Skip to main content

Article 5 min read

All about average handle time

By Brett Grossfeld

Last updated May 1, 2018

A customer’s time is precious, and so is yours. Let’s get right into what’s to know about average handle time.

What is average handle time?

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 organisation as a whole. It can be an effective metric for establishing benchmarks that the contact center can build from, or to create goals to strive for. While it’s primarily referenced to gauge the duration of a customer’s phone call, a company that takes an omnichannel approach to their customer service can use AHT to compare their phone support with other channels (like the duration of chats).

Here’s what’s accounted for in AHT:

    • Total talk time
    • Total hold time
    • Number of calls handled
  • To calculate AHT, the total talk and hold times are added together and then divided by the number of calls handled.

    What’s a good average handle time?

    Average handle times differ depending on a company’s approach to the customer experience and the products/services they offer, as well as the structure of their support organization. Typically, AHT is a metric that is representative of trying to accomplish the following:

    – minimising hold times
    – optimising talk times
    – increasing the number of calls handled

    Those goals can be indicative of an efficient call center. But here’s the thing: a lower AHT does not necessarily mean a call center is performing as well as it should. It’s extremely important that agents don’t hurry customers off the phone to decrease their AHT, even if part of their responsibilities include reducing it. Average handle time shouldn’t typically be too high, but it should always be optimal for the kind of help that customers need.

    What can support managers do to reduce average handle time?

    If overall average handle time seems to be having a negative impact on customer satisfaction (CSAT), there are a few methods that support managers can employ to optimize it (and avoid the risk of agents rushing through their phone calls):

    Make sure agents are trained effectively

    Ensuring that agents are trained properly is an effective way to drive down AHT. Equip agents with thorough training so they know how to find information quickly, are familiar with common questions and comfortable navigating various systems.
    Agents that haven’t received proper training may be more susceptible to fumbling through a call or go off on tangents that waste their time and that of the customer. An effective call centers thrives when agents are capable of delivering a supportive conversation that’s flexible while not being overly responsive to distractions.

    If you’d like tips on how to fully optimised you customer service training to maximise customer satisfaction, you can view all of our tips here along with the full guide to support management.

    Utilise self-service resources, like knowledge bases and help articles

    Self-service content can do more for agents than just assist their customers. If a company has invested in a thorough knowledge base, it can be of use to call center employees. Help articles should provide quick access to a list of how-to’s on specific issues. Not only does this help train agents, but also makes them more familiar with common issues and gives them the perspective of a customer trying to solve a problem all on their own.

    Monitor agent performance

    Keep a close eye on the other metrics surrounding AHT. Some of the key metrics for call centers include:

    • Average talk time
    • Calls missed
    • Calls declined
    • Transfers accepted
    • Average wait time
    • Longest wait time
    • Abandoned in queue
    • Exceeded queue wait
    • Average time to answer
  • To fully understand the strengths and weaknesses of a contact center and its effect on the customer experience, managers need to know the subtext that comes with those KPI’s. There’s a good chance that they’ll have some effect on AHT. To learn more, read about the 9 key metrics to transform a contact center.

    Record calls to use in ongoing trainings

    Like how a football team watches film of their previous games, agents in call centers should record their calls to review them for ongoing training. Recorded calls make for a great training tool so that agents and their managers can optimise the experience provided by the call center. They can get a good grasp on how customers react after a long hold time, how they engage during the talk time, and the customer experience as a whole. When they better understand those, it can contribute to finding an optimal AHT.

    Optimise call routing and internal communications

    It’s crucial for call centers to have their routing processes figure out, as they can contribute AHT and the customer experience. Calls should be routed to the right agent whenever possible – Routing callers to the wrong agent takes up valuable time. A well-designed IVR routing system, or phone tree, will allow callers to select who they need to speak to, so they are connected to the correct agent on the first call.

    Agents should also be able to contact each other and collaborate privately within their own workspace. It shouldn’t require a third-party app to collaborate with a fellow agent – having a system that can accommodate quick and effective internal communications results in higher customer satisfaction.

    Related stories

    6 min read

    How to use CRM data to create amazing customer experiences

    We’ve all heard the adage: knowledge is power. But in business, data is power and understanding…

    4 min read

    6 easy steps to trial Zendesk Talk

    Zendesk believes phone support is a powerful way for companies to help their customers – and,…

    2 min read

    Play nicely in the ticket queue using the Play button or Guided mode

    Optimising ticket workflow is top of mind for any customer service manager and becomes even more…

    7 min read

    Top 8 change management models: a comparison guide

    8 top change management models and change management definitions