What is Average Handle Time (AHT) exactly?

Average handle time (AHT) is a metric that’s commonly used as a key performance indicator (KPI) for call centers. It represents the average length of contact for a customer on a call. AHT is commonly used to assess the efficiency of an agent and the customer service organization as a whole. It can be an effective metric for establishing benchmarks that the contact center can build from or creating customer service goals to strive for. – Zendesk

This metric aims to measure the average duration of an interaction between an agent and a customer. It can highlight inefficiencies in other channels, such as email or live chat and provide you with a clear view on your customer support performance.

Let's see how to calculate the Average Handle Time before going into details.

How to calculate Average Handle Time (AHT)?

To calculate it, you will need to measure:

  • Total Talk Time: the overall time agents have spent on calls.
  • Total Hold Time: the overall time agents put customers on hold.
  • Total Wrap-up Time: the after-call tasks done by the agent.
  • Total Number of Handled Calls: all calls agents picked up

The AHT formula is pretty simple: Total Talk Time + Total Hold Time + Total Wrap-up Time / Total Number of Handled Calls.

After calculating the Average Handle Time (AHT), make a simple exercise of comparing it to your industry’s standard.

Average Handle Time Industry Standard

Metrics are powerful in the right context.

That's why the Average Handle Time per Industry can give you a better understanding of  what's considered as a healthy score.

However, you shouldn't take it as a golden rule since every company has different products and goals for their customer support channels.

So, what's the AHT Industry standard?

The AHT Industry Standard is 6 minutes and 3 seconds. - Call Centre Helper

While the AHT is a bit more than  6 minutes (360 seconds) on average, this metric varies depending on the business sector:

Source: Call Centre Helper

How to maintain a healthy Average Handle Time?

Now that we learnt to interpret the Average Handle Time metric and its’ Industry Standard, let's talk about:

  • How customer-centric companies are striving to maintain a healthy Average Handle Time.
  • How a healthy Average Handle Time boosts other important metrics, such as Net Promoter Score (NPS) and Customer Satisfaction (CSAT).

Here are some proven-actions for ensuring a healthy AHT:

Improved call routing

One of the most effective ways to improve AHT is making your call-routing system smarter.

Upgrading your call routing means re-organizing your support team as well as investing in CX technology.

Well-known features for improving call routing such as Automatic Call Distributor (ACD), Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems and skill-based routing are the common ones among traditional contact centers.

Thanks to call industry digitalization and cloud-based technology, tools that focus more on the customer experience and less on the phone system optimization, allow companies to automatically route calls to a particular agent for each query.

Here some examples on how calls can be automatically routed the right agent:

  • Calls assigned to English-speaking agents specialized in billing problems.
  • Calls assigned to Spanish-speaking agents specialized in up-selling and cross-selling.
  • Calls assigned to English-speaking agents specialized in complex products.
  • Calls assigned to Spanish-speaking agents specialized in technical issues.

But how to make call-routing automatic and smart?

How to automatically assign calls without relying on IVR systems or customers’ input?

Here's an example of how:

  • Real-Estate website Se Loger Neuf makes it possible for people interested in a particular property to call an agency in charge of the listing directly.
  • A customer clicks on a call-button located in a  property listing and is immediately connected to an agent.
  • The real-estate agent picking up the call is an expert on that specific property and can answer all questions of a customer.

Low on-hold times

On-hold times are dead time.

Agents spending a lot of time trying to find relevant information, working on an issue that requires a great deal of time can increase AHT significantly.

On-hold time should be kept to the minimum, as it highly affects the overall customer experience.

Instead of adding more time to the call, customer-centric companies invest in tools that:

  • Provide agents with an updated information about the customer at the time the call comes in.
  • Provide agents with an option to call customers back.
  • Allow agents to switch to other support channels for finalizing the query if that appears to be more effective.

Automated processes and tailored workflows

Juggling between several systems while having a  customer on the line takes a toll on AHT.

Customer-centric companies mostly rely on a unique tool to find customer's information

One example is taking calls in the same software where other tickets (email or live chats) are managed:

AHT can be optimized by identifying workflows and processes that can be automated.

Here are some examples of tasks that can be automated:

  • Call-backs instead of typing/dialing the customer's phone number.
  • Calls logged as tickets.
  • Call-recording added to the ticket.

Here are some examples of workflows that can be created to reduce AHT:

  • Chatbot + call: chatbot gets customer’s information through the chat and the agent who is picking up the call later, has this information to decrease the time used to identify the customer and their issue.

Highly trained agents

Agents that answer calls should master their customer service tools, so they need to focus on solving the customer's issue only.

When agents focus their training on the product and service, their productivity boosts and AHT tends to be lower as they increase their expertise.

Another way to reduce AHT is by having a strong and regular culture of agent coaching. One of the best ways to train your agents  is listening to call-recordings together and discussing their performance in a particular call.

While using call recordings to learn, agents can easily assess their performance and receive feedback from more experienced team members. work on trouble-areas and become each time more acquainted with the product, best practices during the call, escalations, among some.

Easily available customer's data

A personalized greeting matters a lot in the customer experience.

A pleasant customer experience is a personal one where companies do their best to address your  issues and questions and where agents are fully equipped with relevant data to help you efficiently.

Such customer experience can be achieved through automation and powerful CX tools.

Here is one example of a customer's data being rapidly available to the agent taking the call:

Customer satisfaction is the final goal of AHT

It may sound contradictory but one of the best ways to maintain a healthy AHT is to focus on effective issue resolution and a great customer experience.

The final goal of AHT should be how well and efficiently you address  your customer’s queries.

Average Handle Time (AHT) vs. other metrics

While the Average Handle Time is a key metric to assess the efficiency of your customer interactions.

KPIs are powerful within the right context. It’s crucial they are tailored for the industry and model of your business as well as a particular product.

Other metrics such as First Response Time (FRT) which assess the speed of your support team when addressing customer's queries, Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) or Net Promoter Score (NPS) for assessing your assertiveness on those queries should be a part of your overall diagnosis when analyzing your customer service.


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