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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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