How to Reduce Average Handle Time in a Call Center?
 Call Center

How to Reduce Average Handle Time in a Call Center?

Sophia Williams
Sophia Williams
November 9, 2022
Last updated on:

November 9, 2022

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Read time: 6 mins

Average Handle Time (AHT) is a call center metric that calculates the average duration of contact between a customer and an agent. This includes both hold time and talk time. However, ring time and queue time are not a part of AHT; these fall under Average Call Duration as they are not related to the time spent attending the call. A low AHT translates into good performance, while a high AHT signifies improvement needed. The formula for calculating AHT is:

Average Handling Time = (Total Talk Time + Total Hold Time + Total Wrap-up Time) /Number of Calls Handled

AHT is one of the most important metrics to assess the efficiency of a business customer service and is a bedrock of call center planning. Therefore, businesses that aim for a good CSAT (Customer Satisfaction Score) should always be conscious of maintaining a low AHT.

Additionally, along with improving customer satisfaction, agent productivity is also given a boost by maintaining a minimal AHT. When agents are trained to successfully close more calls efficiently, it means they are able to answer more calls - eventually reducing the queue of customers waiting. Agent performance usually translates into cost efficiencies.

Below are some tips that businesses can leverage to keep the AHT low and agent output high.

According to CXToday, AHT has almost increased two times in 18 years in customer service, where it grew from220 seconds in 2004 to 426 seconds in 2022.

11 Tips to Optimize Average Handle Time in Call Center

The following are some solutions to the question ‘how to reduce talk time in a call center’:

1. Record All Calls:

This is an invaluable practice and a foundation of success. When every inbound and outbound call is recorded, it becomes easier to assess the productivity of an agent and other issues that might affect his or her output. Also, if managers are not able to review calls in real-time, they can always get back to the recorded version and get the desired insights.

Effective ways to record calls in a call center:

  • Employ robust recording software: Choose reliable call recording tools with advanced features for comprehensive monitoring and analysis.
  • Ensure legal compliance: Implement systems that adhere to local regulations to protect customer privacy and meet legal requirements.
  • Train agents on best practices: Educate call center staff on effective communication and adherence to policies for quality interactions.
  • Regularly review recordings: Consistently analyze call recordings to identify improvement areas and provide targeted feedback to agents.
  • Use metadata for categorization: Leverage metadata tags to organize recorded calls based on specific criteria, streamlining retrieval and analysis processes.
  • Secure data storage: Employ secure and accessible storage solutions to safeguard sensitive customer information and maintain compliance with data protection laws.
5 Reasons Behind High Average Handle Time
Image 1 - 5 Reasons Behind High Average Handle Time

2. Streamline Agent Workflow and Processes:

A linear and simple workflow process that is tailored to optimize an agent’s productivity goes a long way in reducing AHT. Managers should strive to identify inefficiencies and cut down any factors that amplify call handling time and reduce the quality of customer satisfaction. For example, all repetitive manual tasks should be automated so that agents can concentrate on something more productive.

Strategies to Streamline Agent Workflow and Processes:

  • Clear Call Scripts: Provide concise scripts to guide agents and minimize unnecessary information, enhancing efficiency.
  • Effective Training Programs: Regular training updates empower agents, ensuring they stay adept at handling diverse queries swiftly.
  • Implement Advanced Technology: Integrate AI-driven tools for automated data retrieval, reducing manual effort and accelerating call resolution.
  • Optimize Call Routing: Implement smart call routing systems to connect callers directly to the most qualified agents, saving time.
  • Feedback Loop: Establish a clear feedback mechanism to continuously improve processes, identify bottlenecks, and refine workflows for optimal efficiency.

3. Use a Knowledge Base:

A good way to ensure that agents are able to close a call quickly and successfully is to provide them with enough knowledge and material at their disposal. In this regard, a knowledge repository works well. Using such a base, agents can quickly identify the relevant answers to some tough queries, instead of being caught off-guard and trying to think of one. Likewise, customers are also spared long waits while the agents think of the appropriate response.

Tips to effectively use a knowledge base in a call center:

  • Clear Call Scripts: Provide concise scripts to guide agents and minimize unnecessary information, enhancing efficiency.
  • Effective Training Programs: Regular training updates empower agents, ensuring they stay adept at handling diverse queries swiftly.
  • Implement Advanced Technology: Integrate AI-driven tools for automated data retrieval, reducing manual effort and accelerating call resolution.
  • Optimize Call Routing: Implement smart call routing systems to connect callers directly to the most qualified agents, saving time.
  • Feedback Loop: Establish a clear feedback mechanism to continuously improve processes, identify bottlenecks, and refine workflows for optimal efficiency.
Average Handling Time Benchmarks Across Industries
Image 2 - Average Handling Time Benchmarks Across Industries

4. Speed Up Customer Greetings:

Whether automated or spoken, opening and closing greetings are critical to creating a positive customer experience.  It should be ensured that such greetings are short and pleasant. Asking unnecessary questions, such as, “How is your day, sir?”, would not only make the greeting sound superficial but also adds a few seconds to the AHT. Something like: “Mr. ABC, how can I help you today?” would ideally communicate the brand’s friendly attitude in a much more concise manner.

