Activity Time the only way to review how long contact really takes

Activity Time is a way of thinking about how traditional contact takes in terms of delivering customer interactions and the impact it has on your business.

Imagine it’s a bright and sunny Monday morning.  You arrive into your business ready to take on the world.  Where to start?

How did my teams do last week and where does the business need to focus it’s efforts to make this week even better than last week.

The usual focus is reports.  Dig them out and read some numbers… more professionally known as metrics.

Yet do these metrics really tell you the whole picture.  Here is a way to review those metrics and ask some fundamental contact centre questions.

  • About Time
  • Appropriate metrics
  • How to change

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About Time!

Am the boss, need the info.

Regardless of how you measure how well you’re doing a quick review of the average amount of time your team spent on the phone last week is always a first port of call.

This is called Average Handling Time (AHT) and some managers treat it as a dirty word.  It isn’t.  It is a first port of call in a series metrics.

If you’re lucky enough to have a unified communications platform in your business, great, you should have an interaction time no matter the types of interaction.

The problem for the contact industry was this used to become the primary metric upon which managers based their businesses, especially outsourcers.


If they pay per call model was used, the more calls, not longer calls meant bad customer service crept in to help increase the profitability of the interactions.

Acknowledging that the model can be misused, you should be able in less than 5 minutes get a report for last week which tells you by person the average times spent in contact and an overall for teams and the entire department.

Can’t do that… there’s your first fix for next Monday.  Not have someone generate that report for you… that you can get into a system and get that report for yourself at any point.

Any phone system worth turning on in today’s IT terms can do this for you.  By having an at your finger tips reporting system, you can check all week long how you’re doing and not take up staffs time generating you reports.

Get it sorted, have this information at your fingertips all week long.  Someone can access it somewhere to generate that report for you.


Activity Time

Now the oft missed next metric in the series is Activity time.

When a call finishes, there are two things that happen.  1. there is nothing left to do   or 2. there is some follow up work.

I remember when I worked in Gateway, you kept the customer on the phone until you had done all your typing and reporting.  This was so the AHT reflected how long ALL the work took but it made the customers unhappy.  You learned to type faster or do typing whilst on your next contact.

If there is follow up work to do, the common approach is to use something called “wrap up time”.  This is a special code put into the system by the agent to flag “I’m not ready for another contact I need to do some paperwork or similar.”

Call time + Wrap time = Activity time.

This is where life gets a little fuzzy.  Technically you don’t know where wrap time is being assigned.  If you penalise / push too hard on your teams they simply won’t log the time and you don’t get an accurate reflection of where the time is going.

As the manager you need to see if you have a “billing enquiry”  there is X call time but your internal process requires Y wrap time to email / communicate over next steps to another department or escalate to a specific person.

As a result being able to report on activity time by activity type SHOULD be in your arsenal and instantly available to you.

How long do you billing enquiries take compared to your new account setup enquiries?  Can some staff achieve those activity types better than others?


Case Time

The last port of call in terms of time is case time.  Case time is where an activity starts and ends which may span multiple contacts.

Case time became more important than AHT as an evolution of reviewing operations.

First Call Resolution (FCR) means that in one call you solve the customer issue.

This is a better process right?  Nope.


Actually what was being measured was the amount of time it takes the customer to achieve their goal.

If the customer didn’t get what they wanted then the measurement is still an unhappy customer, whether you did it in 10 seconds or 10 days.

Like talk time, wrap up, activity time, case time is an important metric to have at your finger tips.

As a result from the moment in time a contact comes in how long does it usually take to resolve this type of query.


Don’t worry, be happy!

As the Bobby McFerrin song alludes to, the focus should be on being happy and so metrics moved to this.

At the end of a contact, how happy are you Mr. Customer?  A simple rating from 1 to 4 or similar.  1 for not impressed up to 4 for very happy.

You can get more scientific like NPS (Net Promoter Scores) or Customer Effectiveness Scores (CES) but the point is the same… how happy are the customers.

Yet even with these scores, how do the scores break down when applied to different activity types.


Appropriate metrics

The journey

From micro to macro, means looking at everything from the very small to the very large.  Your ability to review your operations in this context helps you manage your operation.  Yet the ability to focus on one aspects such as Activity Time is equally important.

So what is the micro to macro in this scenario.

Operating from one perspective in isolation can give rise to the Elephant analogy

John Godfrey wrote a poem called Saxe’s Elephant which addresses perspective.

Six Indonesian blind men encounter an elephant, each describing a part of the elephant they have experience with.

Image from Linthicum (2012) Saxe’s Elephant
  • Firstly the man touching the trunk believes it to be a snake
  • Next the man touching the tusk believes it to be a spear
  • Yet the man touching the ear believes it to be a fan
  • Furthermore the man touching the elephant’s side believes it to be a wall
  • Also the man touching the tail believes it to be a rope
  • Finally the man touching the legs believes they are trees.


  • “…And so these men of Indostan, disputed loud and long,
  • Each in his own opinion exceeding stiff and strong,
  • Though each was partly in the right, and all were in the wrong!”

Consequently you need all the pieces of the puzzle available to you so you can see the whole elephant.


Building like a pyramid

Your systems should be able to help you and give you instant answers.

Your IT and operations teams should be able to provide you access to these reporting mechanisms.

In its own right this information is separate and requires you to combine ideas.

Furthermore if you don’t fancy logging in there are ways of getting reports emailed to you.


This like Activity Time need to be handed to you on a plate as part of a suite of metrics.

Instead what you might consider is an Information Systems Pyramid with drill down.

Whilst not identical it is possible to see exactly how our micro to macro can fit into a cohesive system to help you not hold you back.


Won’t this cost me a fortune to get ?

No!  In today’s terms it won’t at all.


What will it give me?

There is also a number of things that will change as you use this review approach.  Questions which previously might have been difficult to answer.

Activity Time for me has been the most enlightening as it is so often overlooked as a metric.

Muda is the Japanese word for waste.  All good management training and operations seek to remove Muda from their operation.

This forms the basis of numerous principles including the Kaizen principles and Lean Six Sigma methodologies.  So from a starting point what can you ask?

  • Which operations take a lot longer than others?  Can we focus on speeding up just this operation?
  • Staff work in different ways.  Which ones excel where others struggle?  What can we bring from them to the team so we can all benefit?
  • Are there different parts of the week that are more successful than others?  Why?
  • Is there seasonal variance in operation?  If so, how where and why?
  • How do I remove wrap up time completely?  (Short answer… automation makes this 100% possible)

As a result of having the information there are a lot more questions you can explore.


How to change

Firstly as the title of this article suggests there is only one way, actually there isn’t.  The combined approach works better.

In terms of changing, the short answer is talk to your people.  Metrics like Activity Time are vital to your reporting suite.

  1. Be shown / get instructions on how to get reports for yourself.  Put it under the guise of documentation to mitigate risk.  The time saved in report generation is wort it alone.
  2. If internal resources can’t provide you these capabilities chat to external suppliers to see how they can solve this
  3. Want to change!  This is the hardest part of all but it will totally depend on you and your desire to make things better.

Consequently whether it’s motivation, technical tools, or a bit of training the answers are available.

Coming full circle on this bright and sunny Monday morning.  How are you going to change your life today?

If there’s anything in this article you’d like to chat to me about you can contact me here or on social media.



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