. It aims to replicate the same experience of talking to a live support agent with human-sounding voices and conversations. The AI may be programmed to handle common requests that live agents perform, such as amending service plans, giving out information, or processing billing.   

The takeaway here is if you are automating, your automation better darn sure be able to provide some VALUE to the customers on the line. What value? Well, can it solve any of the customers’ pain points? Can it answer any of their queries? If not – your solution is not a solution. It’s just a new form of the old problem. 

Find out if Dasha – the human-like conversational voice AI platform – is right for your business. Schedule a call with our AI expert here.

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