Call Center Metrics: Average Handle Time

Find out what average handle time (AHT) is, how to calculate it and more.

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Learn why the duration of interactions is important when it comes to the customer experience and the success of your service organization.

There are many important performance metrics within the contact center. From first call resolution to average handle time, there’s much to be gained from evaluating data from customer interactions. However, one of the most important key performance indicators (KPIs) that continues to be important as customer journeys become increasingly complex is average handle time.


Average Handle Time: What Is It?

Average handle time is a metric that indicates the average duration of a customer transaction. It is measured from the time a call is initiated through the conclusion of any related tasks that followed the interaction. One of the primary purposes of calculating the average handle time is to help make decisions on call center staffing. It is also used as an agent-level performance measurement.


How to Calculate It

To calculate average handle time, there is a standard formula:

Average Handle Time = (Total Talk Time + Total Hold Time + Total Wrap-up Time) / Number of calls handled 


What Drives Up Average Handle Time

There are several reasons why your average handle time might be higher than it should be:

  • Slow computer systems
  • Lack of a unified desktop
  • Ineffective routing
  • Poor agent training
  • High turnover
  • Long stretches on hold
  • Overly complex processes
  • Lack of management support

Using average handle time as a performance measure also can result in some negative consequences. It can either intentionally or unintentionally make agents focus on the speed of the interaction rather than the quality of the service being provided. It also can lead to agents “cutting off” calls if they approach an average handle time target length or transferring difficult callers to other departments.


How to Reduce Average Handle Time

There are many strategies for reducing average handle time. However, it’s always important to carefully consider the impact on the customer experience when implementing them. A few that can create the biggest decrease in call duration while supporting a quality customer experience include:

  • Identify processes that can be reduced or automated
    Often, simple tweaks to processes can lower average handle time. Look for those processes with a duplication of work or where tasks can be easily automated or digitized.
  • Use skills-based routing
    Traditional queue-based routing places all callers into a single queue to wait for the next available agent. It doesn’t enable callers to be directed to the best possible agent for their specific need. Once this change is made, calls can be routed based on specialism to the best qualified, available agent.Use call analysis softwareUtilize your call analysis tools to analyze calls and uncover weak areas or gaps in service that are slowing down the handling time. Once you have identified these areas, take corrective action, such as making system improvements or initiating additional training.
  • Encourage agents to focus on listening
    Agents can get into the service-hindering habit of interrupting callers by focusing too much on process and not enough on the customer experience. The importance of listening and not interrupting callers cannot be overstated. Train agents to allow each caller to state their issue without interruption, then recap and confirm understanding. Only one query should be addressed at a time. This strategy is particularly important when callers have escalated issues or are unhappy with a previous interaction.
  • Carefully analyze the top 5 call types
    Through call analysis software, you can identify, measure and analyze the most common types of incoming calls and focus training on them. This includes removing unnecessary steps and processes during these types of calls and empowering agents with the tools and authority they need to successfully complete them.


Average Handle Time Improvement Is a 3-Step Process

Although there are countless ways to lower average handle time, almost all of them can be placed into three distinct buckets – system improvement, process improvement and agent support.

1. System improvement – Making changes to the IVR system, providing a unified desktop and implementing skills-based routing.

2. Process improvement – Removing redundancies and increasing efficiency of every step the agent must take to complete an interaction.

3. Agent support – Training, greater authority, providing feedback and removing unrealistic goals.


The Impact of Self-Service on Average Handle Time

Many KPIs have been impacted by the introduction of digital channels, including average handle time. Because customers are more likely than ever to address simple issues via digital self-service options, like IVR and mobile apps, the voice channel is being used more for complex issues. This results in agents having to spend more time with customers or having to transfer them to others for additional help.

Many industry analysts believe that voice will increasingly become an escalation channel, rather one for primary service. Thus, the average handle time metric will need to continuously be reassessed as the voice channel continues to evolve.

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