This article is part of a larger series on VoIP.
Reducing your average handle time (AHT) boosts customer loyalty and satisfaction while increasing agent productivity. To make this happen, businesses need to invest in continuous agent training and additional self-service options. Routing calls efficiently is also one of the ways to improve average handle time, along with gaining customer interaction insights and using workflow automation tools.
Follow these nine simple yet effective tips to help decrease your AHT:
1. Provide Ongoing Agent Training
New hire and ongoing training sessions are a must for call center agents. Handling calls efficiently requires soft skills, like knowing when to cut the small talk without interrupting the customer. Apart from this, your agents should also feel comfortable navigating your contact center software and knowledge bases.
Many providers, including RingCentral and Freshdesk, supply software tutorials, webinars, and live training sessions. Use these to familiarize agents with your tools. Work with them in person or virtually to ensure they understand how to operate the softphone application. Plus, review call data to identify elements of the job that your rep struggles with.
For instance, your agents may not be aware of a new feature that can reduce after-call work (ACW) time. Or they may lack confidence when speaking to an angry or frustrated customer. A supportive work culture, ongoing training, and plenty of resources can guide your employees.
Improve agent training by:
- Allowing staff to dedicate a certain amount of time per quarter to on-demand training opportunities, based on their personal needs.
- Offering regular walk-throughs of software updates in the form of an on-demand video and transcripts.
- Regularly updating knowledge bases and scripts to reflect changes to your products, services, and customer trends.
- Encouraging mentorship and collaboration between agents by providing group chat and individual messaging tools.
- Providing cross-training opportunities so agents can answer different question types and reduce call transfers.
- Hosting micro-training sessions to address specific problems, such as de-escalation tactics for agents with a high number of supervisor escalations.
2. Offer Additional Self-service Options
Consumers appreciate self-service tools, including online account dashboards and interactive voice response (IVR) systems. They can quickly access account data without waiting in line or explaining their situation to an agent. In fact, 82% of respondents to Salesforce’s State of the Connected Customer report currently use or are interested in using self-service portals.
Self-service options are most helpful for call centers with a high volume of fundamental questions that could be automated. Reducing these call types lets your employees focus on high-value calls, such as product purchasing questions or usage problems. Self-service features also reduce labor costs, as reps spend less time looking up caller records. Many large enterprises play a message while callers are on hold, directing them to self-service options for faster results.
3. Route Calls More Efficiently
If the first agent who picks up the call doesn’t have the answer, your customer satisfaction score drops. Callers stuck in a long hold queue may be too frustrated to be satisfied, even if your agent has the answer. Improving your routing can reduce aggravation from all sides and deliver better performance rates across many metrics.
However, your call routing is dependent on your automatic call distribution (ACD) capabilities. Standard voice-over-internet-protocol (VoIP) software offers fewer routing options than call center systems, such as Freshdesk Omnichannel Suite and RingCentral Contact Center. Simultaneously ringing all open lines in your accounting department may work for low call volumes, but it’s less effective as your business grows.
Reduce your average handle time by applying:
- Skills-based routing: Send more complex calls to agents trained in the topic or department and let less knowledgeable reps handle common questions.
- Fixed order: Put your scheduled agents on a list, and each call goes in that order. It evenly distributes call volumes and works well for reps with similar skill sets.
- Time-based: This type of routing is typically available with most VoIP software, as it directs calls based on your company or agent’s schedule.
- Talk-time: Use this method to allocate simple and complex calls among agents. It sends incoming calls to the rep with the lowest amount of talk time.
- Percentage routing: Lighten loads for newer agents or separate your sales department into teams using percentage routing.
4. Gain Insights From Customer Interactions
Leverage omnichannel call center software to collect data about how your customers use self-service tools, interact with chatbots, and perform searches on your website. This information can provide vital clues about the types of questions they have for your agents, allowing you to tailor training sessions and update knowledge bases.Additionally, advanced features can pull data about various interactions into your call center software. Your agents can see what web page the caller last accessed or which self-service tools they’ve already used. Reps can personalize their greeting and approach to fit the situation.
