Average handling time or AHT is a primary call center solution metric that defines the quantity of time an agent spends on a customer service call. As the name suggests, it’s the average of the entire time taken from call initiation, talk time, holding, and, wrapping time of a customer service call. It also covers the post-call work as well. AHT is a vital performance indicator that reveals how efficiently your agents are helping your customers.
1. Why is AHT important?
2. How to calculate AHT?
3. What is an ideal Average Handling Time?
4. How to reduce average handling time without sacrificing CSAT?
5. Drawback of using Average Handling Time as a metric
Let’s be honest! None, of us prefer a long customer service call. We do not prefer dawdling agents and lengthy queues as well. The same goes for your customers. They want quicker resolution and complete efficiency from a brand.
As most customers still use telephony to resolve their issues, it is really important to not offer them a laggy or delayed service. This also reveals how measuring your call handling time is required to understand these drawbacks in your process, if any. Hence, AHT has been a primary KPI for most call centers and is encouraged to be monitored regularly.
To calculate Average Handling Time, we have to make a sum of total talk time, total hold time, and total wrap time which includes post-call detailing as well. Then we divide this sum by the total number of calls taken by the particular agent. The result is the AHT of that agent.
The ideal AHT benchmark varies from one industry to another industry. It is just about 8:30 minutes for contact centers and half that for financial or IT services.
To get closer to this benchmark, it is better to compare your handling time on other platforms like chat or SMS with your telephony. That way you improve your entire omnichannel experience.
As mentioned above, average handling time does differ from industry to industry. Healthcare or financial services might offer higher resolution time as compared to e-commerce or others. Partially, it also depends on the complexity of the product or service, alongside how the company intends to offer its customer service.
The ideal standard is to respond and close as many calls as possible, without compromising the customer’s experience. This means minimizing your hold time, establishing better queue management, and fluently resolving issues during talk time.
However, it is important to remember that your agents are addressing all customer pain points during the call and not rushing it. Agents should not parley any black-hat practices like shrugging off the customer or ignoring their grievances to reduce their AHT even though it is a requirement. To maintain an optimum status, equip your agents well with customer information and free up other channels to exercise complete efficiency.
There is no point in having a lower handling time if you are losing customers for it. The easiest way to improve your AHT is to identify your root causes and improve them, instead of drastically reducing your service quality. Here are some of the steps you can give a try:
If your AHT is high, it is best to start by investigating those call recordings to find out what’s going on. Conversations are usually lengthy due to the following reasons:
- Fog horns on the agent’s end while they are scouting for information.
- Negative customer sentiment extends the conversation, leading to escalation.
- Hold time of the agents
Well, it is alright to put the customer on hold or go blank during a conversation. But the repetition of these in every call is a major red flag. Hence, once you identify which one is the problem, you can take appropriate steps to recover from it.
It is very natural for humans to go blank during a spontaneous conversation. However, an agent cannot always lead up to dead air during customer conversations. To help them you must coach them regularly. Making them listen to pre-recorded service calls and roleplaying, can enable them to think on their feet when they are on a real call.
Agents don’t only struggle with communication but also with product information, CRM practices, constant escalations, and more. Identify their weakness and educate them where needed. For example, an agent is struggling with the CRM system and is putting the customer on hold more often. This increases his AHT and is also bad for customer service. Upon identification of this issue, you can offer him any required training to improve his efficiency.
It is really helpful for agents to have all product information or company-related answers at their fingertips. Much like a sales enablement platform, support agents also need a dashboard full of answers. A comprehensive knowledge base is more beneficial to agents than it is to customers in this case. While most customers may be too lazy to scroll for it, agents can always look up the necessary resolution and resolve an issue. You can optimize your Knowledge Base with frequently asked questions and other categorizations to help the reader better. Surveys show that agents eventually become extremely familiar with the product as they keep referring to the resources. It is good practice to have a regular update of the knowledge base.
How frustrating must it be to call customer care and then get routed to the wrong department? Remember, the customer is already agitated due to the inconvenience they have already faced, for which they are calling. Troubling them any further should be strictly avoided. A well-structured IVR system paired with an Automatic Call Distributor, can make this job easy. It will automatically route the customer to the right department, based on skill and availability. This way, the best available agent will always be on the call, ensuring a hassle-free interaction and quicker resolution for the customer. As your best-suited agent is on the job every time, your AHT is also reduced.
While average handling time is mostly focused on telephony services, other channels can come to your rescue. Reducing the volume of overall support calls received can also improve your AHT. In other words, redirecting some customers to other channels, a.k.a call deflection, based on their issue is a dependable option. Someone who just wants to check their account balance or pay a late fee can be routed to your Chatbot, which can help the customer instantly. This way you can deliver on customer satisfaction, without even troubling AHT.
It is enormously helpful for an agent to know the customer journey and previous interactions to quickly come to the point. An omnichannel customer service platform provides the timeline so that the agent is empowered with the information as soon as the call gets connected. The agent can understand the customer better and create a good rapport. This improves the CSAT and lowers the AHT. As per Salesforce, 63% of consumers expect customer service agents to know their unique needs and expectations.
Average Handling Time is a popular metric that is measured across all contact centers. However, experts have noticed one particular flaw with the data. An average can get easily manipulated by singular data. For example, if all your calls went perfectly, except one miscellaneous call where the customer needed steady attention for almost an hour to resolve. This one call can send your score high, depicting a wrong picture completely.
To eradicate such mess-ups, one can do two things:
1. Thoroughly check agent-wise performance before drawing an overall conclusion.
2. Calculate the median instead of the average (mean).
While the first option will depict, how in particular cases only the handling time was high. You can identify the reason and validate them accordingly. However, on the second option, you arrange all the standard data points and choose the middle number as your standard handling time. Anything beyond that or more than that time frame is a case in isolation and should be investigated.
This is necessary because this considers the fact that sometimes customers need more of the agent’s time. Some issues might take more than 10 minutes, and no alternative can help there. To accommodate such miscellaneous cases, considering the median is also helpful, to get a better picture.
While Average Handle Time remains a critical operational parameter for contact centers, it should be paired with the CSAT score. Having a better CSAT at the cost of AHT is a compromise worth making as it improves the customer LTV (Life Time Value).
Author Bio: Sweta is a passionate technical writer with experience in digital marketing. Outside work, she is a devoted Esports advocate.