The Comprehensive Guide to Reducing Average Handle Time (AHT)

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What Is Average Handle Time (AHT)?

Average handle time (AHT) is a measurement of how long an interaction with a customer takes. AHT begins from the moment a customer initiates contact with a contact center and ends once an agent finishes all work associated with the customer interaction. AHT is a key call center metric in determining staffing and efficiency.

Average handle time also includes any time spent on hold during the call. The call center AHT benchmark varies across industries. Additionally, the average handle time is slated to be higher pending the complexity of the call.

If you’re looking to learn:

  • What is AHT?
  • Why should you reduce AHT?
  • What are the best strategies and tools to help you reduce AHT?
  • What should you NOT do?

…then you’re in the right place!

Identifying what is impacting or impeding the improvement of average call time can be uncovered by the data collected from the conversation.

In this article, we will answer these questions and provide all the information you need to improve your call center AHT effectiveness.

How to reduce average handle time

How Does Reducing AHT Help the Bottom Line?

Despite the significant impact lowering average handle time can have for your business, AHT has been increasing. “Average handle time increased 10.99% from 2013 to 2016 and has only continued to increase since then” (Forrester, Predictions 2020: Customer Service, Oct 31, 2019).

Decrease the average amount of time an agent spends on a call, and labor demands and costs go down. Even a small reduction in AHT can have a huge effect on your bottom line.

Picture this: For every 100,000 calls coming into your call center a month, if you shorten each call by 10 seconds—you could save 2,700 hours in labor costs.

Proven results: IAG, a multinational insurance company, reduced its call handle times by 20%, reduced call volume by 18%, and shifted over 40% of renewals over to self-service.

However, call center AHT impact must still be aimed at providing a quality call – don’t put other call center KPIs at risk. The overall customer experience shouldn’t be jeopardized when aiming to reduce average handling time.

The Worst Way to Reduce Average Handle Time

Reducing average handle time for the sake of AHT and costs is short-sighted. Poorly implemented AHT plans can negatively impact your CX. It can send your NPS and CSAT scores down the drain!

Your agents should prioritize the customer’s needs and provide meaningful service instead of rushing through calls. Making the customer feel valued is the most important thing. This can be accomplished if agents have the internal tools to solve queries quickly while filtering out the information likely to extend call center AHT. By strengthening these areas, your average handle time will be under control and not negatively impact operational efficiencies.

With the growth of digital self-service channels such as intelligent virtual assistants, simple requests and inquiries are being resolved online. What remains are increasingly complex issues.

people working at computers in a call center

Analyze Average Handle Time by Call Type

Customers are turning to phone calls when the answer to their issue isn’t easily available through other means.

What does this mean for how you calculate average handle time? It means you need to break down the importance and approach to AHT by call type. Calls with high AHT may be due to the nature of the interaction. So, the agent’s performance needs to be emphasized more closely with customer satisfaction scores.

Proven results: Read how PlumChoice decreased AHT by 64 seconds by emphasizing first call resolution and customer satisfaction.

For example, let’s say a customer calls in with a serious complaint, and they’re at risk for churn. Instead of feeling pressured to quickly get the customer off the phone (to meet their AHT metrics), the agent should feel empowered to spend however much time it takes to resolve the customer problem and retain their business.
Customer experience and first call resolution (FCR) are additional metrics that should be balanced with AHT on an agent’s performance scorecard. Knowing the diversity of customer interactions will help deliver quality service and support to your customers.

The Best Ways to Reduce Average Handle Time

So how do you go about improving your call center AHT?

One place to look is at the different things that take your agents time to accomplish. Finding the answers to customer interaction questions, accessing data from different systems, learning why customers are calling – the list of tasks your agents handle is endless.

There are several ways to help agents lower average handle time, including workforce optimization solutions:

  • Easy access to knowledge resources
  • Recommendations based on conversational context
  • Real-time guidance for agents
  • Improved case management
  • 360 view of the customer
  • More knowledgeable, skilled and trained agents

Workforce optimization solutions include critical capabilities that will enhance engagement. Let’s look at how each of these scenarios can help your agents reduce their average handle times.

How Technology Helps Reduce Average Handle Time: A Call Center Scenario

If you are looking to lower average handle time (AHT), reduce training, and increase customer satisfaction in the call center using artificial intelligence (AI) and automation, then watch this:

We’ve all experienced customer service calls before – maybe even a long one. A huge challenge in customer service is finding the specific information the customer needs among the vast amounts of data available. AI-powered technology can optimize a customer journey by reducing repetitive questions, validations, and transfer times.

Let’s take a look at a specific case.

Imagine this scenario: Jane calls in to add a new user, her daughter, to her account. Once she connects with an agent, the first order of business is to verify her identity.

Instead of spending valuable seconds having the agent ask her pieces of information to confirm Jane’s identity, an identity authentication tool matches her voiceprint and efficiently moves Jane to the next step of handling her issue.

Easy Access to Knowledge Resources

Now Jane is connected to an agent and explains how she would like to add her daughter Haley to her account.

The worst-case scenario here is the agent spends time typing an inquiry into an inefficient database or asking another agent, trying to figure out what to do.

A better scenario is to use a knowledge management solution. With knowledge management, your agents have a repository of easy to find answers to questions on a variety of topics. They can deliver accurate information in an instant to increase agent productivity, first contact resolution, and customer satisfaction.

