Whenever you handle customer contacts, you want to provide the best possible service in the shortest amount of time. When dealing with customer satisfaction, longer times are more costly and lessen the number of calls your agents can handle.

Over the coming weeks, we’re taking a deep dive into the key metrics high-performing contact centers measure. This article discusses the importance of average handle time (AHT) in the call center.

What is Call Center Average Handle Time (AHT) and What Does It Measure?

Average handle time (AHT) in contact centers refers to the average duration of an interaction between a customer and a contact center agent. It is a metric used to measure the efficiency and productivity of the contact center’s operations.

AHT typically includes the total time spent by the agent on a customer call or interaction. This includes total talk time, hold time, and any after-call work (ACW) or wrap-up time. Talk time refers to the actual time the agent spends speaking with the customer. Hold time represents the duration the customer is placed on hold during the interaction. ACW or wrap-up time refers to the post-call tasks performed by the agent. This includes documentation, updating customer records, or completing any necessary follow-up actions.

By calculating the average handle time, contact centers can assess the overall efficiency of their operations. Knowing your AHT helps make informed decisions regarding staffing, agent training, and process improvements. A lower average handle time generally indicates that agents are able to handle customer interactions more quickly, potentially leading to higher customer satisfaction and increased agent productivity. However, it’s important to strike a balance between reducing AHT and providing quality customer service. Rushing through interactions may negatively impact the customer experience.

Average handle time is different than average call duration, which measures only the average talk time agents spend on a call.

When Did Call Centers Start Measuring Average Handle Time?

In the 1970s and 1980s, call centers began to gain prominence as businesses sought to centralize their customer service operations. With the advent of automatic call distribution (ACD) systems, call routing, and computer telephony integration (CTI), call centers were able to handle a higher volume of customer phone calls.

As call centers grew in size and complexity, the need to measure and optimize operational efficiency became apparent. AHT emerged as a key performance indicator (KPI) to gauge the effectiveness of contact center agents and processes. It provided insights into the time taken to handle customer interactions. It also enabled contact centers to set performance targets and track improvements.

In recent years, contact center metrics have shifted from a solely efficiency-focused approach to a customer-centric approach. While AHT remains an important metric, businesses now emphasize other key performance indicators (KPIs). Customer satisfaction or customer sentiment analysis (CSAT), first contact resolution (FCR), and Net Promoter Score (NPS) can gauge the overall customer experience.

How to Measure Average Handle Time (AHT) in the Call Center

Measuring average handle time is fairly straightforward. Track the total time from when an agent first engages with customers until they complete any wrap-up across all their calls during a measurement period. Then divide that by the number of calls handled during the same period.

How to Calculate Average Handle Time

Average Handle Time =  Talk Time + Hold Time + Follow-up Time  / # of Calls

Let’s say an agent handled 50 calls and spent 225 minutes talking (and listening), 50 minutes on hold, and 25 minutes adding notes to your CRM. This would work out to:

(225 + 50 + 25) / 50 = 6 minutes

Although average handle time will vary by industry and product, 6 minutes is generally considered the industry average for AHT.

Why is AHT Important to Call Centers?

When you can reduce your Call Center Average Handle Time without sacrificing quality, you can handle more customers.

AHT also provides a way to:

  • Measure agent efficiency
  • Identify bottlenecks in workflow
  • Find areas where additional resources, tools, or training is needed
  • Reduce hold time
  • Optimize agent performance

Reducing your overall average holding time can pay big dividends. For example, if a team of 20 agents can reduce their AHT of 6 minutes per call by just 10 seconds each, you could handle an additional 45 calls a day.

One important note, though. Most companies track AHT in conjunction with NPS or CSAT scores to avoid agents rushing customers off the call before resolving their issues.

How Can Call Center Agents Improve Their Average Handle Time?

When agents know what to say and have the right information at hand it’s easy to implement best practices to improve AHT.

Dynamic Scripts

Solid, well-defined scripts are key for efficiency and consistency. Having scripted responses can help agents handle customer inquiries more quickly and efficiently. Knowing what to say will help to minimize the amount of time spent on each interaction.

The challenge is having the right responses for each situation. Top-performing organizations use AI-powered call center software to enhance their call center scripts and create the best conversations to reduce average handle time.

A real-time guidance platform will recommend the most efficient and relevant content to resolve customer problems or questions. Tools with dynamic prompts that surface the best content to move a conversation forward and smart checklists that automatically check off items as they’re covered to help optimize call flow.

By adhering to call center scripting software best practices, you can drive script integrity through analysis of what’s most effective to hone your scripts and improve future performance.

Effective Training and Coaching

It’s crucial to provide consistent training so that your agents are properly educated on how to handle customer queries. You also need to provide coaching to improve agent performance. By adhering to a call center coaching guide, you take hours off of agent time on the phones and manager time to monitor calls for coaching opportunities.

Make sure your contact center software platform has a call quality monitoring solution calls and automatically alerts managers and supervisors for on-the-spot coaching opportunities. This allows managers to provide immediate feedback to improve performance and saves them hours of call monitoring time. Many tools allow you to set phrases, keywords, and other triggers to alert you when calls need coaching.

Efficient After-Call Work

After the call has ended, agents need a fast and easy way to document all relevant information so that it can be passed on to the next agent if necessary. This will help to avoid duplication of effort and save time in the long run.

It also helps with one of the top customer complaints, which is having to provide the same information to multiple people. In case of a callback or follow-up, the next agent should have all the information they need to pick up the conversation and move it forward.

Real-Time Guidance, QA, and Coaching

On average, call centers spend three hours a week on coaching and tend to focus more on products and technology than effective call handling. That’s why contact centers need a real-time guidance platform that guides agents through the conversation, so they say the right thing on every call to optimize the conversation. With real-time guidance, real-time quality assurance, and real-time coaching tools, you can improve performance, including AHT, first-call resolution, and customer satisfaction.

To see how Balto’s Real-Time Guidance platform can help, book a demo today.