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What is average handle time (AHT) and how to reduce it

by Khoros Staff | May 31, 2023

In today's highly competitive business world, delivering excellent customer service is everything. Good customer service not only helps build customer loyalty and enhance brand reputation, but it is crucial for the success of any company. To help ensure high-quality service, businesses use key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure the quality of their care. 

One of the most critical KPIs, particularly for contact centers, is average handle time (AHT). But what is AHT, how do you calculate it, and what can you do to improve AHT to better your customer service performance? Let's take a look.

What is average handle time (AHT)?

Average handle time is a metric used to measure a customer service representative's average time to handle a customer's query or issue from the beginning of the interaction to the final resolution. It’s an essential metric for call centers and customer service departments, providing valuable insights into how efficiently representatives handle customer interactions. AHT is calculated by adding the total time a representative spends interacting with a customer, including hold time and after-call work, and then dividing that by the number of interactions.

Why is average handle time important?

Tracking and reducing AHT is essential for businesses that want to deliver exceptional customer service, drive growth, and maintain a positive brand image. A high AHT can indicate poor customer service, as it suggests that customers are waiting for extended periods for their issues to be resolved, leading to frustration and dissatisfaction. Conversely, a low AHT may indicate that representatives efficiently resolve requests and provide customers with a positive experience.

However, a low AHT could also indicate that agents are rushing through interactions, which can compromise the quality of service. While speed brings more convenience to customers by saving time, they also expect comprehensive, quality support, so try to strike a balance between the two for happier customers.

How to calculate average handle time

As mentioned, calculating average handle time involves adding the total time of all customer interactions, including any hold time and after-call work, and dividing that by the number of interactions. The resulting figure provides an average of the total handle time per interaction.

AHT = Total time with customer / # of interactions

For example, let's imagine a customer service team receives 100 calls daily, and the total handle time for all calls combined is 800 minutes. To calculate AHT, you would divide 800 by 100, giving an AHT of eight minutes per interaction. This means that, on average, it takes a representative eight minutes to handle a customer interaction. If a business wants to reduce AHT, they need to focus on improving the efficiency of its representatives and processes to reduce the time spent on each interaction while still effectively and fully addressing customer needs.

What is a good average handle time?

While average handle time benchmarks will vary by industry, a general goal should be to keep it around six minutes. Though reducing AHT is essential for improving operational efficiency, don’t let it compromise your representatives’ relationship and demeanor with customers. It's equally important to ensure that customer service representatives still have the time to help navigate customers through their questions and concerns until none is left. Focusing solely on AHT reduction without addressing the underlying issues can ultimately backfire, compromising customer experiences and damaging your brand's reputation. Therefore, businesses should strive to find common ground where a low AHT and attentive, compassionate, and helpful customer service can successfully coexist.

5 ways to reduce average handle time

It's crucial for businesses to continuously monitor and improve their AHT, especially as they scale their operations. If you want to reduce your average handle time to stay competitive while maintaining customer satisfaction, here are five tips to follow:

1. Identify causes of high AHT

When looking to reduce average handle time, start by identifying the factors that impact your AHT most. These factors can vary depending on the specific business and industry, but some common issues that can increase AHT include:

  • Complex customer cases

  • Insufficient agent training

  • Ineffective call-routing processes

  • Inefficient procedures

You can analyze customer interactions, gather feedback from representatives, and review data to identify areas for improvement. Or, leverage technology solutions, such as speech analytics and customer journey mapping tools, to gain deeper insights into customer behavior and identify common pain points.

2. Implement self-service resources to handle common inquiries

Implementing self-service resources such as FAQ pages, video walkthroughs, and a community forum can effectively reduce AHT. By creating a knowledge bank for users to solve problems independently, businesses can empower customers to find solutions to common issues without having to contact customer service representatives. This approach can significantly reduce the number of requests that come in, allowing representatives to focus on more unique and complex situations that require personalized attention. Additionally, self-service resources can help businesses reduce costs by reducing the number of representatives needed to handle customer inquiries.

Self-service resources can also provide customers with a more convenient and accessible way to find information and solutions to their problems. Services such as Khoros Communities provide customers with a platform to connect with each other and the company directly, allowing customers to gain personalized and meaningful assistance.

A huge bonus with a community is that it helps businesses to improve operational efficiency, reduce costs, and increase customer loyalty and advocacy.

3. Optimize routing processes

Optimizing routing processes based on the type of requests can significantly improve the efficiency of customer service operations and reduce AHT. By connecting customers to the right agent, businesses can ensure that requests are resolved quickly and accurately, resulting in successful customer encounters. This is particularly important for complex or technical issues that require specialized knowledge or expertise.

Routing customers to the appropriate agent or channel can help resolve the inquiry in the first interaction, avoiding the need for follow-up calls or escalations that can significantly increase AHT. Harnessing automated technology like intelligent routing or skills-based routing can help businesses improve their customer service operations without adding to existing workloads.

4. Continuously train employees

Managers should regularly analyze the performance of their employees to locate areas where training and improvement are needed. For example, suppose an agent has an unusually high number of escalations. In that case, managers should invest in training to help the agent learn de-escalation strategies or understand when to reroute an issue to a specialist.

Training can—and should—take various forms, including classroom training, e-learning, and coaching sessions, and should be tailored to the specific needs of the representative and the business. Training can cover a wide range of topics, including product knowledge, communication skills, and problem-solving techniques, or focus on specific skills, such as effective call handling, active listening, and time management.

By continuously training employees, businesses can ensure their representatives have the necessary skills and knowledge to handle inquiries quickly and proficiently, ultimately reducing AHT.

5. Invest in technology for agents and customers

Outdated or inadequate technology can limit even the best agents, slowing their ability to handle inquiries efficiently. To address this, businesses should invest in comprehensive customer service platforms, such as Khoros, that enable agents to access all necessary information in one place.

Investing in AI and automation can further improve agent workflows and reduce AHT. Chatbots can collect customer information before agents step in, allowing agents to focus on more complex inquiries. AI-powered tools can also suggest solutions and quickly find relevant information, reducing the time it takes to resolve customer issues. By leveraging technology, businesses can provide a more seamless and high-quality customer experience while improving the efficiency of their customer service operations.

Reduce average handle time with Khoros

Reducing average handle time is critical in providing outstanding customer service and streamlining your contact center's operations. By focusing on the most impactful factors that contribute to AHT, implementing self-service resources, optimizing routing processes, continuously training employees, and investing in the right technology, businesses can significantly reduce their AHT and provide a superior customer experience.

Khoros provides a comprehensive customer service platform that helps businesses modernize their contact center and reduce AHT. With Khoros, agents can easily access all the information they need in one place, streamline workflows, and leverage AI and automation tools to improve operational efficiency.

If you want to reduce AHT and take your customer service operations to the next level, Khoros can help. Request a demo today to learn more about how our customer service platform can help streamline your business and provide an exceptional customer experience that keeps customers coming back.

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