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People hate to wait, and it’s no secret. Ever noticed how many times we stare at our watches or tap our fingers when a check-out line is too long? It doesn’t matter whether we are at the grocery store, in traffic or at the doctor’s – we hate waiting.

Here’s a story that justifies that.

Back in the day, a troubling customer-relations issue came up at the Houston airport. The executives received an inordinate number of complaints from the customers regarding the long waiting times at the baggage claim. To sort out this issue, the executives increased the baggage handling staff working that shift. Fortunately, the plan worked and the average wait time reduced to just eight minutes. Although this is well within the industry benchmarks, customers still had complaints.

The airport executives now performed a more careful analysis on-site. They found that passengers walked up to the baggage claim from their arrival in just a minute but had to wait for seven minutes on average to get their bags. So, the airport authorities took on a new approach to the problem and moved the arrival gates away from the main terminal and the routed bags to the outermost carousel. Consequently, the passengers had to walk longer to get their bags. The waiting times and complaints both reduced to near zero.

Industry studies have shown that almost 58 percent of respondents feel frustrated when they have to wait or are put on hold. Another study showed that 15 percent of callers will probably hang up after waiting for forty seconds. Therefore, given the current scenario where customer service is gradually overtaking the price as the key differentiator of a brand, average handle time is something that they must focus on to enhance their business.

What is Average Handle Time (AHT)?

Average Handle Time, also called AHT, is a metric that is used in call centers as a metric to measure the average time it takes to handle a call or transaction from the start to its end. It includes everything from the initiation of a call to the hold time, the talk time, as well as any other related tasks that the call center representative might perform to resolve the call.

Why is it Important to Measure AHT?

The average handle time is one of the crucial metrics that a call center firm can use to assess the effectiveness of its customer service. Measuring the AHT lays down the foundation for further call center planning. Hence, businesses that aim to have a good CSAT or customer satisfaction score need to keep their AHT low.

Maintaining a minimal AHT also ensures that the agent productivity is given a boost. When agents are trained to close more calls and resolve issues efficiently, they can answer more calls which will reduce the queue of customers in waiting. The better agents perform, the better it translates into cost efficiencies.

The following points describe why it is important to measure AHT:

Evaluation of employee performance: With AHT scores, firms can gain better insights into how well their agents are assisting the customers. If the AHT of a particular agent is much higher than what the benchmark is set, it is probably because they aren’t solving the customer issues as quickly as they should. In such a case, the manager has to intervene and identify the problem.

It is also crucial to not push too much to attain the AHT goals. This will make agents rush through calls and not give customers enough attention.

Estimating staffing needs: Having an idea of the average amount of time that employees take to finish a particular task helps companies determine their staffing needs. Let’s say, for example, the employees are taking more time than anticipated. In this case, it is safe to assume that more customers may be left waiting to be answered. As a result, more staff members need to be added to complete the tasks.

Effective planning: Without measuring the AHT in the call center, it is quite difficult to have a definite operations and resource utilization plan. By measuring the AHT and implementing methods to reduce it, firms can identify what changes/upgrades are needed and act on them to increase efficiency and utilize resources effectively.

Reduce costs & increase revenue: As the AHT starts to reduce, call center firms can see that the workflow processes become more streamlined and the productivity levels rise. Extraneous costs are cut down resulting in an increase in revenue.

To be more efficient as a call center firm, it is essential to establish benchmarks for present productivity levels. After setting the benchmarks, firms can analyze their AHT metrics and decide what actionable steps can be taken for further development and growth. AHT doesn’t necessarily indicate the success of the call center, so having a lower AHT doesn’t mean that everything is going well. 

The AHT is an important call center metric, and it should be analyzed and applied according to the goals specific to the organization. If speed and low AHT is kept as the major goal, the quality of service may be compromised. So, call center firms need to ensure that they are monitoring calls for quality instead of completely depending on AHT scores. Rushing to end the call to improve the AHT is no good if it’s done at the cost of a good customer experience. Eventually, the firm may also risk demoralizing its well-performing agents because they have to worry more about time rather than excellent service.

Calculating the Average Handle Time

There exist certain data points for average handle time calculation. 

