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Mar 09, 2021 Melissa Gilbertson

A Complete Contact Center’s Guide to Average Handle Time (AHT)

Guide to Contact Center Handle Time

Successful customer service programs rely on highly-skilled customer service agents and innovative technologies to achieve world-class customer experiences. On top of that, however, they also need to focus on analytics. 

Metrics and insightful performance data are absolutely key aspects for any customer service strategy. 

Analyzing KPIs will help businesses improve profitability, increase customer loyalty, build better customer experiences, enhance brand recognition and encourage worth-of-mouth recommendations - all of the benefits that come with a world class customer service program.

One KPI that is absolutely crucial for the success of a call center, whether outsourced or in-house, is average handle time (AHT).

That’s why Advantage Communications has created this blog to act as a complete guide for all of your AHT questions. Below we define what average handle time actually is, why it’s important for your customer service strategy, how it can be calculated and what you need to do to improve AHT metrics.

What is average handle time?

Average handle time is a customer service metric that measures the average duration of an entire customer call transaction. That includes from the time a customer initiates the call to ending the call, including all hold times, transfer times, and hang up times until the call has been ended, as well as any after-call work the agent needs to perform.

Average handle time is a call center key performance indicator (KPI) that’s used to determine how efficient your customer service processes are.

Why is AHT important?

Brand loyalty depends on good customer service. A staggering 95 percent of respondents to this Microsoft Dynamics survey said that customer service is a crucial factor in brand loyalty. 

Great customer service not only relies on conversational, friendly and helpful agents who are able to effectively resolve customer queries, it also relies on the efficiency of both your agents and your overall customer service program.

That’s why AHT is important. It’s used to determine how efficiency a call center is performing. 

An optimized average handle times means customer service representatives can handle more calls, agents can have more productive and efficient calls with customers, and customers leave interactions with your brand feeling satisfied - or better, delighted. 

How is average handle time calculated?

With the right data in hand, average handle time is a fairly simple and quick key performance indicator to calculate. All the data you will need is the total talk time of your call center, your total hold time, as well as any after-call time that your agents are required to perform. 

Average handle time is calculated in either seconds or minutes, using the below calculation:

Total talk time + hold time + after-call time / number of calls completed = average handle time.

World-class contact centers, such as ACI, use call monitoring and analytics technologies to automate KPIs such as average handle time. By automating this process, they are able to focus their attention to improving metrics rather than simply calculating what they are.

What is considered a good AHT?

With the above calculation in mind, the obvious question that most customer service managers may have is - “what is considered a good average handle time?” 

The truth is, good AHT depends entirely on what your organization is trying to achieve and how many resources you have. Team size, the department behind the call center and the industry that your business operates in are all factors that can impact average handle times.

It’s not simply a case of the lower the AHT the better. The average handle time is a metric that shows a call center the average time they are spending on each call, but great customer service is about efficiently and effectively answering customer queries - not getting them off of the phone as soon as possible.

Average handle time shouldn’t be high, but it shouldn’t be too low either. It’s down to your organization to find the optimal AHT that balances the help that your customers need with what your customer service department is capable of achieving. 

How to improve the average handle time in your customer service program

If you believe your customer service program’s average handle time is higher than it should be, there are a few methods that you can use to bring it down. We’ve listed just a few of the key ones here:

#1 - Ensure your agents are trained effectively

Customer service representatives are only as successful as their training. Average handle time comes down to you customer service agents’ ability to handle customer queries. Successfully preparing your agents for all queries, while ensuring they are passionate about your brand, will help to bring down your AHT.

#2 - Use advanced technologies such as live call guidance 

The best contact centers use innovative technologies to improve the customer experience and enhance agent performance. Technologies such as live call coaching can provide agents with real-time feedback, prompting them with the best things to say based on the context of the conversation. This ensures customer calls are more efficient and successful, bringing down average handle time. 

#3 - Route customer calls better

We all know the most common complaint for customers calling a customer service line - “I was on hold for ages!” The easiest way to reduce AHT is to improve call routing, ensuring calls are sent to the right representative the first time round without excessive hold times. Contact center artificial intelligence (AI) can help here. 

Want to learn more about average handle time, or how working with an outsourced contact center such as Advantage Communication can dramatically improve your customer service results while at the same time saving your business money? Contact us today. We would love to help.


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Published by Melissa Gilbertson March 9, 2021
Melissa Gilbertson