Curious to know how an overwhelming majority of consumers differentiate a positive customer experience from a negative one?
The “It Factor” of good customer service isn’t personalization, empathy, self-service, or even an omnichannel support experience.
Instead, over 90% of consumers say it’s an “immediate” response (10 minutes or less) to a customer service request.
And if their issue can be completely resolved within 10 minutes? All the better.
Average Handle Time (AHT) is an essential but often undervalued KPI to evaluate how well your call center meets customer expectations when it comes to providing fast solutions and quality assistance.
Table of Contents:
- What Is Average Handle Time (AHT)?
- Why Is Average Handle Time Important?
- What Is a Good Average Handle Time?
- How to Calculate Average Handle Time
- How to Improve Average Handle Time
- Benefits of Improved Average Handle Time
- How Does Call Center Software Improve Average Handle Time?
- Average Handle Time FAQs
Average Handle Time (AHT) is the average call time that it takes to completely resolve a customer service issue or transaction from beginning to end.
This essential KPI (Key Performance Indicator) includes not only the length of the customer service call itself but also other factors like average:
- Customer hold time
- Number of rings it takes to reach an agent
- Amount of time customer spends interacting with IVR menu
- Follow-up calls
- After-call tasks
Note that a contact center’s AHT is different from its First Call Resolution (FCR) rate. FCR measures the percentage of customer service phone calls where the caller’s issue is completely resolved on their first contact with a representative.
In contrast, average call handle time measures the entire amount of time that it takes for an agent to resolve a customer service issue, whether that issue is resolved on the first phone call or requires multiple follow-up calls.
AHT also applies to any other communication channel used to manage customer service queries, like live chat messaging, SMS texting, email, or video calling.
Average Handle Time is important because it’s an excellent metric to measure the effectiveness of your customer service department and your call center’s overall level of customer satisfaction.
Despite the increased number of available communication channels, nearly 70% of consumers say they still prefer to connect with customer service agents over the phone.
But a 2021 TCN study shows 59% of customers say lost/wasted time waiting for a resolution is their biggest complaint about call centers. Interestingly, excessive average handling time is even more frustrating to customers than not having the issue resolved at all.
Research from Ifbyphone shows that 15% of callers will hang up just 40 seconds after initiating contact with a customer service department (regardless of whether they speak with a live agent, interact with an IVR menu, or just wait on hold.) A 2021 study from TCN shows that 34% of callers spend a maximum of 6 minutes on hold before hanging up and that 26% hang up after spending 2-4 minutes on hold.
This means 75% of callers will hang up after being kept on hold for 6 minutes — and many of them will never bother to call back.
Finally, AHT is a reliable indicator of the quality of customer support your callers are getting.
Uninformed agents or a poor call routing strategy means a longer AHT as well as more angry customers, given that over 50% of customers say they’re frustrated by lost time dealing with agents who aren’t equipped to solve their problems.
In summary, AHT is important as an indicator of:
- Customer experience quality
- Average call hold times
- If your current number of agents can keep up with your average call volume
- Individual agent productivity
- Overall CSAT levels
- Effectiveness of current IVR menus
Statistics show that the average AHT is between 6.46 minutes and 6.73 minutes depending on the industry — about 6 minutes and 6 minutes as an overall average.
But just because 6.6 minutes is the average AHT doesn’t mean it’s a “good” AHT for your call center.
The below data from Nextiva outlines additional information regarding AHT by industry. You’ll notice there’s a major discrepancy between different business sectors, meaning that good AHT is not a “one-size-fits-all approach.”
Understandably, what counts as a “good” average call handle time will vary both by business size and by industry, which have a significant impact on key AHT factors like hold times, average talk times, and percentage of calls sent to voicemail.
The Ifbyphone study we referenced above, for example, found that small businesses (less than 500 calls during Q1) had an average hold time of 1 minute and 47 seconds, while midsize businesses (less than 1,500 calls during Q1) had an average hold time of 39 seconds.
It also showed that small businesses had an average talk time of 3 minutes and 47 seconds, while large businesses (less than 10,000 calls during Q1) had an average talk time of 4 minutes and 35 seconds.
Clearly, there will be quite a discrepancy between AHT averages according to company size, so it’s important to ensure that you’re comparing your call center’s own AHT with that of realistic, similar competitors.
To really determine if your current AHT score is where you want it to be, you’ll need to measure it against other KPIs like CSAT (customer satisfaction score) and NPS (Net Promoter Score.) Tools like call center analytics and customer satisfaction surveys can also help.
The below graphic shows how to calculate the average handle time:
Let’s look at an example.
Finding AHT for one day in a small call center, which had:
- A total daily talk time of 1,500 minutes
- A total daily hold time of 2,200 minutes
- A total after call work time of 3,000 minutes
- Total customer conversations per day: 250
1,500+ 2,200+3000 = 6,700
6,700/250 = 26.8 minutes Average Handle Time
Not exactly a gold star performance, but you get the picture.
The most important thing to consider when determining the best way to improve your call center’s AHT is to ensure that you don’t compromise customer service quality for the sake of expediency.
The below actionable tips will help you improve your AHT without short-changing your customers or your call center agents.
1. Use Analytics to Identify Causes of Long AHT
Given that so many factors influence AHT, it’s essential that you look at key metrics like average hold time, percentage of missed calls/calls that went to voicemail, average call duration, first call resolution rate, and daily/weekly/monthly call volume.
These will help you to identify the root causes of a lengthy AHT, and you’ll also be better able to pinpoint common customer service issues.
AI tools like Natural Language Processing and Speech Analytics will provide invaluable insight into customer tone/emotion, repeated complaints, and even the number of “filler words” such as “um” and “like” that can easily add minutes to your AHT.
