In looking at the activity on the blog, I noticed one of the most popular searches was the phrase “average speed of answer“. So, in the spirit of XCS, I thought I should say a few things about the topic.
First, I should mention that anything I know about managing call center KPIs, I learned from Don Szczepaniak and Lorraine Robbins who managed the Panasonic Consumer Call Center during my tenure there. They are amazing people that know much about the dynamics of call center statistics.
Average Speed of Answer (ASA) is one of the key metrics related to “accessability”, the measure of how easily a customer reaches an agent. Other related measures of accessibility are service level, and abandon rate.
Average speed of answer is defined as the average speed in which a customer is reached by an available agent after being placed in Queue. ASA does not include IVR time (the time it takes for a customer to go through the maze of options).
ASA has a high correlation to customer satisfaction. It is, in fact, an inversely leading indicator of Customer Satisfaction. That is, by managing ASA you are directly and inversely influencing Customer Satisfaction (as ASA goes up, customer satisfaction goes down).
Another interesting aspect of ASA is that it is laterally skewed. That is, if ASA is very high, your customer satisfaction is guaranteed to plummet. However, a very good ASA does not guarantee improved Customer Satisfaction.
ASA has a precarious threshold upon which it begins to exponentially impact customer satisfaction, your call center’s efficiency and costs. Past this threshold, which differs by industry but is rarely higher than 5 to 7 minutes, customers grow impatient of waiting and begin to abandon (hangup). This is the antithesis of a call center’s mission and should be fought at all costs. Priority number one is always . . . “answer the phone”.
What is an acceptable ASA?: The acceptable ASA for your customers will depend on your industry and the main reason for the call. The acceptable ASA can be estimated by correlating the ASA to average talk time (the time it takes an agent speak with the customer which excludes wrap time), and the abandon rate. You will see in your stats that both, average talk time as well as abandon will suddenly increase at a certain level of ASA, usually in that order. You may want to set the upper limit of your service level standard slightly below this number.
ASA is similar but different than Service Level. Service level measures the percentage of the customers reached by an agent in a certain period of time. For example, 80/30 is the service level where 80% of the customers reach an agent within 30 seconds during a prescribed period.
Service level, as a measurement is not affected by highs and lows, it simply measures the percentage of total calls answered by a certain time. This measure is usually taken every half hour in order to provide statistically meaningful and controllable sampling.
These are some of the ways that ASA affects the call center and your customer (not an exhaustive list).
High ASA is inversely proportional to Customer as well as Agent Satisfaction: After a certain level of ASA, perhaps around 5 minutes for an order taking call center or perhaps 7 minutes of support call center, customers will begin to abandon.
High ASAs affect your efficiency: If the customer stayed on the line even as they grew impatient of waiting, the receiving agent can expect to spend anywhere between 30 to 60 seconds listening to a now difficult customer, who may find it necessary to vent their frustrations. This imposed dynamic on the call usually results in difficult communications and a reduction in First Call Resolution rates.
One should not underestimate a customer’s need to prove their point about waiting too long, as source of dissatisfaction. Once a customer is upset about having a long wait they can (consciously or unconsciously) make it very difficult for the agent to help.
ASA will increase your costs: As ASA increases, you will pay that much more in telecommunication charges as well as the associated costs of the inefficiencies and the lack of Customer Satisfaction mentioned above.
Causes of increased ASA:
Here are some causes (not exhaustive)
Staffing – Lack of appropriate agent staffing will increase ASA as customers wait for a shortage of agents to become available. Where there is insufficient agent staffing levels, any other solution will rarely have large scale affect.
Training - Lack of appropriate training or agent ability will increase Handle Time, and will therefore increase the ASA.
Inefficient processes or system response time- Again, anything that increases Handle Time will increase ASA. Make sure your agents are not distracted away from the call by inefficient processes.
Poor or no skills based routing – The main goal of any call center is to match the customer’s need with the appropriate/knowleable agent. Lack of ability to match a customer’s needs with the right agent skill will increase ASA.
Some technologies that can help manage high ASA:
Workforce Management: Scheduling the appropriate number and skills on half hour intervals through a scientific and consistent methodology is key to staffing appropriately. Depending on the size of the call center and the number of queues, manually calculated schedules and staffing can cause great staffing difficulties and thereby ASA problems.
Skills based Routing: The ability to better match an agents skills with customer needs will improve ASA by reducing handle time and increasing First Call Resolution. (Customers whose problems were solved on the first call don’t need to call back another time!)
Auto Call back features: Although this feature should not be used as a permanent solution to ASA, it can be helpful in managing an ASA emergency. The auto call back feature prompts the customer for a phone number and allows the customer to hang up while keeping the customer’s place in line. When the customer’s turn in Queue arrives, the customer is called and immediately placed with an agent.
Agent Station-based Electronic Training: Increasing an Agent’s skills will help reduce handle time and thereby decrease ASA. Station based electronic training will push training content, as prescribed by a supervisor, during valleys in call volume. This is a cost effective and proven method of focused training.
This post is much longer than I’d like (Sorry), so I will stop here although there is so much more to say.
If there is interest, we can cover management of ASA in a subsequent post.
In fact, I can ask our resident call center operations guru, Dru Phelps, to get deeper on the topic than I could ever hope to do myself.
Let me know.
Hope this was of assistance.
Committed to XCS !