What is AHT (Average Handle Time) and how can you reduce it?
Table of Contents
Introduction to AHT
Time taken to resolve a customer query is of the utmost essence when it comes to call centers. Valuing your callers’ as well as your organization’s time is very important and hence should be your top priority. Is there a way to evaluate how your call center agents are performing? How do you monitor and manage their performance in an effective manner? Is it possible to gain valuable insights to reduce the query handling time for your customers? Well, Average Handle Time or AHT can be the key metric that answers all your questions and more importantly help highlight areas of improvement.
There is no doubting the fact that a happy caller is one who is able to get his/her query resolved quickly. If you own a call center, then maximizing your customer’s satisfaction should be your prime focus. In a call center, customer satisfaction can only be achieved by resolving queries and issues in the most efficient and quickest way possible.
In this article, we will explore the importance of Average Handle Time, what AHT indicates, how to calculate AHT, how can you use AHT to improve operations, and most importantly, how a call center can reduce the Average Handle Time. So, gear up for some interesting insights!
What is AHT?
Average Handle Time represents the time spent by an agent in handling a customer call. Various components come under the hat of Average Handle Time. This metric does not just represent the time spent by an agent on the phone but is also an important indicator of:
- Individual agent productivity
- Effectiveness of IVR menus
- Quality of customer experience
- Average call hold times
- Overall levels of CSAT
Factors that come into play while calculating Average Handle Time
There are three components that help calculate the AHT. Each of these components can be used to improve upon the average handle time and as a result the overall caller experience.
- Total Talk Time – Call center agents can be regularly trained to provide quality service to the callers, when the agents know how to efficiently deal with callers, they can significantly reduce the total talk time. Providing the agents with essential tools which would help them increase their efficiency and resolve customer queries quicker can also help bring down the total talk time.
- Total Hold Time – Resolving calls quickly would also mean lesser hold time, if the hold time is for transfer to other departments, methods to identify the intended department can be explored so that the caller is directly connected to the department instead of the agent. IVR is a great tool for this and should be deployed wherever feasible.
- After Call Work – One method that can be explored to reduce after call work is the delegation of the work to other employees so that the agent is available to handle more calls. Another method is providing the agent with relevant tools which would help him/her wrap up the work as soon as possible
All these methods in conjugation with each other can significantly help the caller and agent pave the way for a seamless experience and reduce the AHT.
What are the factors that contribute to a high AHT?
There are several factors that lead to a surging AHT:
- Lack of knowledge on the part of customer service agents
- Absence of automation
- Insufficient/low-quality knowledge base
- Lengthy IVR menu options
- Lesser agents to handle high call volume
- Limited self-help options for customers
- Ineffectiveness in call routing
- Poor workforce management
What are the signs of a good AHT?
A good AHT is one which registers process improvements. In the case of AHT, the “one-size-fits-all” approach does not exist. The average handle time varies across industries, as per a report by Cornell University.
While for financial services and IT services the AHT is 4.7 minutes, the average handle time for telecommunications and large businesses is 8.7 minutes.
To be able to calculate the AHT, factors such as hold times, overall customer satisfaction scores, Net Promoter Score, and the percentage of calls that go to voicemail are also taken into consideration. The most important among these is the Net Promoter Score (NPS) and the Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) score.
All in all, a good AHT is one wherein both the NPS and the CSAT scores are high
Having discussed the factors necessary for AHT calculation, and the AHT for different businesses, now let’s look at how to calculate AHT.
Formula to Calculate AHT
Average Handle Time is the sum of the total talk time, the total wait time, and the after-call work time; divided by the number of callers handled by all the agents. Suppose a department handled 100 calls in a day. Total talk time by all the agents was 800 minutes, Hold time was 400 minutes and the After Call work time was 300 minutes. Your average handle time would be:
(800+400+300)/100 = 1500/100 = 15 minutes
Why is AHT important?
