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What is average handle time (AHT) and how do you calculate it?

Average handle time (AHT) is a customer service metric that measures the average length of a customer's call. Use it to improve operational efficiency.

Por Jesse Martin, Staff Writer

Última actualización el January 26, 2024

A customer’s time is precious, and so is yours.

Average handle time (AHT) is a common customer service metric that helps businesses understand how efficient their support teams are. This key performance indicator (KPI) was popularized by call centers but is now used by contact centers and help desks offering digital support.

In this article, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about calculating AHT and tweaking the formula to suit your needs.

Table of contents:

What is average handle time (AHT)?

Average handle time

Average handle time measures the average duration of a customer service interaction. It’s a metric call centers often use as a KPI.

Traditionally, the standard AHT formula encompasses total talk time, total hold time, and number of calls handled. However, modern support organizations, like virtual call centers, may find this model outdated.

Read on to learn more about calculation methods and tips for calls, live chat, and email.

What’s a good average handling time?

Generally, a good average handle time is around six minutes.

However, this number will differ depending on your company’s approach to the customer experience, the channels used for support, the offered products or services, and your team’s organizational structure.

Why is average handle time important?

Calculating average handle times can yield essential insights that benefit businesses and customers. For instance, with average handle time estimates, you can:

How to calculate average handle time

The formula to calculate average handling time will vary depending on the channel you’re measuring. Below, you’ll find three AHT formulas for different customer service communication channels.

Call AHT formula

The AHT formula for phone calls considers call handling and follow-up times. Businesses that want a more comprehensive look at the time it takes to finish a call and close the ticket can also consider swapping “after-call work” with “follow-up times.”

AHT = (talk + hold + follow-up times) / total number of calls

Email AHT formula

The AHT formula for email only considers follow-up time since there is no element of live interaction. The formula assesses the time it takes to resolve a support request from the moment a customer first makes contact.

AHT = total time conversing with customers + wait times / total number of emails

Live chat AHT formula

The live chat AHT calculation measures the total handle time across a range of live chats.

AHT = total handle time / total number of chats

Tip: Try using an average handle time calculator to quickly calculate AHT from the convenience of your preferred web browser.

AHT calculation example

Picture this: Your business receives 150 calls. When you add up the time each interaction takes, it equals 3,000 minutes of talk time, 700 minutes of hold time, and 500 minutes of follow-up time.

To calculate your average handle time, you must plug these numbers into the call AHT formula. So, the equation would be:

(3,000 + 700 + 500) / 150 = 28

Your average handle time is 28 minutes.

Tip: Remember that the units of measurement must all be the same for the formula to work. You can enter the times in seconds, minutes, or hours, but you can only choose one per calculation.

Improve your average handle time with Zendesk

Watch a quick Zendesk demo to see how you can track, measure, and improve your average handle time with the right customer service software.

8 tips to reduce average handle time in a support center

Factors like a lack of agent knowledge, ineffective automation, technical mishaps, and customer sentiment toward the company often cause average handling times to increase.

When this happens, most businesses are eager to remedy the situation. Luckily, there are a few ways to reduce average handle time.

1. Onboard and continuously train agents

One of the most impactful ways to improve your support center’s productivity is adequate onboarding and ongoing agent training. After all, support agents are best equipped to meet customer expectations, and the right knowledge can help them do so efficiently.

Keeping that in mind, here are the top ways businesses can educate their customer support teams to optimize CX.

  • Use call listening to learn from the past: Support teams should review call recordings to identify communication opportunities and reduce average handle times.
  • Schedule performance reviews: Regularly go over support performance metrics and set new goals to ensure agent skills progress.
  • Make customer feedback accessible: Agents can also learn how to cultivate better support experiences based on customer feedback. When a customer leaves a review, share it with the agent who assisted them.

For more tips on how to fully optimize customer service and boost customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores, read our customer service management and customer service training guides.

2. Provide self-service options

Customer self-service adds a layer of convenience for buyers and majorly benefits support agents. Self-service resources like internal knowledge bases and help center articles can keep average handling times low by:

  • Making it easier for customers to find answers to their questions without human assistance.

  • Reducing the need for agents to work on low-complexity tickets.

  • Streamlining the support process for agents still learning about the business, its products, and the best solutions for customer issues.

3. Monitor agent performance

To fully understand the strengths and weaknesses of a contact center and the agents who work there, managers need to decode the meaning behind the data. The insights they draw may vary heavily, but there are a few key metrics that businesses can track to better understand performance.

Some of these are:

  • Average talk time.