Plus, don’t discount the importance of natural language processing (NLP) and speech analytics. These tools highlight customers’ tone of voice, repeated keywords, and filler words used by agents. Review call data to see where inefficiencies exist and change your process or training efforts.
Pro tip: Run regular reports showing the duration of calls broken down into on-hold, talk, and after-call work (ACW) time. Compare your rates to previous time frames and look at differences between agents. Use this data and other key performance indicators (KPIs) to determine steps to take.
5. Model Proper Call Management Techniques
Knowing the difference between a good and bad call is not enough. Use actual call recordings and transcripts to train staff, improve scripts, and update knowledge bases.
For instance, RingCentral Contact Center uses artificial intelligence (AI) to identify key phrases that improve call outcomes. Share examples of these calls and highlight the terms or statements that work well for your clients. Also, consider recording your top performers’ screens during model calls. That way, employees can see the actions taken while on a call, such as searching an internal knowledge base or adding customer-specific notes to help the next agent.
6. Select the Right Business Phone System
The best business phone systems should provide features that streamline call center operations while improving caller and agent experiences. Most platforms have auto-attendant, IVR, and ACD systems. But you may need to upgrade to higher plan tiers to get tools like speech analytics and call monitoring.Look for software that offers:
- Call monitoring: Assess skill sets and identify problems before they affect your AHT.
- Call recording: Record calls for quality purposes and use them for ongoing agent training.
- Call whisper: Coach agents in real time using the call whisper feature.
- Call barge: Reduce call transfers by allowing supervisors to take over the phone call.
7. Integrate Your Business Software
Computer telephony integration (CTI) is an essential component of your call center software. Tools like RingCentral Contact Center integrate with CRMs, help desk software, sales and marketing platforms, and workforce optimization apps. You can pull richer data sets into reports and increase employee productivity by connecting your services.Agents can make calls directly from the customer relationship manager (CRM), reducing the need to switch applications or have multiple screens open. They also spend less time on repetitive data entry, as integrated tools can sync data in real time, such as an update to an email address or purchase history.
8. Encourage Increased First Call Resolutions (FCR)
Give your team the resources to solve problems on the first call while reducing hold times and call transfers. In doing so, you can increase your FCR rate and decrease your AHT. If customers call multiple times and hang up once they’re in a call queue or placed on hold during a transfer, your FCR rate tanks. Plus, there’s a higher likelihood that your agents will get a frustrated customer on the line, increasing handle times.Like other AHT best practices, first call resolution improvements are the result of several tactics, including the following:
- Providing ample training and resources
- Encouraging agents to instant message supervisors during a call
- Using speech analytics to guide scripts
- Giving reps access to customer data
9. Use Workflow Automation Tools
Workflow automation is one of the best features in a tool like Freshdesk Omnichannel Suite. It can shave seconds off every phone call by automatically placing customer information on the screen before your agent picks up the phone or prepopulating forms, so they have fewer questions to ask.
Workflow automation also assists agents by guiding them through various scripts and highlighting popular help desk articles. And when the call ends, call center automation features handle much of the post-call work. Speech analytics gauge customer sentiment and score calls, recordings and transcripts highlight keywords, and call notes automatically go into the CRM record.
Why Average Handle Time (AHT) Is Critical
Every interaction with your call center leaves an impression on your customer. Long hold times, multiple transfers, and slow speed to answer decreases satisfaction. According to Invoca, 5% of consumers will hang up if put on hold, and 28% will wait only up to five minutes. Callers also feel frustrated if they have to repeat themselves.
Each of these aspects increases your average handle time. And longer calls mean your agents answer fewer calls per shift, resulting in less productive representatives. After-call work (ACW) also affects AHT and includes updating customer records and scheduling callbacks. If your reps spend too much time documenting calls, your AHT rises while efficiency decreases.
