average handle time aht

Average Handle Time (AHT) Best Practices

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I get it, time is money. The more time your agents are on the phone, the more they’re costing you. Not just in telecom costs, but in other areas like service level and customer satisfaction. A quick google search for call center metrics will explain to a new contact center leader what success metrics should be tracked – average speed to answer, average time in queue, service level, first call resolution, and one of the most important of them all, average handle time. As we know, this metric is directly tied to cost, which for a contact center is extremely important. How often are our floors only perceived as cost center and a necessary evil to the rest of the organization? It’s no surprise then, that average handle time, or AHT, is the single most common metric that contact center leaders are tracking and using to set goals against. But should it be?

What is Average Handle Time?

Average handle time is the average amount of time that agents spend on all call-related activities, including talk time, hold time, and any work that is required after the call to finalize the customer service issue. Here is an easy way to calculate it:

(Talk Time + Hold Time + After Call Work) / Total number of calls

What’s interesting about the AHT metric is that the goal is often “as low as possible.” However, productive time is calculated using the same three inputs. So, if we are telling our agents to minimize their handle time, and their productivity is measured with the same three inputs, then what value are we placing on the quality of their productive outputs? Now to be clear, I’m not trying to convince you to throw out AHT and never look back. Rather, I’m encouraging you to reframe how AHT should be used.

To understand the “how”, we simply need to understand the “I” in KPI: Indicator. What is an indicator? An indicator is a value that informs us of the state or level of something. A KPI is not necessarily a metric, as a metric is a system or standard of measurement. Agent metrics are measured against goals, whereas KPIs indicate the state of things we care about. What happens when an aggressive AHT goal is set as an agent metric? We end up asking our agents to act like game show contestants on the clock to accomplish a challenge (like FCR), frantically trying to win that car before the buzzer sounds. Is that any way we should be servicing our customers? Why then are we setting AHT goals at the agent level?

If we start using AHT as a KPI rather than an agent metric, we need to understand what factors influence AHT and vice versa. Factors like quality guidelines, service protocols, learning and development initiatives, the degree of agent empowerment – like an agent’s flexibility to deliver a resolution without escalation or supervisor approval – system utilization and connection speed, etc… These factors all influence AHT. Thus, efficiency improvements in these surrounding influencers will help to organically improve AHT.

Shifting agent goals away from AHT to some of these more granular metrics will help influence behaviors that create fantastic customer experiences, help agents feel more in control of their productivity, and assist you as leaders to effectively track the health of your contact center. Focus on these areas, and simply watch the indicator move in the right direction.