What Average Handle Time (AHT) Means to a Company

Customer service has long been a documented and analyzed process. Layfolk may think of a smiling, grey-haired man behind a general store counter when they imagine this concept. Or a charming, bubbly concierge who is utterly enthused to assist you. Perhaps even a penguin-suited waiter who bows after setting caviar and crackers on a white-linened table. Customer service is a term which often conjures images of these more intangible aspects of customer service. And truly, it’s these things that set apart really stellar customer experiences. But customer service also has measurable aspects which can help a business understand and improve their customer support systems. 

Many metrics exist to keep track of customer communications, improve on existing operations, and ultimately boost revenue and profitability. One of the most important metrics is AHT – or ‘average handle time.’ In this article, we’re going to take a look at what this all-important concept really means, as well as how it’s tracked, and what implications are posed by this metric. 

What is Average Handle Time

Here’s the AHT meaning. 

AHT is what’s known as a KPI, or key performance indicator, and can tell you how efficiently and effectively your customer services operations are running. AHT describes how long it takes for a customer service representative to respond to a consumer inquiry. This includes time from when the inquiry was submitted, to ultimate resolution. 

AHT is usually measured across all different channels, although expectations will vary depending on the method of communication. A phone conversation can last about 5 seconds, whereas an email chain might go on for days. Your company may choose to average your AHT across all platforms, or distinguish between channels, depending on your service volume and the size of your business. 

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. Here’s how to calculate it:

How to Calculate AHT (Average Handle Time)

(Talk time + hold time) / number of calls = AHT. Remember to standardize your units, and calculate time in either minutes OR seconds.

AHT can give you an idea of how fast your customer service is, but not necessarily how successful. AHT is a vital factor to consider when reviewing the performance of your customer service team, but should be looked at in tandem with things like resolution and customer satisfaction reports for a broader picture. 

What is a Good AHT?

This is a complicated question. 

The truth is that different companies across different industries will have different ideas about what makes a good AHT. It all depends on your organization’s definition of quality customer service, and how you structure your service procedures. So while we’d love to give you a number, point to it, and say “this is a good AHT,” that number might be great, or really, really bad depending on your perspective. 

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. 

While the exact measurements might vary for your organization, here are a couple of things to keep an eye on which will indicate improved AHT:

  • 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.

Reducing 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 get your AHT down, while keeping your quality of service way, way up.

  1. Make sure your agents are trained effectively. 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 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 the daily. Metrics such as longer hold times, a high volume of missed or declined calls, and abandonment of callers in queue 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 are well and good as 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. 

Gladly’s Role in Your Company’s AHT

Gladly’s radically personal customer service platform is designed for both efficiency and efficacy. All communication channels are in-built to the program, so your agents can help customers via call, email, and instant messaging with ease. Seamless transfers also mean that you can move from one channel to the next and never have the customer repeat themself. An easily accessible customer history also allows your agents to build meaningful relationships with your consumers, and help facilitate a personal experience every time. 

To see how Gladly can work for you, sign up for a free demo today.

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