Average handle time (AHT) is a call center metric that measures the time needed to address a customer’s concern. To create a positive customer experience, businesses strive to reduce AHT and speed up request resolution. The best ways to reduce AHT include creating an efficient call routing strategy, offering proper training to agents, and equipping the workforce with the right tools. In this article, we’ll tackle several ways to improve average handle time.
1. Plan Your Call Routing System
When setting up call routing in the voice-over-internet-protocol (VoIP) system, you must accomplish two customer service priorities at the same time to improve AHT:
- The agent assigned to a customer must be qualified to answer their question.
- The customer must not wait for a long period in the hold queue.
If the customer gets to the agent fast but doesn’t receive the assistance they need, they will likely get frustrated. If the customer waits too long but gets help eventually, they don’t have a positive experience either.
Developing an efficient call routing system is included in the list of the most effective average handle time tips. Below are some types of routing strategies that will help in ensuring you hit the qualified agent and speed priorities:
- Skills-based routing: Distribute calls to the agents with the most relevant skills for handling specific concerns.
- Sequential routing: Assign calls based on a list of agents, with the order of ringing following how they appear in the list. This is appropriate for teams with customer service representatives with similar skill sets.
- Predictive behavioral routing: Connect callers to the agent who offers the best answer based on artificial intelligence (AI) insights.
- VIP routing: Put the most important clients to the front of the call queue.
Omnichannel contact center RingCentral lets users choose among different call routing strategies: sequential, rotating, simultaneous, and sequential. Under these options, add agents to the list of members to route calls to. We explore the provider’s features in our RingCentral Contact Center review.
2. Revisit the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) System
An efficient IVR system improves AHT by streamlining call handling and distributing calls to the right departments or customer service representatives. However, some customers choose the wrong option for their concern because of many factors:
- Lengthy prompts that make people forget options
- Jargon-heavy messages
- Poor-quality, inconsistent audio recordings
One of the best ways to improve average handle time is to re-evaluate your IVR system and check if your IVR announcements are clear. They must be easy to understand and follow and should sound professional. As customers are directed to the agents most qualified and prepared to handle their specific concerns, resolving inquiries becomes much faster. Sometimes, the IVR system even removes the need to connect to an agent altogether, facilitating self-service.
CloudTalk features an intuitive call flow designer, which helps users create IVR menus that answer customers’ needs. You’ll be able to add different action steps, including forwarding voicemail, routing to a call group or a preferred agent, and triggering a webhook. To learn more about this VoIP solution, read our CloudTalk review.
3. Integrate Your Phone With Essential Work Tools
Agents resolve customer requests more quickly when they work with one platform only. Connect the phone system to your apps, including customer relationship management (CRM) software, ticketing, and collaboration software, to improve AHT.
With the full customer profile displayed in the CRM system, it’s easy for agents to know the context of specific concerns as they take calls. They won’t have to keep asking for account information, which usually makes phone call duration longer than they should be. Similarly, when you have the phone system integrated with your collaboration platform, agents are able to send a quick message when consulting another colleague or a manager while on a live call.
Dialpad integrates with the customer service tool Zendesk, allowing agents to manage tickets and call customers in one place. Since service representatives won’t have to switch between platforms and exert effort in matching tickets with contacts, they save time and increase productivity. If you plan to use this VoIP platform in your business, familiarize yourself with its features first by reading our Dialpad review.
4. Review Call Recordings
Call recording is an essential business phone feature for evaluating agents’ interactions with customers. You’ll be able to take note of why customer service representatives take a longer time resolving an issue and strategize better how to improve average handle time. From these notes, develop training programs that accurately address agents’ skill gaps. Use the recordings to equip new hires with the right competencies.
8×8 is one of the reliable business phone systems featuring call recording. On the 8×8 Work app, you’ll find this feature in the advanced call control options. When you choose this option, an announcement plays, alerting you that the call is being recorded and when the recording has stopped. In our 8×8 review, we recommended this platform to businesses needing unlimited international calling capabilities.
5. Use Call Monitoring Tools
Another effective practice for how to improve AHT in a call center is to coach agents in real time. Many business phone and call center systems like Dialpad and Freshdesk have call monitoring tools. They allow managers to listen to ongoing customer conversations and provide guidance to customer service representatives, speeding up the resolution process.
This live coaching approach helps new and struggling agents dealing with difficult, irate callers. These are the common call monitoring features:
- Whisper: Talk to the agent in the live call without the customer hearing what you say.
- Barge: Join the call and have all call participants listen to what you say.
- Takeover: Take charge of the call and remove the agent from the conversation.
