What is Average Handling Time?

“Average handling time (AHT) is the amount of time a contact center agent typically spends handling an interaction. It includes the total talk and hold time, as well as the wrap-up time after each call.”

How is Average Handling Time calculated?

How does AHT help contact centers?

AHT uses the mean average of all calls to understand how long a call usually takes. This is important for resourcing; if managers can project the length of calls (and the number of calls they’re likely to receive) they can schedule an appropriate number of agents. 

This information is also useful for spotting trends. For example, you might examine the AHT of a team or a single agent to compare against the wider average. Alternatively, you might look at AHT over time to identify how new initiatives affect the length of calls. 

What else do you need to know?

Handling time has often been used as a Key Performance Indicator because short calls are generally cheaper to handle than long calls. 

However – when a contact center places emphasis on reducing call length it can result in reduced quality and greater downstream costs. 

For example: if contact center agents are incentivized to keep calls short, they are likely to aim for a fast resolution instead of a *good* resolution. That can lead to customers calling a second or third time, lowering First Contact Resolution and increasing costs.  

Pushing for short calls is also linked to heightened agent stress which increases burnout and staff turnover. 

Should you aim to reduce Average Handling Time?

On one hand, a high AHT means a contact center that’s more expensive to run. On the other hand we know that targeting AHT can cause wider problems. 

But there is a compromise! 

There are two critical facts to bear in mind. The first fact is that customers also want you to keep calls short. As long as they’re getting good service they don’t want to invest a lot of time. 

The second fact is that a lot of handling time is misused or unnecessary. So if you’re going to reduce handling time, you can’t simply ask agents to work faster. Instead, you should focus on making call handling more efficient. 

3 paths to efficient call handling


#1 Improve your call routing

The first step is simply to send customers to the agent who’s most able to help them. That could be based on all kinds of data including:

  • Customer lifetime value 
  • Their language of choice
  • Contextual data like tickets in your Helpdesk Software

Call routing works best when the various systems you depend on are tightly integrated. Read more here: ‘How do APIs enhance contact center service?’

#2 Gather data with conversational AI

Another quick win: establish the reason for the call before the customer even reaches an agent. Contact centers can achieve a version of this with traditional call center IVR

However, modern businesses are seeing far better results with conversational AI systems.

AI systems are able to gather far more detailed information from customers. What more, they can often resolve queries without needing any agent intervention at all.

#3 Show agents customer data as a screen-pop  

Did you know that only 25% of a standard contact center interaction is actual engagement? The other 75% is silence while the agent researches the customer and the issue. 

You can cut down on that massively by presenting customer information to agents in a simple screen pop. This can be data gathered by an IVR or conversational system, or data that’s already in your call center crm

Want to get these projects (and more) moving? Then start with this free eBook: Your guide to contact center automation

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