Average Handle Time is a quite tricky metric to measure, as reducing it does not necessarily mean that you have improved it. Want to know how you can improve your AHT without sacrificing the quality of your support? Read on to find out.
There were times when waiting patiently for a customer support response was the norm. If you reached support at the first attempt, you were lucky. But most of the time, you had to wait in a call queue for a very long time. The most that people could do then was to make jokes about how many things they managed to do while listening to the on-hold music. And it wasn't even guaranteed that they would get their questions answered or issues fixed!
Now that's absolutely out of the question. Either the customer support call will be a fast, helpful, and pleasant experience, or you will lose a customer.
When customers call or message your support agents, they expect a quick and straightforward reply. They don't have the time or patience to wait minutes on hold or explain their problems to several different agents. They want their issues fixed straight away - and if you can't give them that, they will look for rival companies that can.
Can you do something to prevent the worst-case scenario? Yes, you can, and there's a metric for it - AHT or Average Handle Time.
- it’s a handy metric that shows how long it takes for your support to take care of customers’ questions or issues
- if your AHT is high, then obviously there's a serious problem with your support team's productivity or qualifications
- a low average handle time isn't always a good thing either - it might mean that your team is speeding through calls in a way that isn’t making your customers happy
So how can you strike the perfect balance here? You are in the right place to learn - in this article, we'll break down what average handle time is, how you can calculate it, and how you can lower it in your company without overdoing things.
What is Average Handle Time (AHT)?
Average Handle Time (AHT) is a customer service metric that measures how much time, on average, your agents spend on resolving requests or issues coming from callers. The time starts from a customer initiating a call, to the agent who answered it finishing all of their after call tasks and being ready to help another caller. The time, if any, that the customer spends in a queue or on-hold are also included.
If you want to improve both your customers' satisfaction and track your support team’s productivity, AHT is one of the best metrics for this task.
Our pro tip here is to track AHT together with customer satisfaction rate and first call resolution rate - that way you will have a good view on both the productivity of your agents and the happiness of your customers.
Why should you track AHT in your company?
Waiting time is one of the biggest pain points for all customers, regardless of the industry. For 66% of customers, if a company wants to give them a good experience then they should simply value their time and not force them to wait in a call queue for several minutes or for a reply to an email.
They are also pretty clear about how long they are willing to wait when it comes to different support channels:
- According to Google research, 25% of customers won't wait longer than 1 or 2 minutes for customer support to answer the phone, while only 30% of customers are willing to wait more than 2 minutes.
- For 11% of callers, any hold time at all is unacceptable.
- 34% of callers hang up and never call back if their call is not answered quickly enough.
- 85% of customers on Facebook expect a response from companies within 6 hours.
- 64% of customers on Twitter expect a response from companies within 1 hour.
- 77% of consumers expect an instant response when reaching out via live chat
- 1/3 of customers expect businesses to respond to emails in 1 hour or less.
How well do you think you fit in with customer expectations?
AHT can give you the answer to that question. By measuring your average handle time, you can find out how your support team deals with a never-ending amount of requests, and if there are any changes you need to make (like offering more training to your support team) to boost your agents' productivity without hurting the quality of customer support.
But there’s one more thing that lowering AHT can help you with, which is your bottom line. If you could decrease the average amount of time an agent spends on each call by even just a couple of seconds, that will both reduce your labor costs and improve productivity, thus revenue. Win-win!
How can you calculate your AHT?
Now, let's calculate the Average Handle time for your company. With phone calls, the formula is pretty straightforward: add your total talk time to the hold time and after-call work (ACW) time, then divide it by the number of calls.
The result is your AHT for phone support. But you probably don't use only phone calls for customer support, right?
You also have email and chat support, so you would like to know the AHT for those support channels too. The formula for emails and chats is a bit different, as there's no hold time, only follow-up. So here, add together your chat talk and follow-up time, then divide it by the number of chats.
Meanwhile, for emails, you need to add together the amount of time spent on each request or issue overall, then divide it by the number of cases that your team successfully resolved.
Let's say your team made 100 calls this week. Overall, they talked for 500 minutes, spent 250 minutes with customers on hold, and also needed 250 minutes for their daily ACW tasks.
In this example, your phone support team’s AHT is 10 minutes, which means your team spends approximately 10 minutes per customer.
What is the industry standard for AHT?
Okay, so now you know the AHT score for your company, but is that enough? It would also be helpful to know the standard average handle time for your industry, to see if your support team is ahead of or maybe falling behind your competitors.
Call Centre Helper Magazine, based on their analysis of over 190k entries, recommends that the average AHT (regardless of industry) should be around 6 minutes. However, you should be very careful when trying to improve your metrics to fit the statistics, as there are many factors that can affect the AHT metric.
One of them is that each call is different, and it's therefore tough to set a strict time in which they should be resolved - a billing issue might take only 3 minutes, but a system malfunction or loss of data might take longer and require transferring the call to another department.
Another problem that might delay your support agents is a slow and inefficient customer system, which forces the agents to either perform many tasks manually or switch between several different tools - and let's not even mention system freezes or hang-ups here! The speed with which each agent finishes their ACW tasks also can have a visible influence on the average handling time.
How can you improve average handle time?
As I mentioned at the start, AHT is quite a tricky metric to use because reducing it has to be done carefully. If you focus on lowering the handling time only, it might happen that to fulfill your expectations, your agents might start cutting corners:
- rushing through calls just to meet the required time performance
- marking issues as resolved before they actually finish the case
- manipulating their performance results in any other way.
Yes, the average handle time metric will then be lower, but so will your agents' job satisfaction and customers’ satisfaction too. So it's crucial to find out what exactly is causing a high AHT rate in your company, then improve it.
For this, your best bet is simply asking your support agents what currently takes them the most time and what they think should be enhanced to improve the customer support quality.
- Do they spend too much time on various ACW tasks?
- Do they think they need more training?
- Maybe their main problem is that the tools they are using every day are inefficient?
Finding a solution to those issues will naturally improve your average handle time rate without causing your customer satisfaction rate to plummet - and what's more, it will also boost your support team agents' motivation and morale.
For example, let’s say that one of your support agents gets a call from an upset customer who might leave the company if their needs aren’t met. Who will be able to better take care of the customer - an agent who feels the pressure to meet their AHT metrics at any cost and wants to get the customer off the phone quickly (even if it means losing them), or an agent that can spend as long as is needed to ensure the customer’s problem will be solved?
Compared to some other metrics where simply a high score is bad, and a low score is good, AHT is much more challenging to analyze and improve. While customers want a quick and efficient response whenever they contact a support team, they also want the agent to spend as much time with them as necessary for their issue to be resolved.
So you shouldn't use this metric just to pressure your agents into finishing their calls as quickly as possible so they can finish more calls in the course of a day. This might give you a lower average handle time rate, but will also lead to frustrated agents and upset customers - and you’re aiming for the opposite, right?
Our CloudTalk platform can lend you a hand here as well - with a number of integrated call center tools included, your agents don't have to use several different ones to finish their daily ACW, and can also automate some of their simple tasks. All of this to have more time for helping customers, so why not try it out today?