  • Missed calls.

  • Declined calls.

  • Accepted transfers.

  • Longest wait time.

  • Abandoned in the queue.

  • Exceeded queue wait.

  • Average time to answer.

  • Average hold time.

There’s a good chance that these metrics will impact AHT, so you’ll want to monitor and compare them to handle time data.

4. Offer proactive support

By implementing proactive support strategies, companies can decrease the number of incoming support requests. Agents can focus on more complex issues and tackle customer interactions more efficiently.

Here are three proactive support examples that can ultimately reduce AHT times:

  • Communicate early: Anticipate common customer issues and company updates and reach out to customers with personalized messages to preemptively address any concerns. This can prevent an influx of lengthy support interactions from confused customers.
  • Educate customers: Invest in a customer success team that can teach new customers about the product they bought, where to find help center resources and troubleshooting tips. Team members can educate them early to reduce the likelihood of the customer needing help from customer service or IT.
  • Analyze data: Utilize customer data points and analytics to identify patterns, trends, and impediments to customer service. Armed with this knowledge, support teams can anticipate and resolve issues before they occur.

5. Automate tasks, processes, and communications

It’s crucial for support centers to have skill-based routing rules and processes, as this can improve efficiency and contribute to a lower AHT.

Route calls and digital support requests to the most appropriate agent whenever possible. Routing customers to agents with insufficient knowledge, skills, or capacity can eat up valuable time.

A well-designed interactive voice response (IVR) routing system or automated customer service software can increase agent-less resolution rates and customer satisfaction, plus save time and money.

6. Use insights to improve the customer experience

Customers want efficiency in any support interaction they have. If they have to get in touch with customer service, it’s usually because of an inconvenience.

AHT data is useful because the insights businesses gain from it can help support teams mitigate inconveniences by identifying inefficiencies at the source.

By using AHT data to assess the efficiency of agents and departmental performance, businesses can:

  • Create CX strategies.

  • Establish data benchmarks.

  • Minimize hold times.

  • Optimize talk times.

  • Increase first contact resolution rates.

  • Improve customer retention.

  • Reduce customer churn.

7. Introduce AI into the support process

If a high volume of support calls is hindering AHT, consider other self-service options to offset those calls.

For example, chatbots and virtual customer assistants can assist desktop and mobile users, and promoting them via IVR can potentially reduce the number of support interactions over calls.

Incorporate chatbots, AI, and virtual assistants to:

  • Handle routine inquiries.

  • Direct customers to the right resources.

  • Escalate complex issues to live agents.

  • Share relevant customer context or resource recommendations.

All of these features of AI and automation can speed up support and ease some of the strain on human agents.

8. Equip agents with the right software

Good customer service software can play a large part in optimizing average handle times. With powerful, reliable customer service software, agents are free to focus on the customer care element of support.

Here are the top ways businesses with customer-focused cultures leverage CX software to empower agents:

  • Centralized information: Employees need access to a single, centralized location where any employee can access details about a customer’s account history and past interactions with various departments. Agents can skip unnecessary questions and provide an effortlessly personalized CX.
  • Real-time collaboration: With a collaborative agent workspace, agents can seek peer assistance and collaborate to find faster solutions to complex service requests.
  • Analytics and reporting: Good customer service software enables businesses to set benchmarks, track progress, and identify ways to improve processes and CX.
  • Seamless support between channels: Omnichannel support is here to stay, so software solutions should enable agents to manage support requests from various channels through a single window—without wasting time switching between tabs.

Limitations of the AHT formula

Here’s the thing: A low AHT doesn’t always mean a call center is performing as well as it should. Typically, average handle time needs to strike a happy medium. Your goal AHT should be high enough that agents can still deliver high-quality support but low enough that your contact center isn’t losing money.

But striking the right balance is far from the only limitation of AHT. For example:

  • Improperly communicated AHT insights may cause businesses to push agents to end calls quickly at the expense of quality service and CX.
  • AHT irregularities or inaccuracies sometimes lead businesses to draw incorrect conclusions and make decisions about staffing, training, and promotions.
  • AHTs are vulnerable to human error, which can throw off averages.

Strike a balance between quality and speed

While aiming for faster resolutions is essential, businesses must remember that true success lies in striking the right balance between speed and quality service. Customer service software, like Zendesk, makes this possible.

Invest in support software that can grow with your business, enable agents to flourish, and help optimize average handle times. When leveraged successfully, companies can use available tools to foster long-lasting customer relationships, build trust, and ultimately thrive in even the most competitive industries.

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