Average Handle Time is one of the most important metrics in a call center for obvious reasons. A call center thrives on the number of calls received and the quality of service provided to the callers. These measures can be calculated and improved using the results of the Average Handle Time.
Helps mitigate caller frustration – Imagine an agent has to spend a lot of time handling a call, the more time it takes to resolve a call, the more frustrated a caller becomes. Ideally, each caller wants to have their issue sorted as soon as possible. They don’t like waiting to be connected to an agent and they certainly don’t like being transferred from one department to the other for their issue to be resolved.
Helps cut down costs – A lower AHT means reduced inefficiencies with respect to labour costs as you will end up saving hours worth of time. For instance, if you receive 15,000 calls monthly, and if you reduce the average handle time of each call by 15 seconds, then imagine the number of hours and the money you would save.
Boosts operational efficiency – In order to reduce the Average Handle Time, you need to cut down the call hold time and call transfer time. When your agent has a system in place, a sound knowledge base to make use of, and an understanding of transferring calls; they will be able to resolve issues quickly, and handle more customers. A reduced AHT means efficiency on the part of your agents.
You can entertain more callers – Taking too much time to handle one caller also means that other callers are having to be put on hold. This could in turn lead to the caller abandoning the call altogether and obviously takes a toll on your CSAT scores.
Improve customer satisfaction – The AHT also directly impacts customer satisfaction, having an inverse relationship with the same. The higher the AHT, the lower will be customer satisfaction. These are some situations that a call center definitely needs to avoid. The Average Handle Time metric can help you here.
How to improve AHT?
Even though it’s desirable to wrap up the customer call as soon as possible, one must not compromise on the quality of service provided to the caller in order to reduce the talk time.
If agents try to quickly resolve the call without focusing on the quality, it might lead to a decrease in metrics such as first call resolution (FCR).
So it is important that when you try to reduce the AHT, you do it properly. Here are some tips you can follow to improve your AHT without compromising on quality.
- Create an extensive knowledge base: A knowledge base can be internal or external. An internal knowledge base is where your agents can access answers to common questions that callers may have about your product/service. Creating an extensive knowledge base would help your agents provide a better and improved caller experience.
With an external knowledge base like FAQ’s, agents can direct callers to a portion on your website that’s dedicated to answering common questions that your customers may have about your product or services. Agents may give a caller a brief explanation about their query and lead them to the knowledge base. This helps the agents save time.
- Upgrade Call Routing: Making sure that calls reach the intended department will help save a lot of time. When customers have to be transferred from one department to another, it becomes cumbersome for them. Routing the call to the most capable and suitable agent based on the customers query is one of the most efficient ways to reduce customer frustration.
- Implement IVR systems that offer pre-recorded call menu options that allow the customer to find answers to their queries. If the query cannot be resolved by following the automated menu, the customer can always talk to a customer care executive. The catch here is that the customer can get answers to generic queries, without having to wait in line to get in touch with an agent. Implementing such an automated system may significantly bring down the AHT.
- Use latest technology – For delivering top-notch customer service and improving the call center’s performance, it is crucial to make sure that the customer service solutions and other infrastructures are operating efficiently.
Using technologies such as IVR and chatbot would help improve customer experience. These can help route the calls to appropriate agents and engage in intelligent conversation.
- Use Analytics: To understand the reasons behind the high AHT, analytics can help you big time. By leveraging analytics, you will gain meaningful insights into the way your agents are performing, the rate of first call resolution, call volume on a daily/monthly/weekly basis, and the average call duration.
- Train your agents: An agent that is untrained can act as a major bottleneck and contribute to higher AHTs. It is important that you provide proper training to your call center agents so that they don’t fumble during calls, know how to handle tricky situations, and are less responsive to distractions. A well-trained agent will communicate flawlessly with the customer, resolve issues quickly, and ensure customer satisfaction; thereby lowering the AHT.
