Long Handling Times? Good For You

2 min read

Average Handling Time (AHT) measures the amount of time that an agent spends per patient call, including talk time, holds or transfers, and wrap-up time. Before you approach handling time metrics it’s important to consider that the role of a patient access representative is more nuanced than an agent in other industries. Healthcare call center workflows are more complex, and patients expect a high degree of personalization and customer service through interactions that mirror care culture. While too long of handling times can still indicate a problem, too short can be a red flag. 

Average Handling Time is the single call center metric most indicative of the patient experience. A longer handling time may be perfectly appropriate if agents are delivering personalized service by taking the time to touch base with patients on a variety of needs, such as verifying patient data or checking for any upcoming medication refills, routine diagnostics, or preventative care. In healthcare, short handling times are inevitably linked to poor first call resolution rates and subpar customer service. In patient surveys, the words most used to describe a bad patient experience are “rushed,” “rude,” “wait,” and “dismissive.” When asked to identify why the patient experience was so important, more than half of patients point to being treated with respect and taken seriously. This emphasizes the importance of empathy and active listening which are essential soft skills that extend care culture over the phone.

AHT is most useful as a performance indicator when analyzed by its parts; talk time, hold time, and wrap-up time. Lengthy holds and wrap-time can be indicative of poor agent training, inefficiencies in workflows, or difficulties with software and technology. Unusually brief handling times can be problematic and are common when front desk staff is also responsible for phones, as it can become a habit to rush callers when busy with patients onsite. Streamlining internal processes and investing in automation where applicable can improve AHT and ease the burden on agents.

When 96% of patient complaints are related to customer service, then extended handling times are more valuable than any operational gains made by low AHT. What’s more important than performance metrics is that your workflows include multiple touches, ensuring that agents are making genuine connections and personalizing interactions with the compassion and empathy expected from healthcare professionals, and helping patients stay ahead of care needs. Striking a balance between efficiency and courtesy is critical.

Dive deeper into healthcare call center performance metrics is our white paper:

Behind the Metrics: Exploring The Realities Of Healthcare Call Center Performance Indicators