How to Improve Average Call Handle Time (AHT)

article hero of AHT and a diagram showing customer satisfaction

"What gets measured gets improved,"stated management guru Peter Drucker, inventor of the business performance dashboard.

This rings especially true in the high-pressure world of call centers, where efficiency and customer satisfaction are monitored in real time. Step into the office of any call center manager and you'll likely see wall-mounted screens displaying live dashboards of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). One of the most critical KPIs for measuring call center success is Average Handle Time (AHT), also known as Agent Handle Time. Looking at AHT specifically can provide great insight into overall call center performance and customer experience.

What is Average Handle Time (AHT)? and Why Should You Care?

AHT refers to the average duration of a customer contact, from the moment the customer initiates the call or chat until the issue is resolved, and is the most commonly used KPI to measure the efficiency of the call center. Imagine AHT as a stopwatch on each customer interaction. It measures the average time an agent spends resolving an issue, from "hello" to "goodbye," and everything between.

Now, why should AHT matter to you?

For customers, a lower AHT means shorter wait times and less frustration. No one enjoys languishing on hold, and efficient AHT ensures swift resolutions, boosting customer satisfaction. Faster calls also allow agents to handle more inquiries per hour, making the call center more efficient.

For businesses, improved AHT means increased agent productivity, allowing them to serve more customers. And efficient calls translate to more satisfied customers and better business outcomes, as well as lowered operating. Happy customers also means fewer repeat calls.

The Happiness Quotient: AHT & Customer Satisfaction
Research confirms a clear link between AHT and customer satisfaction, and studies show that lower AHTs correlate with higher customer satisfaction scores. Why? Faster resolutions mean less frustration, and efficient interactions leave customers feeling valued and heard.

How AHT is calculated:

Ready to crunch some numbers? AHT combines Total Talk Time, Total Hold Time, and After-Call Time (or Wrap Up) then divides that sum by the total number of calls.

  • Total Hold Time - The total time an agent spends actively on a call from the time the call is answered until the call is completed.
  • After-Call Time - Also known as a 'wrap-up' agent state, this is the amount of time an agent spends after the call completing notes or paperwork until they are available for another call.
mathematical equation to calculate AHT with illustrative icons

Mathematically, this is expressed as:

  • AHT = (Total Talk Time + Total Hold Time + After-Call Time) / Number of Calls

So, if your agents spent 200 minutes talking to customers during the day, 50 minutes with customer on hold, and 50 minutes in wrap up in talk time, handling a total of 100 calls, your AHT would be 3 minutes per call.

AHT Industry Standards and Benchmarks

The ideal average handle time varies greatly depending on the complexity of the call and the industry of the call center, with a general understanding being that AHT for calls is around 10 minutes. However, Talkdesk attempted to benchmark AHT in their 2021 report, though admittedly, it wasn't entirely accurate as it did not include wrap-up time. The study was comprised of a sample of over 2,200 contact centers worldwide

AHT Benchmarks by Industry

Industry Benchmark AHT
Consumer/Professional services 3 minutes, 36 seconds
Financial services 4 minutes, 5 seconds
Government & Public Sector 4 minutes, 12 seconds
Healthcare 3 minutes, 28 seconds
Hospitality 3 minutes, 11 seconds
Manufacturing 4 minutes, 13 seconds
Media & Communications 3 minutes, 30 seconds
Retail, Ecommerce, and Consumer Goods 3 minutes, 29 seconds
Telecommunications 2 minutes, 36 seconds

Why AHT is so tricky?

While it is widely recognized that the shorter your handle time, the more efficient your call center, there is a double edged sword here. If AHT is too strongly enforced, it can be detrimental to customer happienss.

When Goldilocks was looking for that perfect bowl of porrage, it needed to be just right. AHT is the same. If calls are handled too quickly, customers may feel rushed or that reps were not taking their concerns to heart. If a call handle time is too long, you might be wasting time.

How to Maintain Optimal AHT

  • Empower your agents with a robust knowledge base: Easy access to information cuts down on research time during calls.
  • Invest in efficient call routing: Use call routing and IVR systems to direct calls to reach the right agent the first time, minimizing transfers and hold times.
  • Provide ongoing agent training: Equip your team with the skills and knowledge to handle inquiries confidently and efficiently by revamping training programs at semi-annually.
  • Promote active listening and communication: Encourage agents to build rapport and understand customer needs quickly.
  • Embrace technology: Explore tools like AI-powered chatbots and self-service options to deflect simple inquiries and free up agents for complex issues. Monitor and analyze your call center data to identify trends, patterns, and opportunities for improvement.
  • Equip agents with self-service reporting tools: Provide your agents with the right tools, resources, and incentives to perform well and stay motivated. Products such as QCloud Live Call Dashboards from Metropolis empower agents to reivew their progress toward goals and monitor their KPI statistics in real-time.
chart showing six tips for optimizing AHT in call centers

Metropolis' QCloud Live Call Center Dashboard

Imagine a real-time dashboard that lets you monitor AHT and other KPIs like a hawk, identify issues instantly, and take proactive steps to improve. That's the power of Metropolis' QCloud Software.

With QCloud, you can:

  • Visualize AHT trends and analyze agent performance.
  • Identify areas for improvement and implement targeted strategies.
  • Proactively address bottlenecks and optimize call center workflows.
  • Unlock data-driven insights to make informed decisions and create a customer-centric call center culture.

Optimizing AHT is a win-win for both customers and businesses. By understanding its importance, implementing practical tips, and leveraging tools like Metropolis' QCloud Software, you can transform your call center into a haven of efficiency and customer satisfaction.