E-Handbook: Contact center roles shift from cost center to profit center Article 4 of 4

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Average handling time calculation is critical to contact centers

Knowing how to calculate average handling time is an essential component of contact center management, as it helps to determine proper staffing levels within the department.

A key component in contact center management is knowing how to calculate average handling time.

Average handling time (AHT) is a commonly used key performance indicator used in call centers to measure the average length of a customer interaction. This is an important metric, as it enables call center management to determine the proper staffing levels to handle call volume at the required service level and with quality.

Businesses must understand the data points they collect -- which includes average handling time -- to ensure contact centers run as well-oiled machines.

Why AHT is important

The average handling time calculation is critical for accurate forecasting, resource planning, budgeting, scheduling and training needs in call centers. AHT is a vital customer experience metric and operational metric.

For example, in a model where a contact center has five categories of measurements -- accessibility, quality, efficiency, cost performance and strategic impact -- customer service organizations may ask where AHT fits.

AHT is a key efficiency metric that sits alongside forecasting accuracy, adherence to schedule and occupancy. Efficiency is a measure of time, which for both agents and customers is a key component of success. Both parties want to spend the least amount of time giving and receiving service. By focusing on monitoring and managing average handling time, a contact center can find an efficiency balance that works for the business and the customer.

Average handling time formula

The formula to calculate the average handling time for phone interactions in a call center is:

AHT = (total talk time + total hold time + total after-contact work) / number of total calls

Here is a breakdown of what each component means:

  • Talk time is the number of minutes an agent spends speaking with a customer.
  • Hold time is the number of minutes a customer is on hold while agents investigate an issue.
  • After-contact work refers to the number of minutes it takes after a customer interaction for agents to wrap up the case. This includes logging details in a CRM system and updating the knowledge base.

Each of these components requires ongoing training and focus to manage effectively.

The average handling time calculation for phone calls is simple to perform, as this information is readily available and all three data elements noted above are applicable. However, businesses should break down each data element separately rather than lump them together in the same data set.

Here is an example of the average handling time calculation using real-world numbers:

(2,000 total talk-time minutes + 1,000 total hold-time minutes + 700 after-contact work minutes) / 500 calls = 7.4 minutes average handling time minutes

Businesses can use the same formula in other channels -- such as email and chat -- but hold time isn't generally part of this equation:

AHT = (total talk time + total after-contact work) / number of total contacts

Factors that drive up AHT

There are a few factors that can drive up the average handling time in a contact center, including:

  • complex contacts, due to new or upgraded products, customers or processes;
  • technology or system trouble, causing contact center agents to take longer to document a contact or assist a customer; and
  • focus on first-call resolution, as the goal here is to resolve a customer problem in one phone call, which often results in longer interactions.
The average handling time calculation is critical for accurate forecasting, resource planning, budgeting, scheduling and training needs in call centers.

If handling time is too long, this can result in longer contacts in the queue, which drives up average queue/wait times and abandonment rates and causes contact centers to miss key service targets.

To ensure AHT is on target, a best practice for contact centers is to set ranges -- not hard-and-fast, must-hit targets -- for average handling time. Setting hard targets can result in repeat callers, low service quality and agent confusion, which can skew reports and affect scheduling.

Agent behavior

Businesses need to consider how AHT affects agent behavior. If agents focus too much on hard target times, they may cut customer interactions short, provide wrong information, fail to upsell or cross sell, and circumvent systems and process. This ultimately affects the overall customer experience and the ability to hit first-contact resolution targets, as customers will have to call back.

Here are some areas of focus to help contact centers improve average handling time while not sacrificing quality.

  • Train agents in how to navigate key business systems, such as contact center software and CRM systems.
  • Create a knowledge base for both employees and customers to draw from, enabling both groups to find answers to common issues.
  • Monitor agents to identify where they are struggling in order to make improvements in the average handling time.
  • Ensure agents understand the products and services they support.

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