If you spend any time dealing with customer queries, you’ll have heard of Average Handle Time (AHT). This metric is often used to measure the efficiency of call-center staff and anyone else who acts in a customer support role. This article will help you define exactly what AHT is, why it’s so important, and how you can improve it.

What is Average Handle Time (AHT)?

Average Handle Time (AHT) is how long each customer support interaction takes on average, from initial contact to resolution. The handling time definition includes any time the customer spends on hold or being transferred to another agent/support team member, as well as all associated work carried out after the call (such as updating the CRM, sending a follow-up message, etc.)

What is AHT

AHT can be used to measure the efficiency of support staff on whatever channels they use, including phone calls, emails, or onsite chat support.

Why is Average Handle Time important?

Monitoring and optimizing your AHT is good for both your customers and your business.

No matter how pleasant and friendly your support staff are, customers don’t want to spend their whole day talking to them. When a customer has an issue, they want it resolved as soon as possible. Keeping your AHT to a minimum means you’re resolving customer issues quickly, leading to a better experience and improved trust.

At the same time, a lower AHT means that your support staff are operating efficiently. A more efficient team is able to handle more calls, helping more customers and reducing costs.

As important as AHT is, it can lead to problems if it’s used in isolation. For example, if you’re determined to drive down AHT by any means necessary, your support staff might feel pressured to end calls before the issue is properly resolved. To ensure you’re not inadvertently promoting poor customer service, you should also look at metrics such as Net Promoter Score (NPS), First Contact Resolution (FCR), and others related to customer satisfaction.

What is a good Average Handle Time?

According to data from Call Centre Helper, the industry standard for AHT is six minutes and three seconds. However, they point out that the AHT for call centers will vary greatly depending on the business and industry, citing a study by Cornell University into different AHTs:

Average Handling Time in seconds for various business sectors: telecommunications, retail, business and IT services, financial services
Standard Average Handle Time (AHT) for different business sectors

Rather than attempting to meet an industry benchmark that might not be relevant for your particular business, it’s better to calculate your current AHT and then use that as a benchmark for future optimization. Remember, lower AHTs aren’t necessarily a good thing if they’re at the expense of customer satisfaction.

How to calculate Average Handle Time (AHT)

The Average Handling Time calculation is relatively straightforward:

(Total Communication Time + Total Follow-up Task Time)/Total Number of Sessions = Average Handling Time (AHT)
Average Handle Time (AHT) formula

So, if you were responding to customer support calls over the phone, you’d record the total amount of time spent on the phone with the customer (including time spent on hold or time spent transferring to other agents), add the time spent on after-call activities required to resolve the customer issue, then divide by the total number of calls.

The result is your AHT, measured in minutes and/or seconds.

However, as more companies embrace omnichannel support, it’s likely that your support interactions could include email, live chat, or a combination of channels. In that case, you can still use the same Average Handling Time formula to measure the amount of time agents spend supporting customers in the respective channels. You can then use that to determine your AHT across all channels or to compare the efficiency of each individual channel.

AHT best practices: how to reduce Average Handle Time

When a company decides they’d like to reduce their AHT, it’s all too easy to get caught up in focusing on how to cut down the time spent interacting with customers. While this might seem like a sensible solution, it’s actually better to focus your efforts on how you can resolve your customers’ issues effectively. When you look after your customers and prioritize their care, the AHT will largely look after itself.

Here are five ways you can reduce your AHT while still providing a superior customer experience.

1. Make it easy for customers to get in touch

When customers want to get in touch, it should be a straightforward experience. Rather than making them search for a support phone number or pay expensive call charges, providing a clear and free click to call button on your website, mobile app, or live chat makes it simple to get in touch. With SnapCall, you can set it so that customers can only call if someone from your team is available to help, further reducing AHT by eliminating excessive hold times.

2. Ensure customer support staff are properly trained

Once the customer gets through, your support staff should be ready to help them. They should have a thorough knowledge of the product/service, know how to communicate with customers effectively, and know how to use their tools (both software and hardware) properly. Along with basic training, ensure that you have a centralized knowledge base for your support staff. Many recommend having a ‘cheat sheet’ to hand with the answers to the most common questions, so you can speedily resolve the majority of issues.

3. Provide support staff with the customer information they need

AHT will inevitably increase if the support agent has to spend too much time finding out who the caller is and validating their details. By streamlining the verification process, you can get straight to trying to resolve their issue. Using a solution like SnapCall enables customer support and sales teams to save time on customer identification, as agents are provided with customer data—such as first and last name, email address and even customer intention—all before they pick up the call.

4. Empower customer support agents to provide a superior service

Sometimes, a customer’s question is simple and can be answered in a sentence or two over text. Other times though, the problem (and therefore the solution) will be more complex. In these situations, being able to jump between text, voice, and screen sharing allows agents to provide the right level of support. The SnapCall solution for chat platforms enables agents to switch to audio or video calls in situations where the written exchange is taking too much time and jumping on a live call would help save time.

5. Review your performance

Optimizing AHT is an ongoing process. By recording all calls, you’ll be able to see what issues your support staff are facing, as well as identify common mistakes or other areas for improvement. Hopefully, you’ll also be able to learn from your top-performing agents and teach others to use their approach. You can then use those recordings to train your staff, showing them how to handle calls as effectively as possible.

Conclusion

AHT is an important metric for both you and your customers. The quicker you can resolve a customer’s issues to their satisfaction, the better. However, rather than simply trying to cut the time spent talking with customers, focus on following best practices and providing a superior customer experience.

By making it easier for your customer to get help, training staff properly and making sure they have access to the tools and information they need, and then regularly reviewing your performance, you can be more efficient and lower your AHT while still keeping your customers happy.

SnapCall gives you all the tools you need to reduce your AHT. From easily switching between text and voice chat to providing agents with all the customer data they need. Book a demo today.