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CXM Guide

Average Handle Time

Learn everything you need to know about average handle time (AHT) — what it means, why it’s important, how it’s calculated, industry benchmarks, and strategies to improve yours.

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What is average handle time?

Average handle time (AHT) is a metric used in contact centers to measure the average duration of a customer call interaction from the time a customer initiates a phone call to the time of final resolution — which may happen either during the call or later. The duration includes talk time, hold time, transfers, and any after-call work (ACW) that an agent must perform post-interaction to resolve the customer query. 

Why is measuring average handle time important?

AHT is an essential metric for contact center leaders to track since it indicates — and helps improve — the kind of customer experience your contact center agents are providing to your customers. These are the three main benefits of measuring AHT:  

1. Improved agent productivity

Measuring agent productivity will help you set benchmarks for agent performance, identify weak performers, and formulate agent training programs — improving the productivity of your team as a whole.

Learn more: Coaching Your Care Agents: Insights Learned From Global Brand Leaders

2. Higher CSAT ratings 

AHT is related to your other customer-centric metrics — like customer effort score (CES)— so it can give supervisors a more well-rounded picture of your customer satisfaction rate (CSAT)

Learn more: Survey says… it’s time to move to predictive CSAT

3. Enhanced operational efficiency

If you’re able to identify the reasons for poor AHT, you’re better positioned to streamline your contact center operations — which has a direct impact on your top-line revenue. 

The Essential Guide to AI for Customer Service

How do you calculate average handle time?

Before calculating AHT for your contact center, you need to gather the following data points:

  1. Total talk time: the amount of time your agent spends on a customer interaction

  2. Total hold time: the amount of time your agent leaves a customer on hold

  3. After-call work (ACW): the amount of time one or more agents spend on post-interaction tasks — like updating systems and records, documenting the reason for contact and outcome, escalating complaints, or scheduling follow-up actions 

  4. Total number of phone calls: the number of calls handled by the agent to resolve an issue

    AHT formula

Note: 
You can calculate the AHT for different channels — such as email, messaging, and live chat — using the same formula, but without factoring in the total hold time.

Whether you want to calculate AHT for each communication channel, agent, department, or organization, you can use a contact center as a service (CCaaS) platform to do the hard work. CCaaS solutions can compute AHT and other critical metrics by pulling in support-related data from all of your integrated channels and creating visual dashboards and reports. 

Delight Customers with a Unified Care Experience

What is a good average handle time? 

AHT varies depending on the industry, your business’ approach to the customer experience, and the organizational structure of your support team. 

Often, customers view a business unfavorably when they are forced to spend a long time on hold or being transferred from agent to agent. In theory, the shorter the average handle time, the happier your customers will be. A shorter average handle time, however, is not always better. Agents rushing to close tickets instead of fully resolving issues will reduce AHT but will not lead to happy customers. 

AHT industry benchmarks

Research by Call Center Helper reveals the AHT benchmarks for some industries below:

AHT table

Source: Call Center Helper

How can you optimize your average handle time? 

Before you think of ways to improve your AHT, you need to factor in other metrics like CSAT and NPS (net promoter score). If the net result of these three metrics is not as expected or lower than industry standards, follow these tips:

Diagnose the root cause for longer AHT

Identifying the root cause of longer AHT starts with 100% call coverage. Ensure that you monitor every interaction. Use speech analytics to uncover common observable factors that impact AHT — including dead air, supervisor escalations, and hold-time violations. 

In some instances, sentiment analysis can help you detect common customer pain points. You can then moderate your agent’s call script or create specific standard operating procedures (SOPs) to handle volatile callers and situations.

Learn more: Capturing Insights With (Visual) Social Listening

Track your agent and team performance 

Managers should keep a close eye on team performance and call center metrics because there’s a good chance that each metric plays a role in affecting AHT. 

The following are some KPIs that contact center managers and supervisors should monitor:

  • Calls missed 

  • Calls declined

  • Average time to answer

  • First call resolution

  • Transfers accepted 

  • Average talk time

  • Average wait time

  • Longest wait time

  • Average hold time

  • Exceeded queue wait 

  • Callers abandoned in queue

Empower agents with data and context

Hold micro-training sessions that include tactics to coach agents to reduce AHT. The sessions can include empathy statements, critical agent soft skills, and de-escalation tips. Agents will be able to pass context and pick up customer conversations where they left off if you enable them to leave case or profile notes. You can also equip them with a 360-degree view of customer information that will help them resolve cases faster and drive operational efficiency. 

Learn more: Turn high-performing service agents into a guide for others with smart AI and automation

Build out self-service resources and a comprehensive knowledge base

A dynamic and easy-to-navigate internal knowledge base will allow agents to find answers and additional content to handle more complex queries. Providing customers with access to a public knowledge base as a self-service solution — in addition to resources like chatbots, online communities, or FAQs pages — reduces the volume of customer outreach in the first place. And making an internal knowledge base available to agents can have a significant impact on lowering AHT during customer interactions. 

Leverage workflow automation 

Another reason for a long AHT could be the unnecessary minutes it takes to transfer customers to the right department. Ideally, calls should be routed to the right agent the first time, automatically. 

Advanced features like skill-based smart routing in your CCaaS solution can help deliver quicker resolutions and shorter AHT by matching calls to agents who have worked on similar cases before. And features like interactive voice response (IVR) deflection help customers resolve their issues themselves and cut your case queues down significantly. 

Learn more: Press none for great customer experience

Centralize your customer service operations 

Use unified contact center software that centralizes all customer interactions across all channels in a single interface. 

This way, your agents won’t need to switch between windows to resolve customer issues — even when customers switch channels to interact with your business. A unified contact center software solution brings workforce management, performance measurement, and actionable customer insights together in one centralized place — which can directly or indirectly improve your overall AHT.

Customer Care in 2022: Five predictions for the Unified Contact Center of Tomorrow

Use Sprinklr’s AI-powered solutions to optimize your AHT and customer experience 

The less time an agent spends helping a customer with a query, the more calls they can answer in a given time — reducing churn, resolution time, and average handle time effectively. Powered by the world’s only unified customer experience management (Unified-CXM) platform, Sprinklr empowers agents with tools and capabilities to deliver the best customer experience in the shortest time. These capabilities include:

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