What is average handle time (AHT)? How to calculate and reduce AHT

Average Handle Time (AHT) is a customer service metric that measures the average length of a customer's call. It's a crucial KPI for contact centers.

By Jesse Martin, Content marketing associate

Published May 1, 2018
Last updated January 7, 2021

A customer’s time is precious, and so is yours. Let’s get right into everything you’ll want to know about average handle time and how it connects to the customer experience.

Average handle time (AHT)

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.

Why is average handle time important?

66% of customers still typically resolve their issues with a company via telephone, according to our latest Customer Experience Trends Report — and AHT is an important KPI to stay on top of.

66% of customers still resolve issues with a company via telephone

AHT is commonly used to assess the efficiency of an agent and the customer service organization as a whole. It can be an effective metric for establishing benchmarks that the contact center can build from or creating customer service 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

average handle time

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 representative of trying to accomplish the following:

  • minimizing hold times
  • optimizing talk times
  • increasing the number of calls handled
  • improving customer satisfaction

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 it's part of their responsibility to reduce it. Average handle time shouldn't typically be too high—it should be optimal for the help that customers need and what the contact center is capable of.

How do you calculate average handle time

To calculate average handle time, use this formula:

[Talk + hold + follow up] / calls = AHT (calculated in minutes or seconds)

For example: 150 calls that average out to 3000 minutes, plus total hold time of 700 minutes, plus follow up time of 500 minutes, divided by the amount of calls. The resulting 28 minutes is the average handle time — way over the industry standard! According to Call Centre Magazine, the industry standard AHT is 6 minutes and 10 seconds.

how to calculate average handle time

A similar formula can be used to calculate similar metrics from other channels, like messaging and chat or email.

There are numerous tools that can be used to calculate AHT for you. The Erlang Calculator for call centers can be used in a browser window to make quick calculations with some additional variables. This is better suited for one-off calculations and small contact centers. However, if you’re looking for the historical analytical component of AHT, or you recognize the value of collecting big data over the long term, it’s probably best to use software that pulls your support data and creates easy visual charts and dashboards. These dashboards are ultimately better for when you need to share support data across the organization. Realistically, your call center incorporates newer channels. Rather than calculating AHT from each channel and adjusting each time for variables, you can let the analytics software do the hard work.

How do you reduce average handle time in a call center?

If the overall average handle time is higher than it should be, there are a few methods that support managers can employ to bring it down. Here are a few steps to reduce AHT while avoiding the risk of agents rushing through a phone call:

Steps to reduce average handle time

  1. Make sure agents are trained effectively
  2. Utilize knowledge management
  3. Monitor agent performance
  4. Record calls to use in ongoing trainings
  5. Optimize call routing and internal communicationsity for sales teams.

1. Make sure agents are trained effectively

An untrained agent can be a major detriment to AHT. 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 center 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 optimized you customer service training to maximize customer satisfaction, you can view all of our tips here along with the full guide to support management.

2. Utilize 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 it 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.

3. 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
  • Average hold time

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.

4. Record calls to use in ongoing trainings

Like how a football team watches films 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 optimize 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.

5. Optimize 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.

Connecting AHT to the customer experience

Customers want efficiency in any support interaction they have—if they have to get in touch with a call center, it's usually because of an inconvenience. AHT can be viewed as an important metric for mitigating that inconvenience and as an indicator of the efficiency that customers want out of an inbound support call.

If a high volume of support calls is having a negative effect on AHT, consider other self-service options to offset those calls. Chatbots and virtual customer assistants can be of assistance for desktop and mobile users, and promoting them via the IVR can potentially reduce the number of support interactions over calls. There are lots of elements that contribute to efficiency, but they can lead to low AHT and better customer experiences.

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