Modern customer service teams have a plethora of metrics to measure for a variety of uses: to keep track of customer communications, to improve on existing operations, and ultimately, to boost revenue and profitability. And with the rise of modern service platforms, teams now have access to more data than ever—but there’s one metric that continues to set the standard for customer service efficiency: average handle time, or AHT.
AHT (average handle time) is a critical customer service metric for support teams to track. Your AHT metric and score can tell you how efficiently and effectively your customer services operations are running.
In this guide, Gladly dissects what AHT means, explains how to calculate AHT and how it is tracked, and shares some early indicators that your AHT is improving – or failing.
What Is Average Handle Time?
Average handle time (AHT) is a time-based measure of how long it takes for a customer service representative to respond to a customer inquiry. It is measured from when the inquiry was submitted to its resolution, and can be calculated for different channels.
Along with average wait time (AWT), average handle time is one of the more traditional customer service metrics commonly tracked by teams.
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AHT’s Meaning in a Broader Context
While AHT is a metric that can be applied across all channels of customer communication, it typically only refers to the process of handling customer inquiries over the phone.
Here’s what AHT takes into account when applied to a customer service phone call.
1. Talk time: The number of minutes and seconds a customer service representative spends live on the phone with the customer, from pick-up to conclusion.
2. Hold time: The number of minutes and seconds a customer spends on hold while the representative is solving their issue, transferring the customer to a more appropriate agent, or otherwise indisposed.
3. Volume: The number of cases handled and customer issues resolved within a given time frame.
Your average handle time will be a mean of the above data points. Next, we’ll explain how to calculate AHT.
How to Calculate AHT (Average Handle Time)
To calculate AHT, add your talk time and hold time, and divide that sum by the number of calls you receive in a given time period (a day, a week, etc.) The output will be your average handle time. AHT’s calculation is: (Talk time + hold time) / number of calls = AHT.
Remember to standardize your units, and calculate time in either minutes OR seconds.
Using AHT Reports
Support team managers will likely use a combination of reports to track and analyze this key metric. Gladly offers several ways for support teams to track and report AHT:
This Gladly report unlocks answers to the following questions:
- How is our Active Conversation Handle Time (ACHT) changing over time?
- How long are Agents on my team spending time working on a Conversation?
- Is our ACHT increasing or decreasing the number of Conversations that are closed?
Going a step further, this Gladly report breaks out AHT metrics on the individual, agent-specific level to reveal:
- How long is it taking an Agent to handle a Conversation?
- How is Active Conversation Handle Time changing over time for Agents?
Looking at AHT on a channel-by-channel basis is extremely important as well, especially for brands that provide a truly channel agnostic experience to customers. This report helps managers find quick answers to questions like:
- How long is it taking one of my Agents to handle a Conversation on each Channel?
- How is Active Conversation Handle Time changing over time on each Channel?
- Does ACHT by Agent increase or decrease with the number of Conversations that are closed on each Channel?
Unpacking AHT Scores for Customer Support Teams
Understanding your average handle time score is valuable because it offers multiple uses for customer support teams. By tracking AHT scores during both regular and peak seasons, customer service teams can:
- Reduce their tooling costs
- Efficiently plan staffing for peak or off seasons,
- Keep tabs on overall customer satisfaction, and
- Monitor employee performance over time
How to Determine Staffing with Average Handle Time
AHT is critical to calculating staffing needs. In addition to analyzing historical AHT data, teams should consider the projected call volume against their available support channels. Adding lower-effort channels like self-service, SMS, and IVR-to-text will help reduce pressure on staffing needs while improving AHT.
Keep in mind: AHT can give you an idea of how fast your customer service is, but not necessarily how successful. When you start measuring your average handle time, review it side-by-side with factors like resolution and customer satisfaction reports for a more holistic picture.
What Is a Good AHT Score?
Unfortunately, there isn’t one standard “good” average handle time to aim for. Different companies across different industries will have different responses, depending on their personal definition of quality service, and how their service procedures are structured. Also, if you’re tracking AHT across multiple channels, like phone, email, and live chat, your scores may vary wildly.
Obviously, efficient call handling times are ideal. But speed isn’t everything in customer service. Quality should always come before quantity when dealing with customer inquiries, and reps should never, ever rush a customer through a support interaction in the interest of lowering AHT.
Pro tip: Don’t panic if your AHT scores seem high — do some digging and investigate whether your longer AHT times are due to quality conversations that lead to cross-selling or upselling opportunities.
How to Reduce Average Handle Time
Live channels are the main culprits of high handle times – especially phone support. Focus on optimizing talking and holding times and your call routing. Additionally, doing scenario-specific training and using scripts helps ensure customer interactions are streamlined, not improvised.
How To Tell if Your AHT is Improving
While the exact measurements might vary for your organization, the following metrics are the first indicators that your AHT score are improving, or will start improving soon:
- Minimized hold times. This means a fast first introduction, quick transfers, and as little dead air as possible.
- Optimized talk times. This means effective conversation between rep and customer: good listening, comprehension, and desirable solutions.
- Increased handling volume. This means your reps are taking care of an optimal number of customers within a given timeframe.
- Improved customer satisfaction. This means consumers are happy with the support they receive while on the line with your reps. Customer satisfaction should be priority number one in all aspects of your consumer support strategy.
Improving AHT for Improved Customer Satisfaction
It’s important to do your best to strike a balance between offering fast AND effective service to your callers. Optimal support is efficient without sacrificing efficacy. Here are a few best practices to follow to reduce your AHT, while keeping your quality of service trending upwards.
1. Make sure your agents are trained effectively. In addition to your procedural basics, they should be experts on your product, and fluent in compassion and empathy. Reps that don’t know what they’re doing can be a huge detriment to your team, so you should first and foremost make sure your agents know what they’re doing and are ready for any situation.
2. Utilize knowledge management. Your reps should have easy access to the same knowledge base and self-service documents that your customers do. Help articles not only provide powerful training tools and quick-reference guides, but they also allow your agents to better understand the perspective of their customers.
3. Monitor agent performance. If you want to stay on top of AHT and QC, pay attention to how your individual representatives are doing on a daily basis. Be on the lookout for metrics like longer hold times, a high volume of missed or declined calls, and abandonment of callers in queue. These can serve as warning signs and will let you know if someone needs a little extra help, or if your department as a whole needs an overhaul.
4. Record calls to use in ongoing training. Theoretical scenarios work fine for learning devices, but real-live customer interactions are the ultimate weapon in getting your agents prepped for any situation which may arise. You can even provide reps with recordings of their own calls to demo their own potential to succeed, or indicate situations where they may have slipped.
5. Optimize call routing and internal communications. One of the major killers of AHT is inefficient routing systems. A customer will get sent to one agent first, who then will have to manually transfer them to the correct rep. The amount of time that tacks onto a call can be utterly mind-blowing. Get your phone tree running as smoothly as possible to make sure that customers are routed to the right agent as often as possible.
How Gladly Can Play a Role in Your Company’s AHT
Our radically personal customer service platform is designed for both efficiency and efficacy. The following features, all included in our platform, help customer service teams measure and optimize their average handle times in a variety of ways:
Rich, full customer profile data
Knowing who a customer is within the first five seconds of a conversation allows reps to get straight to resolution, without hunting for basic details.
All channels included, out of the box
All communication channels are in-built to the program, so reps can help customers via call, email, social media, in-app chat, and instant messaging with ease.
An iMessage-like conversation history
Seamless transfers also mean that you can move from one channel to the next and never have the customer repeat themself.
Want to see how Gladly can work for you? Sign up for a free demo today.