8 Strategies for Improving Average Handle Time without Compromising Quality

8 Strategies for Improving Average Handle Time without Compromising Quality

7 min read

A lack of timely customer service can be a significant challenge for contact center leaders. For example, Forbes research found that 96% of consumers will leave a brand that delivers poor service. A vital indicator of a company’s success in meeting that demand is the average handle time (often abbreviated, AHT) with which call agents solve incoming issues.

Customers increasingly expect their challenges to be solved as quickly as possible and, if self-service isn’t an option, want agents to be knowledgeable enough to resolve the issue swiftly. But it’s not just customers who care about how quickly an agent can solve their problem. Average handle time is also a critical key performance indicator that managers can use to assess their team’s efficiency.

Why Customer Service Leaders Care About Average Handle Time 

Average handle time offers critical insight into how well customer service teams perform. So, monitoring how well and how quickly agents deal with customer requests is crucial to enhancing customer experience.

Measuring average handle time enables contact centers to track how successfully agents meet customer demand and how productive their teams are. Customer service leaders can adjust their approaches to improve support service and reduce average handling time. As a result, customers should spend less time on the phone with call agents, and the team will solve issues more quickly. This improves the customer experience and enables call agents to handle more cases and be more productive.

The Impact of AHT on Customer Satisfaction 

Average handle time can massively impact customers’ perception of a brand. Factors like long hold times, slow systems that prevent agents from having all the information they need at hand and poorly performing or uninformed agents can frustrate customers. As a result, customers are likely to take their business to a competitor that offers better support or the option to self-serve their issue.  

What Is a Good Average Handle Time?

Customer service leaders can measure their teams’ success using an average handling time formula. Keep in mind that results may vary depending on an organization’s approach, its products and services and its support team structure. However, using the average handling time formula will help minimize hold times, optimize call lengths, increase the number of calls agents can handle and boost customer satisfaction.

That said, a lower average handling time doesn’t automatically mean the contact center is performing optimally. It is vital to ensure customer calls don’t end prematurely purely to decrease average handle time. Instead, contact centers should prioritize a great customer experience and deliver the timely support customers require.

A good average handle time will also depend on contributing factors like the industry in which a company operates. Furthermore, companies should assess average handle time based on metrics like customer satisfaction to gain a broader understanding of the success of their support service.

How to Calculate Average Handle Time 

Contact center leaders can calculate their agents’ average handle time using the average handle time formula. Simply add together the amount of time callers spend on hold, the amount of time spent talking to an agent and the time agents spend following up on the issue, and divide that by the total number of calls they receive: 

Talk + Hold + Follow-up time / Calls = Average handle time 

The average handle time also varies depending on whether incoming queries are via phone, email or chat. For example, calculating chat is done by adding the time it takes to handle chat requests and the follow-up time divided by the total number of chats. While email- and web-based conversations are measured by adding the amount of time spent on cases divided by the number of cases.

These variants are vital for any contact center that offers multiple customer support channels. So, an organization that provides chat email, and phone support functions can easily calculate the average handle time across all channels. For example:

Email average handle time

Companies monitoring email responses only need to measure follow-up time. So, the average handle time is measured by adding the time taken to resolve cases from when they received the request and dividing it by the number of email requests received.

Chat support average handle time

Businesses measuring chat responses also only need to monitor follow-up time. The average handle time is calculated by dividing the total time it takes to deal with cases by the number of requests received.

Strategies for Improving AHT Without Compromising Quality

There are several ways contact center leaders can reduce their average handle time without compromising the quality of service they offer to customers. Below are a few strategies to keep customers happy and help businesses understand how to reduce average handling time. 

Boost customer engagement with technology: Conversational artificial intelligence (AI) and automation can speed up average handle time by verifying customer identities and enabling self-service. The technology also helps to route customers to the most appropriate agent, reducing wait times and increasing the chances of first-time resolution. It can even guide agents toward more efficient and positive resolutions using conversational insights derived in real-time.  

Embrace emotion AI: Many contact centers struggle to fully understand incoming callers and their needs. While they may grasp what is being said, they often fail to comprehend how it is being said, overlooking key moments where empathy is needed. But emotion AI allows businesses to identify the sentiment and tone in callers’ words and provide instant cues to the agent to refine their approach, saving time and—more importantly—the customer relationship.

Utilize self-service solutions: Self-service helps customers solve the challenge they’re suffering as quickly as possible. It empowers customers to find the information they need to fix the issue and get on with things without talking to a human call agent. Self-service content, such as help articles and knowledge base information, enables customers to easily troubleshoot common problems on their own. This information also helps call agents to better understand common issues and enables leaders to train their teams based on the types of call requests they’re most likely to receive. Taking this proactive approach to customer service is one of the most effective methods for reducing average handle times and ensuring happy customers. 

Deliver practical agent training: Contact centers are most effective when agents can give callers supportive and knowledgeable advice. But call agents who don’t have the necessary level of training or aren’t equipped to handle customers’ issues are a significant threat to average handle time. These agents may fumble through calls and fail to deliver the correct information quickly, frustrating customers and jeopardizing their loyalty. By deploying agent assist software that utilizes knowledge AI, contact center leaders can turn every agent into a subject matter expert instantly.

Monitor contact center agents: In addition to ensuring agents have the requisite training, it’s also crucial to continuously monitor their performance. To do so, contact center leaders should track key metrics like the time agents spend on the phone, how long they take to answer calls, callers’ average hold and wait time and how many calls get abandoned in queues or declined. Monitoring these metrics can help businesses understand the strengths and weaknesses of their contact center and call agents and how that impacts the overall customer experience. 

Record calls for training: A crucial method for enhancing agent training and improving monitoring is to record the calls they have with customers. This vital data can be used to review agent performance, allowing agents and their managers to identify areas for improvement and optimize customer experience. Reviewing these interactions can also help agents better understand customer reactions after long hold periods and improve their interaction with callers. Addressing any issues with customer engagement can be crucial to reducing average handle time. 

Optimize internal processes: Internal processes like call routing are critical to reducing average handle time and ensuring customers reach the most appropriate call agent. Routing calls to an agent who doesn’t fully understand a caller’s issue or takes too long to solve it can alienate customers and drive turnover. Contact centers that implement well-designed interactive voice response systems will ensure callers speak to the most suitable agent every time. Additionally, agents should be able to interact through their workspaces, enabling them to collaborate to solve customer queries more effectively and quickly.

Delight Customers by Improving Average Handle Time

Reducing average handle time is a critical factor in ensuring happy customers. It’s vital to prevent users from being held in lengthy call queues or frustrated by significant hold times, which may encourage them to abandon the call and take their business elsewhere. Contact center leaders need to consider strategies that help them boost agent performance and improve their average handling time.

However, reducing average handling time isn’t the be-all, end-all of improving customer experience. It’s crucial to ensure that call agents aren’t prioritizing completing call requests as quickly as possible at the expense of quality customer service. Instead of motivating agents by rewarding the fastest support, contact centers should focus on delivering the most effective customer support—and leveraging the vast array of optimization tools available—across every channel and customer touchpoint.

Find out more by reading our blog on five ways that AI can reduce average handle time in contact centers.

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