2. Implement IVR Systems to Improve Self-Service and Call Routing Strategies
Interactive Voice Response (IVR) solutions provided automated, pre-recorded call menu options that can answer common questions, allow customers to check account information, and provide a higher level of self-service.
Plus, IVR helps to ensure agents are free to assist customers needing more one-on-one, detailed support — eliminating the need for callbacks, voicemail, and other factors that increase AHT.
Adding call routing options like round-robin, most idle, time-based, and most importantly of all, skills-based routing will ensure that your customers immediately connect to the agent with the specific knowledge and training to best assist them.
3. Improve Agent Training and Update Internal Knowledge Bases
A searchable internal knowledge base provides information on how agents should respond to specific customer problems.
For example, if a customer calls because they can’t get into their account, the agent can search the wiki for “account access” or “customer locked out of account” while on the phone call. The wiki has step-by-step instructions or call scripts that clearly outline the steps the agent should guide the customer through.
A strong internal wiki means that even agents without specific training to handle issues will be able to jump in and assist other departments during high call volumes.
Sometimes, however, it’s the way you’re approaching employee training that’s the problem.
Especially if you’ve noticed a significant and sudden increase in AHT, or if there are multiple instances of extended AHTs related to specific problems, it’s usually a sign you need to update your training materials. Be sure to get frequent feedback from agents about what’s working, what’s not, and recent customer service trends they’ve noticed.
4. Create a Stronger Escalation Matrix
Though ideally, your agents will be able to handle most customer service issues on their own, sometimes, it’s clear that some calls need to be passed up to a manager or department head.
Having an escalation matrix in place ensures that agents know exactly where and when they should transfer a customer to someone more qualified than they are.
The escalation matrix doesn’t have to be initiated only when someone “needs to speak to the manager.” It can also be used to help agents better manage high call volumes and prevent customers from being kept on hold for too long.
5. Fill In Internal Communication Gaps
Strong internal communication is just as important as clear communication between agents and callers.
Gaps in internal communication can quickly increase AHT and lead to customer frustration with having to repeat their issue to multiple representatives and still not get a resolution.
Team collaboration tools, especially instant chat messaging and task management solutions, provide agents with real-time updates on support ticket progress and customer conversation history.
These tools also allow agents who aren’t sure how to assist a caller to quickly send a message to get the help they need from a more qualified agent without ending the customer call.
6. Automate What You Can
Call center automation allow agents to cut down on pre and post-call work time through automatic data entry, pre-populating forms, and automatically pulling up customer information before a call begins.
Workflow automation eliminates the need for agents to spend time on repetitive tasks, follow if-then logic, and can even provide automated agent guidance during live phone calls.
7. Provide Ongoing Support and Agent Monitoring
Remember that once you’ve achieved an ideal AHT time, you have to work to maintain it.
Make sure to ask your employees for input and feedback on your current customer service strategies. What worked in the past may not in the future, so it’s best to reevaluate your customer service approach at least once a year.
Always update your internal wikis whenever new policies are added, and remove any outdated information ASAP.
Finally, use tools like call recording data to monitor employees and identify gaps/issues before they can have a significant impact on your AHT. Be proactive by taking advantage of features like call barge, call whisper/call coaching, and live call monitoring to ensure your customers and your agents have the support they need.
There are numerous benefits to an improved Average Handle Time, including:
- Higher customer retention rates (78% of consumers say that even if a company makes an error, they’ll still make future purchases if excellent customer service is provided)
- An increase in upselling, cross-selling, and overall profits (Companies that prioritize improved customer service see an overall profit increase of between 4-8%)
- An improved overall business reputation and more clients, (Customers who experienced a positive support experience are 38% more likely to suggest that company to others)
- Higher team morale means lower turnover rates and higher overall productivity (1 in 5 customer service agents has quit a job due to stress from dealing with angry customers)
Quality call center software vastly improves AHT by offering features that allow you to not only shorten customer service call times, but also to get accurate, real-time insight into where your agents are succeeding and failing when it comes to the overall customer experience.
The most helpful features to look for to reduce AHT include:
- Advanced live and historical analytics
- Advanced call routing strategies
- Ring groups/simultaneous ringing
- Call recording
- Workflow automation tools
- IVR and ACD
- Omnichannel support
- CRM integrations
To compare pricing and plans, standout features, and overall user experience of popular contact center software, check out our top provider comparison table or our more detailed head-to-head platform comparisons, like this one of RingCentral vs 8×8.
Below, we’ve answered some of the most common questions about Average Handle Time.
Frequently asked questions
A good AHT for a call center can only be determined by comparing yours to the AHT of other similar-in-size call centers within your industry. Factors like NPS and overall CSAT levels should also be taken into consideration.
That said, the industry standard is 6 minutes and 6 seconds.
Effective ways to manage and reduce your contact center’s average handling time include:
Re-evaluate employee training materials
Invest in a contact center software that measures real-time and historical KPIs
Improve call routing strategy and IVR system
Ensure business phone system includes omnichannel live syncing
Automate routine tasks and self-service options to eliminate the need for callers to speak to a live agent
Improve internal knowledge bases
Create ring groups
Use call scripts
Numerous factors contribute to a high AHT, including:
Lack of knowledge from customer service agents
Ineffective call routing/call forwarding paths
A lack of automation
Lengthy or insufficient IVR menu options
Top few agents for current call volume
Low-quality knowledge bases
Few customer self-help options
Poor workflow management
AHT is calculated by the following equation:
(Talk Time + Hold Time + After Call Work) / Number of Customer Calls = Average Call Handling Time