Are your call center interactions taking too long?
If so, it might be time to start reducing your average handle time.
Although average handle time might seem like a small—and primarily internal—metric, it can make a big difference on customer satisfaction. Faster handle times mean:
- more customers can get helped more quickly
- increased volume in calls presents less of a strain on internal resources
- customer satisfaction typically increases
- customers feel that their time is valued
However, reducing handle time is often easier said than done. In this article, we’ve gathered tried-and-true techniques from our team of experts to help you calculate—and reduce!—your average handle time.
How to Calculate Your Average Handle Time
Calculating Average Handle Time (AHT) is pretty straightforward. In short, you are looking to understand the average amount of time each interaction takes to handle, including any hold times, talking time, and after-call work. Not even company factors after-call work (ACW) into their AHT calculation, but we do recommend it.
After all, if ACW is taking a significant amount of time, it will eventually reduce the amount of calls agents are able to handle, increasing customer wait time and reducing efficiency. ACW includes things like post-call processing or tracking, updating customer data, scheduling follow-ups or tracking KPIs.
To calculate your AHT, simply add the total talk time + total hold time + total after-call work time and then divide by the total number of calls.
Many call center softwares will be able to process this calculation for you. A good average handle time is typically around 6 or 6.5 minutes. While this varies some by industry, 6 minutes is a standard benchmark to aim for in the beginning.
You can look at this on a per-agent basis, as well as for certain time periods, departments, or your call center as a whole. In order to effectively reduce your AHT, it’s helpful to have a detailed picture of which departments, agents or situations are driving up the average.
How to Reduce your Call Center’s Average Handle Time
Whether your AHT is much higher than six minutes and you’re trying to get down to industry standard, or you’re looking to cut your AHT even further to improve overall efficiency of your call center, here are five tried-and-true techniques from our team of experts to reduce your call center’s average handle time.
Improve call center agent training and performance
One of the most effective ways to reduce AHT is to improve call center agent performance, typically through additional skills-based training. The more efficient and productive agents are, the more calls they’ll be able to handle in a shorter period of time.
Not to mention that a mere 30% of customer service agents feel empowered to do their jobs well. The data on customer service agents clearly points to the need for more and improved training:
- Only 20% of agents feel they’ve received high-quality training.
- 62% of agents say that “more skills-based training would improve their performance”
- What’s more, 68% of customers feel that businesses need to improve agent training.
Unfortunately, if agents don’t have the training they need to be successful, it’s only a short matter of time until that lack of training seeps down to your customers, reducing not just operational metrics like AHT, but also customer satisfaction. As a result, agent training and performance improvements should be top of the list when considering how to improve AHT.
But how can companies practically improve agent training and performance? Companies can invest in some of the following training techniques for both new and existing agents:
- Have newer agents shadow high-performing agents to watch and learn good techniques.
- Implement ongoing and regular training to practice best practices for call handling.
- Use roleplay games and training exercises for scenarios that typically create lengthier calls, such as complex scenarios or angry customers.
- Provide methods for collaboration among agents so agents can learn from one another.
- Provide ongoing training on your product or services for agents to reduce the amount of time they need to spend on calls reviewing solutions or finding answers.
Additionally, you can simply ask your team directly what they need more practice in and what they’d like to review more regularly. Odds are your customer service agents and managers have an understanding of where they need more practice and would be happy to provide feedback.
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Optimize call scripts and knowledge base
In addition to direct agent training, the materials that agents use—whether that’s call scripts, best practices, knowledge bases or other resources—should be regularly updated and optimized as well.
The correlation is straightforward: the better your knowledge bases, the faster agents can find the answers and information they need, resulting in quicker calls and reduced AHT. In addition, public knowledge bases and FAQ resources can empower customers to find answers on their own, potentially resulting in not needing to contact customer service at all.
For example, companies like Zapier and Shopify have extensive Help Center knowledge bases. Not only do these act as a go-to FAQ center for questions about accounts and billing, but they also help to build customer knowledge about how to use the product, perform common actions, and troubleshoot errors. These knowledge bases serve both customer support and customer success functions, reducing AHT, yes, but also strengthening the customer experience overall.
