These days many IT departments are trying to encourage their customers to use self-help, or log their calls via the web. Despite this, the main contact method used to log calls with most Service Desks remains the telephone. This means that how the Service Desk team go about handling their calls to meet targets and handle fluctuating call volumes is very important.
Typically a Service Desk Manager has to balance several factors in considering how to manage the length of calls received by the Service Desk.
- Telephony SLAs (Service Level Agreements) in regards to the time taken to answer calls, and/or the number of calls abandoned (hang-ups prior to answer by a Service Desk Analyst).
- Watching the call queues, so that priorities can be shifted when calls are queuing.
- First Call Resolution SLAs – A target percentage of incidents, and maybe requests also, that are resolved on the first call or at the first level.
- Employee satisfaction – Service Desk Analysts often want to resolve calls, not just ‘tick and flick’, and to an extent their satisfaction with their role and the success factors/KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) of the role must be considered and managed as part of this picture.
Average Call Length and Maximum Call Length
A successful practice I have employed in the past is to set a target for average call length, and also some guidelines around maximum call length. The average call length or average handling time (AHT=call length plus wrap up time) should usually be a set KPI, whereas the maximum call length should be more of a guideline.
Maximum call length guidelines should include things like:
- Looking to wrap up a call once it is over five minutes if calls are queuing.
- Not to enter into advanced troubleshooting and resolution if you know resolution is likely to exceed a target, e.g. 15 minutes.
- Setting an expectation that when calls are queuing that each Analyst should look to wrap up their call as quickly as possible, and that their supervisor/manager may ask them to do so.
The average call length and maximum length guidelines should be set depending on the needs of the business and the associated SLAs and staffing levels. So if you have tight SLAs including a high First Call Resolution SLA but adequate staffing, you may not need to enforce tight controls on call lengths but instead would focus on individual call resolution KPI performance towards that SLA.
Supporting this with technology and reporting
To support AHT targets, you need several things in place, including:
- Daily reporting that covers average handling time (AHT=call length plus wrap up time) per Service Desk Analyst and as a team.
- Daily reporting of how you are tracking against defined telephony SLAs (e.g. 85% of calls answered in less than 30 seconds).
- As a bonus, it is nice to configure your ACD (Automatic Call Distribution) system so that the wrap-up time is automatically set to time out after 30 seconds or so. The Analyst then that target in mind and has to manually override if required.
Supporting management practices
These then need to be supported by management behaviours:
- Regular feedback on performance through different media. You can utilise a daily email update to the team on how you are tracking to SLA, or speak to an Analyst in person, or use employee of the month awards, team meetings, performance reviews etc. On a day of high call volumes, praise the Analyst who took a lot of calls. On a day of low call volumes, you may praise the Analyst resolving a lot of calls while within AHT KPI targets. Or you might do both daily or even look for other opportunities to praise or reward good performance (e.g clearing down emails, quick response to a major incident, positive feedback from a customer etc).
- Ongoing supervision. If the calls are queuing, ask the team to wrap up as quick as possible. If you ensure you’ve explained ongoing why you do this, and the team are bought into all the SLAs etc. that define success, and indeed are rewarded for it, they will respect this and generally respond well.
- Month to date performance tracking. If, as the month progresses, you are not on track to achieve SLAs, you may need to ask people to wrap up calls, or ask the question to someone who is on a long call, more often. Again, communication is key. Let the team know that this is coming, let them know when and why, and ensure they are thanked when they respond.
Trying to keep call lengths down is about achieving telephony SLAs and not keeping customers waiting. It is important to keep this in focus and remember that there are many other ways to contribute to this goal beyond just capping or averaging call lengths. Things like the way you use IVRs, the ACD system, the way you structure your team, the use of overflows, how you manage major incidents/outages etc. all form a big part of this picture.