Monitoring and measuring call center metrics help you ensure optimal service levels and identify issues early. For instance, you can break down your AHT by parts (hold time, talk time, or ACW) to see which area is most problematic.
Likewise, drilling into individual agent performance can highlight opportunities for improvement. By tracking key performance indicators (KPIs), you can keep your operating expenses within your budget, increase customer satisfaction rates, and ensure appropriate staffing levels.
How to Calculate AHT
AHT refers to the total amount of time it takes to complete a call, including time spent on hold, talking, and completing post-call tasks. You can calculate AHT manually by adding together these three components and dividing the sum by the total number of calls. However, this method is tedious and less accurate than contact center software reports.
Call center phone systems, such as RingCentral Contact Center and Freshdesk Omnichannel Suite, have AHT reports that automatically calculate your average handle time. You can select primary and secondary metrics, including inbound or outbound calls, and run reports per agent or your whole contact center.
According to Call Centre Helper, “six minutes and three seconds” is the industry standard for average handle times. Your actual AHT rate may vary due to your industry, team size, or department. That’s why it’s vital to benchmark your AHT at the company, agent, and department level.
Reasons for High AHT
Many factors affect AHT, including the tools your agents use and their ability to quickly answer calls and complete work. Identify the root causes behind why your AHT is high to prioritize methods for improvement. Call handling and analytic reports can uncover problem areas, giving you a good idea of where to begin.
Here are the top reasons for having a high AHT rate:
Mismanaged Agent Time
Long pauses on phone conversations result in dead air, increasing your average handle time. Your agents may have trouble finding the correct information, following a script, or responding to difficult questions. On the other hand, higher ACW rates could signal a problem with post-call workflows.
Inexperience and unfamiliarity with software can lengthen calls and harm customer experiences. RingCentral Contact Center offers speech analytics tools and call monitoring features to highlight inefficiencies, giving you key insights into the best actions to take.
Repeatedly Collected Information
Although 71% of Invoca survey respondents “believe businesses already know why they’re calling,” “only 15% say they rarely or never have to repeat themselves.” Call length increases every time your caller repeats themselves. This can stem from ineffective software lacking integrations or problems handing off calls.
Your customer provides basic information before your rep picks up the phone in best-case scenarios. An interactive voice response (IVR) system can verify account details and ask callers to describe the main issue while your call center software pulls data from your CRM. These records pop up on your agent’s screen, reducing or eliminating the need to ask the same questions again.
Poor Call Routing
Sending calls to the wrong department or agent can increase average handle times and have a negative impact on customer experiences. Call transfers are relatively common, with Invoca reporting that “79% of callers are rerouted at least once.” But poor call routing increases customer frustration and can cause consumers to lose trust in your brand.
A capable automatic call distributor (ACD) is a must-have feature, as it supports simple to complex rules for routing. If your AHT is high, check out your call transfer rate. An equally high number suggests a need to investigate why call transfers happen and adjust your routing rules accordingly.
Inadequate Staffing Levels
The average handle time accounts for every second your caller spends on hold. Your hold times may be longer during peak hours or seasons, as will your AHT. And the longer customers spend waiting, the more likely they are to hang up the phone or rate the experience negatively. While some delays are inevitable during your busiest hours, a consistent pattern could point to inadequate staffing levels.
Take a look at your average hold times and see if it fluctuates during specific time frames. Also, consider integrating workforce management (WFM) software to improve scheduling. It looks at call volumes, agent skill sets, and labor to determine optimal staffing levels.
Lowering your average handle time saves your call center money and boosts profits by increasing customer satisfaction, loyalty, and retention rates. Find ways to improve average handle time, and it’s possible to increase scores in other call center metrics as well. Use software like Freshdesk Omnichannel Suite or RingCentral Contact Center to reveal why your AHT is high, then develop a data-based strategy that lowers your handle times.