5 Creative Ways to Lower AHT in Times of Crisis

5 Creative Ways to Lower AHT in Times of Crisis

The perfect metric to gauge customer service is Average Handle Time (AHT). In times of crisis, you’ll want to get creative with AHT.   Now, more than ever, don’t use AHT just for speed to resolution. Instead, focus immensely on customer satisfaction. If you have the lowest average handle time, but terrible customer satisfaction, it’s not worth it. This is especially true in times of crisis.  

In times of crisis, a part of our brains (the amygdala) lights up with activity. A basic primal instinct that’s kept us cautious also gives us heightened responses.  When there’s fear and negativity, we also remember more. 





“Some people do have a more positive outlook, but almost everyone remembers negative things more strongly and in more detail.”– Clifford Nass, a professor of communication at Stanford University.

Customers will react with heightened emotions and will remember what you do now more than ever.  Especially, if their experience is negative. 

The strategy is to place customer satisfaction at the forefront of AHT. To do so, focus on effectively using and measuring these 5 skills:  

  1. Upfront call control
  2. Active listening
  3. Polite interruptions
  4. Proactivity
  5. Justification 

These 5 skills will help focus on increasing customer satisfaction, while also lowering AHT. If you’re an agent, bookmark these for easy viewing.  If you’re a manager, make sure all your reps are using these skills on a daily basis. 


1. Upfront call control

In times of crisis, you’ll want full control of your calls.  The best way to do this is to set the standard at the very beginning.  Control the conversation by asking as many yes/no questions or simple response questions as possible.  The beginning of your calls should sound something like this:

 Thank you for calling Acme! My name is Julie. To start, may I please have the phone number associated with your account?”

 “Yes, my number is _____”

 “Is this Joe?”


Not only will this intro help reduce AHT, but it will help you give better service.  By getting the right information from the start in a very controlled manner, you’ll be able to help your customers as efficiently as possible. If you continue to ask mostly yes/no questions or simple responses questions,  you’ll lower talk time and you’ll increase customer satisfaction by getting to the problem as quickly as possible.  


2. Active listening

 “Being completely focused on what the other person is saying, confirming your understanding of the other person’s point, and listening with all your senses”

In times of crisis, customers may be less concise. Customers may give you long-winded explanations, especially when they’re explaining a problem that needs fixed quickly. Let them communicate to you what they know and use active listening to steer the conversation. Proper active listening confirms what the customer is saying and helps you emphatically steer the conversation.  Here’s an example: 

Customer: “The faucet is leaking.  I had to put a bucket under the sink so it wouldn’t ruin the cabinets.  I think the leaking has something do with the recent installation of the faucet.  But it could also be from when I was trying to adjust the garbage disposal. This is entirely frustrating.  I really would like to figure out.”

You: “I heard you say there’s a leak that needs fixed as soon as possible and totally understand how that’s frustrating. Could you tell me more about when the water started leaking?”

Notice that the customer service rep quickly summarized 5 sentences into 10 words, used two emphatic statements, and moved the conversation along.  This is a template for great customer service, especially in times of crisis. 

Use active listening to let your customers know they’re heard and to help them summarize their points.  This will allow you to reduce overall talk time and if you have a clear understanding of the problem but need another team member’s help, you’ll reduce the time they’re on hold.  Additionally, active listening will help you build a bond while displaying empathy. By using active listening, you communicate to customers that what they say matters immensely. 


3. Polite interruptions

We’ve all been on calls when the customer seems to be talking in circles or veering way off-topic. Use polite interruptions to guide the conversation and regain control by focusing on why you’re on this call.  Use interruptions sparingly and never cut off the customer mid-sentence.  

When you find your customer talking in circles or veering way off-topic, look for quick pauses. Those are your times to shine.  A quick pause will allow you to quickly interject with a phrase like: 

  • “I’d like to add something to that,”
  • “To clarify”
  • “Joe, if I may,”
  • “So what you’re saying is”

After you politely interrupt them, always thank them for allowing you to interrupt.  