Two men standing meeting on laptop

Recommendations Based on Conversational Context

By pairing knowledge management with , your agent automatically sees relevant knowledge articles about adding a user, as the application understands the context of the conversation in real-time.

Proven results: Watch how uses speech analytics technology to gauge effectiveness and how well staff handle interactions to ensure customers and employees enjoy smoother experiences for lower average handle time.

Real-time Guidance for Agents

Next, to complete a process such as adding a new user, an agent may have to navigate several steps across multiple applications.

To improve the time taken to complete these processes, organizations can use a combination of , which automates repetitive tasks, and employee desktop, which guides the agent through each step on a single screen.

With these solutions guiding the agent to quick information retrieval and efficient processing of Jane’s request, the average handle time of the call is reduced significantly. With the right tools, close the customer engagement gap by combining automation with human experience – enabling you to relate to customers for an increased competitive edge.

Improved Case Management

Now imagine that Jane calls back because her daughter is living in another country and having issues accessing the account even though she’s been added.

If Jane must repeat why she’s calling to the next agent she speaks to, the average handle time of the call will take substantially longer. Case management allows any agent to pick up the story where Jane left off. With Case Management, there is less toggling between solutions. A single pane experience adjusts data from different applications accordingly.

This view combines multiple channels for one seamless experience maintaining a unified customer history.
All of these tools are effective at improving handle time by assisting your agents in the moment as they resolve customer issues.

More Knowledgeable, Skilled and Trained Agents

Another way to reduce average handle time is by improving the skills and knowledge of your agents so they will be better equipped to help customers efficiently.

How do you know where your agents need to improve?

One way is (AQM), which evaluates and scores up to 100% of your calls, finding areas where your agents need improvement.

When you can automate the entire quality management process, you can then shift resources from scoring and manual quality management to higher-value activities, such as agent training and coaching.

Proven results: A leading not-for-profit health plan used quality management and speech analytics to achieve a 3% reduction in repeat calls, significantly lowering overall call volume and average handle time while elevating customer satisfaction.

Likewise, performance management captures and aggregates data across multiple systems for efficiently tracking, managing, and improving performance.

When you can track performance pre- and post-training, you can help agents self-correct and really understand where they need to improve to collectively lower the call center AHT and meet the service levels customers expect.

How and When to Evaluate Average Handle Time

Now that you know a few ways technology can help you reduce average handle time, let’s look deeper at your current processes. Since the average handle time is a critical benchmark for call center teams, calculating and analyzing AHT is crucial for success.

You might be asking: When is the best time to validate that call center AHT has reached the right standard for a task or process?

Here are a few examples:

  • When implementing a solution that seeks to improve AHT
  • When changing tools used that may affect call center AHT
  • After a process reengineering effort
  • After updating systems and tools used to execute the work
  • After automating steps or tasks with Robotic Process Automation
  • During periodic reviews of the activities that take up 80% of your full-time employee costs
  • During regular reviews of the work causing the most pain for you and your customers.
  • The list could go on and on. It’s not just when you make these updates—it’s also how. There are many ways to get information about AHT.
Woman in office using tablet

How to Calculate Average Handle Time

So, what is AHT? The formula for how to calculate AHT is: (Total Talk Time + Total After Call Tasks)/Total Number of Calls. In other words, it’s the total time a customer is on the phone plus the amount of time an agent spends on tasks after the call is concluded, divided by the total number of calls.

But beyond the formula: How do you actually evaluate your contact center’s average handle time?

In the table to the right, you’ll see several methods for evaluating call center AHT, a definition of what each method is, and things to consider when using each method.

What is a best practice?

It’s a combination of both analytical and anecdotal. Analytical solutions can gather a large amount of unbiased data points. Anecdotal insights provide context around the data, especially the variance in complexities of the work.

It allows you to interpret the data, while also gathering the input of the people that do the work on a daily basis.

When making decisions to adjust AHT, you have a much more comprehensive set of insights on which to base your decision—and will likely have an easier time getting buy-in for that decision.

Benefits of Up-to-Date Average Handle Times

Accurate handle times based on clean data can help you manage your business more effectively:

  • Build more accurate staffing plans
  • Allocate the right piece of work to the right person to keep service levels on track
  • Equitably reward employee performance by factoring in the effort or time to perform various tasks into those assessments.

Leveraging workforce engagement systems will make gathering and organizing the data easier for better decision making and tidier operations.

Need help with balancing AHT and other cost-reduction initiatives with your customer experience goals? Contact us below.

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Featured Average Handle Time Resources

Featured Products to Reduce Average Handle Time

  • Knowledge ManagementAnswer every question with confidence. Handle issues faster and more consistently without sacrificing quality.
  • Automated Quality ManagementAutomate your quality process and gain deeper insight into all of your calls while managing compliance risk more effectively.
  • Employee DesktopUnify your customer data to simplify processes, reduce mistakes, and drive efficiency. Show the right information, right when it’s needed.
  • Performance ManagementGive employees and managers visibility into performance to help drive better service and deeper job satisfaction.
  • Robotic Process AutomationAutomate repetitive, rules-based tasks and provide guidance to employees in real-time to help increase productivity, reduce errors, and improve the customer experience.
  • Speech AnalyticsAutomatically identify and analyze trends, themes, and the root causes driving customer interactions in your contact center.
  • Virtual AssistantIntelligent Virtual Assistants can improve productivity and increase workforce engagement.