Ways to speed up customer greetings:

  • Streamline Scripts: Craft concise and clear greetings to quickly engage customers without unnecessary details.
  • Personalization Tools: Utilize customer data for personalized greetings, enhancing connection and efficiency.
  • Voice Recognition: Implement automated systems to recognize customers' voices swiftly, expediting the initial identification process.
  • Pre-Call Information: Equip agents with relevant customer details beforehand to minimize time spent on data gathering during greetings.
  • Efficient Training: Train agents to deliver warm greetings efficiently, ensuring a balance between friendliness and brevity.
  • Technology Integration: Integrate AI-driven tools for quick access to customer history, enabling agents to tailor greetings promptly.

How to manage a call center efficiently?

manage a call center efficiently, prioritize clear communication, provide comprehensive training for agents, implement robust technology for seamless operations, monitor and analyze performance metrics, and foster a positive work environment. Regularly update processes, encourage feedback, and adapt strategies to meet evolving customer needs. Emphasize employee well-being to enhance productivity and customer satisfaction.

To learn effective strategies for managing call center operations, read our blog,‘9 Best Practices for Call Center Management Success.’

5. Use Robust Call Technology:

For optimal performance of a call center for delivering customer service, it is important to ensure that the systems and infrastructure is in place. When system response time is slow, agents wait longer for their computer screens to refresh. This adds unnecessary minutes to the overall call. Managers can take note of their system efficiency during the busiest hours of operation and check how soon the data is moving or reloading, and how many windows or tabs the agents are able to open at one time. Similarly, telephone lines should be up and running, with 100% voice clarity and multiple menu options such as mute/un-mute, record, etc.

Ways to utilize robust call center technologies:

  • Implement AI-driven chatbots: Use intelligent chatbots to handle routine queries swiftly, reducing agent workload and average handle time.
  • Integrated CRM systems: Streamline operations with CRM tools for quick access to customer data, enhancing efficiency and reducing handling time.
  • Voice analytics: Leverage advanced speech analytics tools to identify patterns, ensuring agents address issues promptly and minimize call duration.
  • Automated call routing: Implement smart call routing systems to connect customers with the most suitable and experienced agents, enhancing resolution speed and decreasing handling time.
  • Real-time dashboards: Equip agents with dynamic dashboards for instant insights, enabling quicker decision-making and resolution, ultimately reducing average handle time call centers.

6. Get IVRs & Auto Attendants:

These are very helpful self-service technologies and when adapted wisely, can significantly reduce the AHT. With the help of an IVR, the work of agents can be reduced. IVR collects basic customer information and presents answers to common queries such as an address, hours of operation, etc. The system is also intelligent enough to route the calls to the right agent, which saves a considerable amount of time.

Tips to implement IVRs in call centers:

  • Streamline Menu Options: Simplify IVR menus to guide callers efficiently, minimizing options for quicker navigation and issue resolution.
  • Clear Voice Prompts: Ensure concise and clear automated instructions to reduce customer confusion and facilitate prompt decision-making.
  • Smart Call Routing: Implement intelligent routing to direct calls to the most appropriate and experienced agents or departments swiftly, minimizing transfer times.
  • Self-Service Options: Encourage IVR-based self-service for routine queries, allowing customers to resolve issues without agent assistance, reducing overall handle time.
  • Optimize IVR Flow: Regularly analyze and refine IVR workflows to eliminate bottlenecks, enhancing overall efficiency and speeding up issue resolution.
  • Data Integration: Integrate IVR systems with customer data to provide personalized assistance, reducing the need for agents to gather information during calls.

7. Avoid Low Service Level:

A situation of many customers waiting on hold typically arises when agents get exhausted handling call after call and hence, slow down. This should be prevented at all costs as it dries up AHT and annoys customers. One method of dealing with this issue is to encourage agents to take breaks between calls and get refreshed from time to time.

Effective strategies to avoid low service levels in call centers:

  • Streamline Processes: Simplify workflows and eliminate unnecessary steps to enhance efficiency and minimize average handle time in calls.
  • Implement Training Programs: Equip agents with robust skills to handle queries swiftly and accurately, reducing overall call duration.
  • Utilize Technology: Integrate advanced tools like AI-powered chatbots and predictive analytics to expedite issue resolution and improve call center performance.
  • Prioritize Caller Authentication: Implement quick and secure authentication methods to minimize time spent on verification and enhance customer service.
  • Optimize Call Routing: Efficiently direct calls to the most qualified agents, reducing transfer times and ensuring prompt issue resolution for customers.
  • Foster Employee Engagement: Cultivate a positive work environment to enhance agent morale and motivation, resulting in quicker and more effective customer interactions.
Average Handling Time Calculating for Different Communication Channels
Image 3 - Average Handling Time Calculating for Different Communication Channels

8. Take the Help of Customer Service Reps:

Processes should be established using the inputs of the most experienced customer service agents. These resources would be able to give an accurate picture of what works and what does not, and the popular shortcuts and workarounds to achieve a target. Besides, it is equally important to first perform a field test of any new process and get a consensus from the agents who would work on it.

