What is Average Handle Time?
The average handle time or AHT is the average time taken by an agent to accomplish all call related tasks after completing a conversation. From call initiation till the end when an agent’s status changes from “busy” to “available”. Simply put, the average handle time is the mean or average of these 3 call tasks – talk time, hold time, and after call work.
To summarize, a call center agent’s job is multifaceted. A call is an evolved process with several tasks and steps, from talking to customers to possibly putting them on hold to the final steps of post-call processing and wrap. The average handle time is a mean or average of all these steps:
AHT = (Average Talk Time + Average Hold Time + After Call Work) / Total number of calls.
- Average Talk Time is the average time an agent spends talking to a caller. It is used to calculate average handle times and to measure the overall contact center efficiency.
- Average Hold Time is the amount of time a caller waits when an agent puts him/her on hold to retrieve information, speak to a supervisor, or transfer the caller. This KPI affects both customer experience and can increase or decrease the average handle time. Low hold time can enhance customer satisfaction.
- After Call Work (ACW) or post-call processing is the work or tasks a call center agent puts in after speaking to a customer. Examples of ACW are updating customer information, adding call dispositions and notes, call logging or email/message follow-up, etc. Until ACW is complete, the agent’s status remains busy or unavailable. Efficient ACW goes a long way in managing call queues. Lowered call queues generally translate into lower hold times and positively impact customer experience, agent productivity, and contact center efficiency.
What is a good Average Handle Time?
Average handle times vary from industry to industry. For instance, for within e-commerce customer support, average handle times may be between 3 to 5 minutes. For a software support center, where agents offer customers step-by-step guidance on using their software, an AHT of 30 minutes may not be uncommon. In our latest study, Average handle times across industries was nearly 5 minutes.
Here is a look at average talk times, hold times, and after call work, by industry vertical as per our latest study.
Why is AHT important?
Average handle time is an important call center metric. It plays a significant role in determining the cost per call and therefore, the overall call center productivity, as well as agent productivity, performance benchmarks, and other CX metrics such as customer experience and satisfaction.
How to improve the Average Handle Time?
It has been established that average handle time is a critical call center KPI. However, it would be unwise to cut corners in order to make the numbers look good. Reducing handle times by having agents scramble through a call to quickly get through it or not wrap a call properly will cause other obvious problems that will eventually be detrimental to a call center’s bottomline. Red flags would likely include issues like repeat calls by a customer to address an issue, customer attrition, lowered CSAT, etc.
It has also been stated that AHT is dependent on 3 key call center processes – talk time, hold time and post-call processing or after call work (ACW). The secret lies in ensuring the efficiency and accuracy at each of these stages to fully optimize for a good AHT metric. Some ways to improve average handle time are:
Integrating with CRM to automate call logging and schedule follow-ups in a unified window. This improves processes (like hold times) since the agent readily has easy access to all the information. It also helps automate manual or repetitive tasks. This saves time and shortens the overall call lifecycle.
Good skill-based training, cross-training agents to handle multiple call types to minimize transfers, and improving agent problem diagnosis & resolution skills on an ongoing basis are helpful in improving the average handle time. For example, re-visiting call recordings can be constructive in determining “glows and grows” for future calls.
Optimal call routing.
Route callers to the right agent skill by improving IVR options. Ensure that agents have an easy UI to transfer calls when needed.
Utilize Call Disposition codes instead of requiring agents to add notes. Limit Wrap Codes to five master reasons and five sub-reasons, and restrict Wrap Codes to a single level.
Efficient staffing is essential for ideal Handle Time outcomes. Ensuring adequate and skilled agent availability during peak time, for instance, can be helpful in managing hold times or in successful First Call Resolutions. Use your call center software solution’s reports to help you predict call volumes by month, day, and time.
Average Handle Time is critical in determining key outcomes such as customer experience, operational performance, and a call center’s cost structure. Merely reducing the average handle time is not an optimal strategy to enhance a call center’s overall productivity and efficiency. Improving or enhancing it is important. The key to a successful AHT metric is reduced resolution time + high CSAT. Which in turn, will likely impact a call center’s profit margins.