  • “Hey, Joe, thanks for allowing me to clarify.  Does X make more sense?   
  • “Hey, Joe, thanks for allowing me to jump in. Did that explanation help?  

If you follow these two steps, you’ll have better control of the conversation, which will lower AHT, and you’ll be emphatic, which will increase customer satisfaction. 

You’re going to need to use polite interruptions, so be prepared and have a routine.  This might be clearing your throat or always saying the customer’s name first. Sometimes the customer will cut off your interruption.  Let them, but when they’re done, repeat what they said and use yes/no questions to regain control. If you get good at polite interruptions, you’ll be able to lower talk time drastically because you’ll be able to take back control of the conversation.  Realize, customers want to stay on track and with polite interruptions, you’re helping them solve their problem quicker.


4. Proactivity

Assertively proposing a next step. 

At the end of each section of a call is a brief moment that separates good customer service agents from great customer service agents.  It’s their ability to proactively transition. Most people think a good transition is something like, “let’s move to your problem.” You’ll want to be very assertive and use empathy during these times.  Here’s a great example:

 “I understand what you’re saying.  Let’s talk about how you can fix this.  First, you’ll want to….”


This phrase contains two emphatic statements, a strategic use of “let’s” (which shows customers you’re there to help them), and a quick pivot to the next step.  The combination of empathy, proactivity, and jumping right into how you can help, will lower AHT and raise customer satisfaction.  Try it on your next call. 

Remember, you’re in control of your calls. Show customers that although they have the lead, you’re there to help them get to the solution as quickly as possible.  Do so by assertively proposing a next step in those make-or-break moments of the calls. 


5. Justification 

Offering reasoning/clarification behind the choice.

Anytime you politely interrupt or propose a next step, give a reason behind why you’re doing so. Use the word “because” as often as possible.  Here’s why:

In 1978, Ellen Langer, a professor of psychology at Harvard University, did a study on the word “because.” Langer found that when using the word “because” people were allowed to cut the line (to use the xerox machine) far more often.

Without “because”, people were allowed to cut the line 60% of the time

With “because”, people were allowed to cut the line 94% of the time 

That’s a 57% difference…  Interestingly, the words after “because” really didn’t matter. 

 On calls, use one of these phrases so that your customer knows the reason behind your action: 

  • “Joe, if I may, I’d like to help you get a better grasp of what causes leaks because you would better understand why we need to do X.”
  • “Let’s move onto understanding what we’re dealing with here because I know you have a lot on your plate.” 

Your customers will follow you if you give justification. This will help you move the conversation to where you need it to go and in turn, control the call.  Use the word “because” as often as possible and fully explain your reasoning behind the choice.



Your goal throughout your calls should be to be as concise as possible and to steer the conversation in the most productive way possible.  By using upfront call control, active listening, polite interruptions, proactivity, and justification you’ll be able to lower talk time, have a clear understanding of your customer’s problem, and easily guide them on the steps they need to take. The only other thing you can do is track each of the metrics to see your effectiveness.  Here’s how: 

Record your calls and print out a few of the transcripts.  You’ll want to highlight areas where you used each of the skills and highlight how that impacted customer satisfaction.  For example, if you thought you politely interrupted but the customer actually took it the wrong way, you should be able catch what went wrong so you can do it correctly the next time. Additionally, you can create averages for how many times you used each skill and then continually try to beat those averages. Lastly, if you go through your calls, you’ll be able to pick up on areas where you used too many words or there was a lot of silence.  Note those scenarios because they’re negatively impacting your AHT.  Constantly try to increase the number of skills used, decrease number of words, and decrease total silence. If you’re successful here, your AHT should go down and your customer satisfaction should go up. 

If you’re looking for an easier way than recording and writing out transcripts on your own, we suggest you pick up a real-time call monitoring software. A post call solution will readily give you transcripts and call recordings , but a real-time solution will help you use these 5 skills more often in every conversation.  At Balto, we’ve helped customer service teams decrease AHT by over a minute while increasing customer satisfaction. You can learn more by clicking the button below. 


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