Let’s Take a Look

  • Talk Time: The talk time is the length of time that a call center representative spends talking to a client. This also includes any interaction time that the client takes, such as to input some data (like an OTP/ DOB) into an automated system.
  • Total Hold Time: It is considered as a part of the average talk time, but only when the caller is put on hold by the agent. Clients may sometimes have to wait in a queue before they get to speak to an agent. This time, however, is not included in the total hold time. Call center agents may have to put the call on hold when they have to collect some information to reach a solution.This time frame is what accounts for hold time.
  • Post Call Work: This is the time required to carry out certain tasks after the call is complete given that the task is related to the case at hand. This usually happens when the client has a complicated issue, for example, a health insurance issue, where the agent may require post-call work and get back to the client again. 

Once the above data is available, one can add the total talk time, total hold time and total after call tasks, and then, divide the result by the total number of calls. The final answer is the average handle time in the call center.

How to Reduce Average Handle Time in the Call Center?

Below mentioned are some tips that businesses can follow and leverage to reduce the average handle time in the call center while keeping the agent output high.

1.       Record and Monitor Inbound and Outbound Calls:

Recording and monitoring of inbound and outbound calls is among the most important average handling tips one could follow. This makes it easier to assess the productivity of an agent as well as identify any bottlenecks that may be hindering the performance of the team of agents as a whole. Besides, the recorded calls can be later reviewed by the managers if they couldn’t do so in real-time. The recordings can also be used during agent training sessions to open up more areas for improvement.

2.       Have a Streamlined Workflow and Process:

Streamlining the agent workflow and processes is probably the most important system that businesses can implement for reducing AHT in a call center. Having a linear, streamlined and simple workflow process helps identify inefficiencies and cut out anything that is contributing to longer handle time and mediocre customer experience. All the repetitive manual tasks must be automated to ensure that all the agents’ time is spent on more productive tasks.

3.       Equip Agents with a Knowledge base:

At times, the customer can bring a tough query or issue for the agent to handle. As agents try and come with an appropriate response or solution to the problem, the AHT might increase. Hence, it is necessary to equip agents with a knowledge base or a ready-reckoner of sorts that will help them immediately look up the answer queries. This saves a substantial amount of time that would have otherwise been spent in searching databases and other business tools.

4.       Keep Customer Greetings Short and Simple:

Opening and closing greetings are essential to ensure that positive customer experience is delivered. It doesn’t matter whether it is automated or spoken, but the greeting has to be short and pleasant. Asking irrelevant and unnecessary questions will make the greeting sound superficial and add extra time to the AHT. Therefore, make sure to keep the customer greeting short, simple and sweet, such that it is able to communicate the friendly attitude concisely.

5.       Use Robust Call Technology:

Having a well-performing system and infrastructure in place will ensure optimum customer service. If the internet speed is slow, for example, agents will naturally have to wait longer for their computer screens to reflect data. Managers must, therefore, pay attention to the system efficiency during the busiest hours of operation. Agents might have to keep many tabs or windows open and running at one time. Managers need to ensure that their system is capable of handling these tasks.

Managers must, therefore, pay attention to the system efficiency during the busiest hours of operation and check whether the data is being updated efficiently. Agents might have to keep many tabs or windows open and running at one time. Managers need to ensure that their system is capable of handling these tasks. Similarly, the telephone lines must also be up and running at all times with provisions for backup.

6.       Use IVRs & auto attendants to save time:

IVRs and auto attendants are quite helpful when implemented wisely. These self-serving technologies can significantly reduce the average handle time. As IVR can collect basic information about the customers and offer answers to common queries regarding address, timings, etc. thus reducing the load on call center agents. Besides, the system can also be used to intelligently route the calls to the right agent/department saving a considerable amount of time.

7.       Avoid Low Service and Productivity Levels:

When agents handle calls repeatedly, it is only natural for them to get exhausted and slow down. This leads to a situation where many customers are put on hold. Consequently, it increases the AHT manifold and annoys the customers, which needs to be avoided at all costs. Making room in the schedule to ensure the agents get regular breaks between calls and refresh themselves can go a long way in increasing productivity.