- Record calls: Yes, recording calls is a great way to monitor the performance of your agents and use those recordings while training freshers. Using those calls as examples or references for new agents will help them understand the process better. From highlighting gaps in existing conversations to reflecting upon instances wherein an agent handled an angry customer or resolved a tough issue; recorded calls can serve as a great source of information for agents who have never had real-time experience.
- Leverage automation: A great way to reduce the workload of your agents is by automating queries that are less complex in nature. Doing so will significantly alter the time that your callers spend on such calls.
- Reduce After Call Work: Instead of reducing the talk time, focus on cutting down the after call work. As you reduce the ACW time, the AHT will automatically come down.
- Take feedback from your agents: If you really want to improve the AHT, your agent experience will be your best bet. Ask them about the process they are following, the kind of calls they are receiving, and the challenges they are facing while handling calls. As you take their perspective into account, you will realize the gaps in your processes, and know where exactly you need to make amends.
- Build a website that is customer-centric: Developing a website that caters to the concerns of the customers is a great way to not just reduce the high call volume but also reduce the overall AHT. You can have content that covers generic queries related to your product or service, and even have a detailed FAQ section for your customers to scour through and find answers. If their queries are resolved by your website, they wouldn’t feel the need to dial your business!
- Modify the scripts: Having a general script for agents across departments is a bad idea as the agents are dealing with issues pertaining to a certain area. So, make sure that the scripts for the agents are modified as per the trends of queries and are flexible enough so that the communication on the part of the agent isn’t hindered.
How to reduce AHT in your call center?
STEP-1: Gather Data and Insights
Identify the reason behind high AHT. As a head of the call center, one can easily do this by simply focusing on the calls with the highest handle time. Ensure all your conversations are monitored and analyzed by using call recording software.
Common factors to consider when analyzing high average handle time calls are to look at the calls with high numbers of transfers, dead time, on-hold time, unhappy customer conversations, agents asking repetitive questions, agents not able to find answers to customer queries and others.
STEP-2: List down the biggest contributors to your AHT
Once you have the data and insights, list down the biggest contributors to the average handle time.
At Emitrr, we’ve monitored millions of calls to identify some of the biggest reasons for our high AHT were:
– Agents asking repetitive questions lead to high handling times:
The fact that most call centers even today are not equipped with technology that can inform the agent ahead of time with details like – who is calling, the activity history, their complaints raised in the past and so on can lead to unnecessary questions being asked by the agent. This is especially true in the healthcare industry, given that most call center software don’t interact with EHRs and PMSs.
– Unavailability of the information needed by agents to handle queries:
Often times it is not the agent productivity that is responsible for high average handle time (AHT) but all a result of the knowledge available to them to answer queries. It is extremely important to have a dynamic, easy-to-use knowledge base that can be accessed from within the call center software to quickly search and answer customer queries, thus resulting in low AHT.
The problem each call center identifies for a high AHT will obviously drive the solution while there is no standard solution to deploy when it comes to reducing AHT, just gathering information will help you identify the major factors that are leading to a high AHT with this information you can prioritize solutions that will have an immediate positive effect on your AHT.
For example, in the image below, it is clearly shown the kind of information that your staff should have when they are dealing with a customer. They must have an idea of things like the last interaction with the customer, the experience the customer had with your business, what responses the customer has given in your surveys, and whether he/she is a high-value account.
Emitrr's impact on AHT
With Emitrr, calls that are missed by the contact center can be immediately followed up through text. It will help you ensure that your communication with your customer is maintained. It provides you with an automated 24/7 answering service that is powered by AI. It can handle all your caller queries and FAQs. Learn more about Emitrr and how it is used by hundreds of call centers. Sign up for a demo today!
Ameliorating the Average Handle Time at your call center is absolutely crucial as it can bring down your costs and escalate customer satisfaction by manifolds. So, make sure that you have a proper procedure in place to reduce the AHT. It is important to reduce AHT because if a customer has a poor service experience with your company, there are high chances that the customer will never do business with you. Not only will you be able to align your staffing needs, but will also improve the operational aspect of your business significantly.