What is average handle time?
The meaning of average handling time or average handle time (AHT) is essentially the average amount of time spent on a customer support conversation. It is usually calculated for call centers and includes the entire amount of spent on the conversation from the time your customers initiate the calls to the time they end them. It also includes the time spent on holds and transfers, as well as time spent on after-call tasks.
Even though it is usually calculated for call centers, this important metric could also be translated for live chat conversations and interactions. Average handle time can be used as a way of measuring of your call center’s and your agents’ efficiency.
How do you calculate average handle time?
If you want to calculate your average handle time, you need to take into account the amount of time spent on the actual conversation, the amount of hold time for the call, as well as the amount of time spent on tasks that need to be performed after the call is completed. You need to add your total conversation time, your total hold time, and your total after-call work time and divide the sum by the total number of calls you’ve had during a certain period of time. Here is an average handling time formula that you could use:
(Total time spent on the actual conversation+ total hold time + after-call task time) / total number of calls
What is a good average handle time?
What counts as a good average handle time will differ according to your industry. The sweet spot for the telecommunications industry is just upwards of eight minutes and a half minutes, while it’s around around four minutes and forty-five seconds for financial and IT services. The AHT would tend to be higher for more complex queries and interactions.
A lower average handle time would generally be considered to be good, but it’s not necessary that this will allways be the case. In some situations, an AHT that is too low would be bad for your customer experience because it shows that you’re simply hurrying your customers along instead of actually answering their queries and taking care of the issues they are facing in a thorough manner.
If your customers have extremely complex issues that needed to be solved, a slightly higher average handle time might actually be better for you since this shows that you care about your customers and are ready to take the time to make sure that their issues are effectively and thoroughly tackled and solved.
Why is average handling time so important?
Average handle time is of critical importance in the overall customer experience. If your agents take too much of your customers’ time before solving their problems, it could frustrate your customers, leading to a fall in your customer satisfaction levels and a spike in your customer churn rate.
It also helps you judge how effective your training programs were for your customer service representatives. It shows you how well they understand your product and how equipped they are to resolve the issues that your customers face.
A high average handle time could mean that your agents are not as efficient as they should be. It reduces the number of customer queries that you can handle at any point in time.
Should you always aim for a low average handle time?
This may seem like the right thing to do, but that is not always the case. Sometimes your attempts to increase efficiency make your customers feel like you’re just rushing them along and don’t care about them.
Zappos takes a different approach here: no limits for call times. While speeding things along would help them handle more queries, they focused on their obsession with making sure that customers are happy. Their approach is one of strengthening relationships with their customers and treating them like family.
In fact, they proudly showcase their record of a 10-hour, 51-minute customer service call as a badge of honor. Their previous record was a 10-hour, 43-minute long call where after the business part was over, the customer and the agent chatted about everything from vacations to restaurants, bonding like friends. And the customer on that call said that she had never been treated like that by any company ever before.
Now, you don’t need to chase that record, but you can learn from it. Having a low average handle time is good, but there may be times when you should focus on improving your relationship with the customer.
How do you manage average handling time?
Here are a few ways to improve your average handle time:
Train your agents
If your agents are scrambling around trying to find the answer themselves before helping your customers, that could stretch the conversation on, especially if they need help from someone on your product or tech team. Train your agents continuously so that you can minimize these dependencies and reduce the handling time on such conversations.
Improve your internal knowledge base
You need to make it easy for your agents to find information needed to help your customers. Make it possible for them to find it in one unified repository rather than searching across multiple silos.
You could even create a chatbot that could send your agents the information that they need instantly.
Route conversations effectively
Routing conversations to the right agent or department the very first time would reduce the amount of time wasted conversing with multiple agents and eliminate hold times that occur while transferring conversations across agents.
Empower your agents
Quite often conversations get stretched on because agents need authorization before making certain commitments to customers. Empower them to take some of these decisions without the need to ask for authorization.
You could allow them to make decisions to solve customer issues that fall within a certain monetary limit without having to seek permission from management.