8.       Take the Opinion of Experienced Customer Service Agents:

While laying down work processes, it is better to take the views and opinions of senior and experienced customer service agents. Having been at the frontlines, they will be able to provide a realistic and accurate idea of what will work and what can go wrong. With their experience, they would also have well established shortcuts and guaranteed methods to achieve a target. So, it is important to perform a field test first before implementing a new process and ensure it is in harmony with the agents who will be working on it.

9.       Take Control of Calls:

Every customer is different, and so will be the content of the call. Some customers like to jump straight to the point, and some may go into unnecessary details before mentioning the actual reason for their call. So, agents need to stay focused and persuade customers to get to the actual point as quickly as possible. Taking control of calls is a skill and call center agents should be trained on that.

10.   Assess Call Types:

Call center agents have to deal with many types of calls. Some might be with regards to billing, while some may be about accounts or general information. Depending on the call type, the AHT may vary. Thus, agents’ performances should be determined while considering the nature of the call that has been handled by them. Moreover, if there is any change in marketing decisions or management decisions, the impact must also be taken into consideration. AHT, as a metric, tends to be volatile at times, and proper care should be exercised to get an absolute assessment of data.

11.   Value Customer Experience:

Although planning around how to lower AHT is vital in a call center environment, it is also important to ensure that agents do not compromise on customer satisfaction in the process. Sometimes, agents tend to disconnect the call or rush through conversations to reduce their handling time. This may work for a short time, but will eventually dilute the brand’s credibility and lead to high customer dissatisfaction levels.  Therefore, businesses need to implement AHT in the right way with the major focus on improving the customer experience.

Factors Affecting Average Handle Time in Call Centers

AHT begins right from the moment a customer makes contact with the call center representative and ends when everything associated with their query is resolved. From the above-mentioned tips to reduce AHT, call centers can easily determine their staffing and efficiency.

Apart from this, there are other factors as well that affect a call center’s average handling time. 

So, if you are looking to learn:

How to lower average handle time?

How to reduce call handling time?

How to reduce AHT on calls?

…you also need to understand what can increase the AHT and negatively impact the performance of the call center. 

Here are a few average handle time tips to ensure higher productivity of your agents:

Lengthy call scripts:

Understand that the customer is here to get their issues resolved. So, the agent can get right to the point without spending much time on long opening statements, establishing empathy bonds, long closing statements, etc.

Sub-optimized scripts:

Scripts are a powerful tool that allows the call center agent to stick to the right course of action for resolving and handling customer issues and minimize AHT.

Irrelevant questions:

When the customer contacts the call center with an issue, they want it resolved as fast as possible. Asking questions that are not relevant to the issue they are facing will do nothing other than increasing the defect rate of the customer. 

Repetition of queries:

Repeating the queries that customers make leads to over-processing that can increase the call duration unnecessarily as well as the AHT.

Repetitive customer interaction:

Call center agents must try to offer all the necessary information to the customer in just one instance. If customers come back with the same issue, it certainly increases the AHT.

Dead air situations:

Such situations occur when there is no conversation between the customer and the call center agent for any reason. This is clearly wastage of time, effort, and resources, which might lead to the defection of the customer.

Hold time:

Sometimes, placing the call of a customer on hold can be necessary. This is important but will contribute to a higher AHT.

Transfer time:

Transfer time is a non-valuable activity that may lead to customer defection. If you have to transfer your customer to a different section, AHT is increased considering the wait time and the time invested by the first agent.

Unnecessary customer validation:

Certain queries do not need customer validation. This will only lead to over-processing and wastage of time.

Search time:

At times, agents may face a customer query that won’t be easy to find on the database for them. The time required to search relevant reference to the query can lead to longer AHT.

These factors, however, can be easily managed when you seek the services of an expert. At ExpertCallers, we follow a streamlined and lean approach and thoroughly train our agents with well-tested scripts to minimize these non-essential activities that can lead to an increase in AHT.

Conclusion

Organizations may have different AHT goals. If a major part of the company dealings involves basic customer issues that are easy to handle, a lower AHT can be expected. But if the company or department is handling difficult and sensitive cases like insurance, they have to aim for comparatively higher AHTs so that they can connect with their customers and deliver a personalized experience.

Therefore, it is vital to understand what the average handle time is and use it to plan and improve customer service strategy while achieving long-term profitable growth.