Beware: Tight Time Limits on Calls Can Backfire

Helen Limjoco

Increased efficiency is a worthy goal for any Call Center. But setting strict time limits on calls can result in unintended negative effects.

For example, in one situation I observed a Call Center that required calls to only take three minutes or less. To meet this time limit, Call Center employees often took shortcuts that cascaded down the line:

  • Workers didn’t always get enough information during patient registration, such as verifying insurance or home address. This was because they felt under pressure to get off the phone within the time limit. Which then put pressure on other staff during patient check-in. Thus, there was a back-up of patients in line at the front desk.
  • To shorten call time, staff also transferred calls to others. Somehow, these calls ended up coming back anyway.
  • Overly short call time meant patients were not getting the attention they expected. That was reflected in customer satisfaction numbers.

I’ve also had the opportunity to observe the opposite approach where Call Center staff purposefully took as much time with patients as they needed. Some calls ran a little longer. But even so, on average calls were three to four minutes in length. That was fine with the manager, who was all about quality, not quantity.

If your call abandonment rate is high because of long hold times, it’s likely you need to hire more staff, not cut calls short.

It doesn’t matter if your call metrics look good. If the end-result is that tasks are not getting done and patients are not getting good service.

Do you set time limits for your Call Center staff? Post a comment to let us know how it’s working.

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