Ways to use customer service reps in call centers:

  • Foster teamwork: Encourage agents to collaborate, sharing insights and best practices to streamline processes and improve efficiency.
  • Cross-training: Equip reps with diverse skills, enabling them to handle various issues and support colleagues during peak times.
  • Knowledge sharing: Establish a platform for reps to exchange valuable information, ensuring everyone stays informed and can assist each other effectively.
  • Peer mentoring: Promote a mentoring system where experienced reps guide newcomers, enhancing overall team competency and reducing handle times.
  • Technology utilization: Leverage tools for real-time communication among reps, facilitating quick consultations to resolve complex issues efficiently.

9. Take Control of Calls:

The content of a call may vary from customer to customer. While some might come straight to the point, others might go into unrequired details before they come to the reason for their call. In this scenario, it is important for agents to remain focused and encourage customers to get back to the real point. Call control is a skill that can be taught and trained.

Tips to take control of calls:

  • Foster teamwork: Encourage reps to collaborate, sharing insights and best practices to streamline processes and improve efficiency.
  • Cross-training: Equip agents with diverse skills, enabling them to handle various issues and support colleagues during peak times.
  • Knowledge sharing: Establish a platform for reps to exchange valuable information, ensuring everyone stays informed and can assist each other effectively.
  • Peer mentoring: Promote a mentoring system where experienced reps guide newcomers, enhancing overall team competency and reducing handle times.
  • Technology utilization: Leverage tools for real-time communication among reps, facilitating quick consultations to resolve complex issues efficiently.

10. Assess Call Types:

There are many types of calls: some deal with billing while others may be related to accounts or general queries. The AHT for all these are different, and thus an agent's performance should take into consideration the nature of calls handled by him or her. If an agent handles a combination of calls or is shifted from a particular call category, then the result for AHT should be analyzed accordingly. Likewise, if the marketing strategies or management decisions change, the impact should be calculated accordingly. As a metric, AHT might be volatile sometimes and care should be taken to assess data carefully.

Ways to assess call types in a call center:

  • Speech Analytics: Employ advanced tools to analyze call content, identifying keywords and patterns to categorize different call types efficiently.
  • Interactive Voice Response (IVR): Implement a robust IVR system for automated call routing, guiding customers to relevant departments based on their needs.
  • Agent-Customer Interaction Monitoring: Regularly review calls to ensure accurate categorization, enabling adjustments and fine-tuning for better call type identification.
  • Customer Surveys: Use post-call surveys to gather feedback on the nature of the call, helping to refine call type classifications.
  • Historical Data Analysis: Analyze historical call data to identify trends and patterns, aiding in the creation of comprehensive call-type categories.

11. Value Experience:

While most agents are trained from day one to understand the process and expectations, nothing can beat the real, on-ground experience. Managers should identify those agents who have a low AHT and discover what tactics they employ. Thereafter, these agents should be held as role models and be encouraged to share practical tips with others.

Strategies to share the experience of experienced call center agents:

  • Leverage concise scripting: Experienced agents advise using clear, concise scripts to guide conversations and minimize unnecessary dialogue.
  • Prioritize active listening: Encourage agents to focus on understanding customer needs promptly, reducing the need for repeated clarifications.
  • Embrace efficient tools: Expert agents recommend utilizing advanced technology and streamlined systems to expedite information retrieval and resolution processes.
  • Foster expertise development: Encourage ongoing training to enhance agents' product knowledge, enabling them to provide faster and more accurate solutions.
  • Implement peer collaboration: Experienced agents emphasize the importance of fostering a collaborative environment for sharing effective strategies and problem-solving techniques.
  • Optimize call routing: Utilize intelligent call routing systems to direct calls to the most qualified agents, reducing transfer times and improving overall efficiency.

Conclusion

While striving for a low AHT is a good thing, care should also be taken to ensure that agents do not compromise on customer satisfaction to achieve the desired time mark. Many a time, agents are likely to cut the phone or simply rush through conversations to get to a low AHT. This eventually leaves customers dissatisfied and dilutes the brand credibility, thus negating the entire purpose of low AHT. Hence, a business should employ AHT in the right way and for the right reasons, such as enhancing the customer experience.

Reducing AHT in call centers is challenging due to complex issues such as increasing call complexity, diverse customer inquiries, and the need for thorough issue resolution. Delegating to expert external service providers streamlines processes, leveraging their specialized knowledge and advanced technology. This ensures efficient problem resolution, employee training, and continuous optimization, ultimately improving AHT and overall customer satisfaction.

Invensis is a seasoned call center services company with over two decades of industry expertise. We provide comprehensive solutions, including inbound and outbound customer support, technical helpdesk, multilingual support, and more. Contact us today to receive cost-effective, efficient, and customer-centric call center services for your business.

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