It is well known that metrics have an important role in the success of any call center. Perhaps none more so, regardless of the communication channel, than the Average Handle Time (AHT), which is essentially a management tool to assess how quickly employees are assisting customers.
This metric measures the average length of time it takes the call center agent to resolve the customer’s issue, and factors in the entire duration of the interaction, including total talk time, hold time and all of the follow-up or admin tasks related to the call. The formula looks like this:
While Average Handle Time (AHT) goals vary between businesses and departments, truly understanding what AHT is and how to utilize this metric for specific organizational needs is critical for optimizing its results, including improving the customer service experience and providing long-term profitable growth.
Benefits of Measuring Average Handle Time
Through establishing clear cut benchmarks for current productivity levels, companies can analyze AHT metrics and assist call center agents in identifying actionable steps for both immediate improvement and future growth. The most apparent benefit a call center will experience when measuring AHT is an increase in agent productivity. Quite simply, when the call center agents know they are being measured for efficiency, they naturally are more motivated to handle more customers. More customers being handled means less frustrated customers waiting in the queue. On the other hand, those agents with an AHT which is still higher than the established benchmark enables managers to easily identify agents not helping callers as quickly as they should. As a result, knowing the average amount of time it takes for employees to complete tasks helps companies determine staffing needs. If numerous employees are taking longer than anticipated, that might mean that many other customers are left waiting, and consequently, more staff members are needed to help them, or the more AHT is lowered, the less staff may be needed.
Limitations of Relying on Average Handle Time
It’s important to realize, however, that while AHT and the emphasis on speed is an important and necessary call center metric, a lower AHT isn’t always an indication of success. This is because AHT doesn’t distinguish simple cases from more involved, in-depth ones. While agents handling a large volume of basic customer issues may be spending an average of 5 minutes per call, on the other hand, other agents within companies or departments handling more difficult or involved cases would likely assume higher AHTs with the goal of connecting more with customers and offering a more personalized experience. Therefore, it’s important not to solely rely on AHT as the end-all-be-all metric, and to make sure that you are also monitoring calls for quality. Another problem is that call center agents are trying to keep their AHT score down can be very tempted to rush the customer off the phone, while the customer just ends up confused and having to call back again. This is the reason that companies that depend solely on AHT are often plagued by repeat calls, and customers having to make repeat calls is one of the biggest drivers of customer disloyalty, so while emphasizing AHT may look great in regards to speed of service, it’s very likely that the Customer Satisfaction metric will suffer. Finally, AHT also doesn’t measure customer retention, growth or any other meaningful key performance indicator.
Tips for Reducing AHT without Damaging Customer Satisfaction:
- Agent Training: Refining your training program will enable call center agents to help customers more efficiently and better prepare them to more quickly resolve even the most challenging cases.
- Call routing: Call routing technology saves time for both customers and agents by quickly forwarding incoming customer cases to the agent who is most qualified to resolve them.
- Knowledge Database: Equipping call center agents with all the information they need at their fingertips is crucial for reducing AHT so that they don’t have to waste valuable time searching for information in separate databases and software programs.
- Self-Service: Reduce call time by sending customers to the references that already exist online, including articles, guides, and videos. Over time, this also trains people to look for help online first instead of reaching for the phone.
- Big Data Analytics: By leveraging big data analytics, brands can identify customer pain and passion points more effectively, while even anticipating what customers will ask for in advance to quickly resolve each customer interaction.
Today, the metrics a call center emphasizes have an effect on the customer experience that can’t be ignored. While AHT remains a valuable efficiency metric for any call center, only by balancing it with other customer satisfaction metrics will enable your business to keep customer satisfaction and brand loyalty high, while also enabling your call center to be a profitable, high-performing business entity!
[About the author] Dylon Mills is the Director of Marketing Content Strategy & Development at Jacada. As such, Dylon’s main responsibilities are to strategize, create and deliver content for Jacada’s product portfolio that aligns with the global Go-To-Market strategy, corporate positioning, and marketing campaigns. Dylon’s prior work experience includes Product Management at one of the top Fortune 500 Technology companies, Symantec Corporation. Outside of work, Dylon enjoys problem-solving and any project that includes building/tinkering with tools. Dylon holds a BS Consumer Economics from the University of Georgia.