Understanding why scripts and knowledge bases should be improved is just the first step, though—how should companies actually begin to do so?
- Ask your current high-performing agents for input. Agents typically have the best insight into common customer complaints and problems, and may have recommendations for the most effective solutions or scripts.
- Check QA logs. If you have a QA process implemented at your company, look for calls that performed especially well or poorly. What scripts or key language or techniques were used in these calls? See if you can implement positive techniques into your current scripts, or remove techniques that are not performing well.
- Review the sentiment of your scripts. Ensure that your scripts are using positive framing and empathetic language. In addition, consider having variations of your scripts for different customer sentiments (i.e. angry customers vs. delighted customers).
Implement advanced call routing and IVR systems
Aside from agent training, there are other things you can do to reduce AHT as well—and making effective use of the technology available is an important one.
Advanced call routing uses more sophisticated IVR systems to understand:
- who the caller is and if they’re already a customer or not
- where they’re calling from and their current time zone
- what their general question or concern is
- what their preference for waiting and interactions are (i.e. do they prefer to wait on hold or receive a call back later? Do they prefer self-service options or waiting for an agent?)
By understanding these details and preferences before connecting a customer with an agent, the advanced routing system can take this data into account and match callers with an agent who is:
- in the right department for their question
- in their same location or time zone (as applicable)
- matches their preferences
- has availability and skills to answer their concern
Such systems also provide the agent with more customer details and concerns, before the call ever gets picked up. All of this makes the experience smoother for the customer. Not just that, though—it reduces AHT by reducing transfer frequency, wait times and hold times. Since callers are matched with agents who are a good fit for them based on skill set and workload, agents spend less time looking up information, thus reducing AHT.
Use analytics identify bottlenecks and opportunities
The most effective way to fix your AHT is to understand the root cause of your inflated handle time.
- Are agents not able to find the answers they need quickly, inflating hold times?
- Are call scripts too long and wordy, so agents spend too much time talking?
- Do agents need more training for getting to the heart of customer inquiries quickly?
- Is the after-call work process too detailed and involved?
Finding the root cause—and understanding how to improve it—requires data and analysis, but allows you to pinpoint the exact element causing long conversations and where time on calls is being spent.
To analyze your calls effectively, you need to first ensure that your interactions are being monitored and recorded. Analysis tools such as speech analytics, AI, operational measurements and so on can help you pinpoint bottlenecks in your process. For example, a high number of supervisor escalations or transfers can point to a need for additional agent training, more advanced IVR systems or other interventions.
Whatever the root cause, once you’ve determined where time is going throughout an interaction, you can then implement targeted interventions to alleviate it.
In addition, good call analytics can help you identify opportunities for improvement, even if your AHT is pretty good overall. For example, you might notice lots of dead air gaps, frequent wordiness from agents, or other small concerns that, if resolved, could help improve AHT and customer satisfaction even further.
Implement customer self-service options
Of course, providing more self-service options is also an effective way to reduce AHT indirectly. By reducing the number of callers in the queue, you can improve the speed at which customers who are in the queue get help.
However, keep in mind that this may initially increase AHT because your callers may shift to having, on average, more complex calls. Since customers with simple questions or needs will be able to find answers on their own, your call lines are likely to become more weighted toward complicated questions, without answers easily available. This will increase the need for agent training, but still should increase CSAT overall.
To help with this, you can also consider implementing chatbots, which can greatly reduce AHT. Since chatbots are able to not only answer customer questions, find knowledge base articles for customers and perform tracking and logging tasks, chatbots improve self-service while also reducing handle time for agents.
However, all of these solutions are just a starting point—the key is to look at your own call center practices, needs and data and develop an analysis of where a higher-than-average AHT is coming from first. Then, work strategically to fix underlying issues and identify opportunities for improvement.
If you’re looking for customer service experts to help you resolve operational challenges like AHT, our team at Global Response is here to help. With 40+ years of customer service experience, we’re in the business of making your customer service effective, innovative and exceptional—so that you can create loyal customers for life.
Connect with a customer experience expert from Global Response today!