Freshdesk allows supervisors to barge in on calls and discuss matters with customers directly. This is especially important when the conversation between the agent and the caller has become tense for various reasons. A speakerphone mode is available for managers who want to include more people in call monitoring. Explore the pros and cons of using this customer support provider in our Freshdesk review.
6. Look at Data Analytics
Included in our list of learning how to decrease AHT in call centers is to consider overall performance. Your phone system’s data analytics feature offers plenty of insights that will inform and improve your customer communication strategies.
For instance, knowing the average number of calls per hour enables you to adjust agents’ schedules, assigning more people to peak times when the call center receives more inquiries. Identifying the agents who handle the most calls lets managers know which ones qualify as credible models for best practices in training events.
Nextiva’s analytics dashboard outlines each agent’s total number of calls and total talk time. This provides an objective measurement of team members’ performance and allows managers to ask important questions, such as what’s causing the long handle time and what action steps are necessary to improve the number of calls handled. Explore more of this provider’s data analytics capabilities in our Nextiva review.
7. Create a Knowledge Base for Agents
One of the biggest time wasters in calls is finding the right information. Thus, improving AHT involves building a centralized knowledge base where agents get the answer they need quickly and accurately. Representatives won’t have to keep consulting a colleague or manager and waste precious time on the back-and-forth exchange. In addition, it boosts the confidence of new agents who are still learning the ins and outs of your company’s solutions.
Talkdesk is a call center system that has a built-in knowledge management tool. It allows agents to quickly search topics, get relevant results, and deliver the best answers to customers. Its Answer Cards feature contains answers that accommodate customer intent and communication channels. To learn more about this platform’s capabilities, read our comprehensive Talkdesk review.
8. Take Advantage of AI Tools
Artificial intelligence (AI) helps improve agent productivity, thereby shortening the time you spend on calls. For example, the call center system Dialpad transcribes calls in real time, removing the need for customer service representatives to be repetitive in confirming information.
The provider allows users to set up keyword monitoring for important remarks mentioned in calls, such as “pricing” or “appointments.” Knowing how often they come up in customer conversations, you’ll be able to craft effective scripts that accommodate the specific context of these inquiries.
In addition, Dialpad has real-time assist cards, where a pop-up appears on the screen during an ongoing call showing suggestions for addressing certain concerns. Think of it as a live rundown of AHT tips for agents.
9. Re-evaluate Your Scripts
Scripts are excellent tools for productivity because they provide a template for answering common questions. However, it may also backfire on your efforts to reduce AHT when your scripts contain unnecessary statements or questions. Templates with a lengthy opening (e.g., rapport-building or repetitive requests for customer information validation) unnecessarily drag the conversation duration.
That said, learning how to improve average handle time in a call center involves going back to your scripts and seeing if there are lines worth striking out. Ask agents about their experience using the templates, as they would have valuable insights into what’s worth removing.
10. Maximize Co-browsing Features
If typical phone calls are not enough to provide assistance, elevate the conversation to a co-browsing session. It’s an effective practice of discovering how to reduce AHT in a call center, especially benefiting customers having difficulty navigating an online platform like a website. With this feature, agents and customers will see each other’s screens, annotate, and resolve issues faster.
Genesys Cloud features co-browsing in its call center solution. The session features a web messaging tool, which allows the call participants to discuss in real time what’s on their screens. In cases where the customer cannot follow instructions, customer service representatives can choose Agent Control Mode, which lets them take over the customer’s screen. Decide if this call center system is for you by checking out its features in our Genesys Cloud review.
Why AHT Is Critical
AHT is a call center metric worth tracking because it offers insight into the efficiency of operations. This, in turn, helps businesses set specific goals for team performance and customer service. Moreover, a high or low AHT affects the following aspects:
- Call center costs: A higher AHT may point to efficiency issues, like long call queues or callers bouncing from agent to agent. In these scenarios, your business spends more for less work done. In contrast, shortening calls help reduce overhead expenses, such as overtime payments for agents.
- Agent well-being: Part of reducing AHT is offering proper training and tools for addressing customer concerns more efficiently. Agents who are competent and well-equipped are less likely to experience burnout. They thrive on the job and are motivated to get more things done.
- Customer satisfaction: Callers get frustrated when they spend a long time waiting on hold or explaining concerns. In contrast, a lower AHT makes for happier customers who will vouch for your excellent customer service.
How to Calculate AHT
AHT consists of the following factors: total talk time, total hold time, and total after-call work (ACW). Total talk time refers to the amount of time an agent spends on the call, while total hold time is the duration an agent puts a caller on hold during a live conversation. ACW pertains to the work agents do after talking to a customer.
The formula for AHT is expressed as:
Total talk time + Total hold time + Total after-call work
Total number of calls
Imagine you received 30 calls for the day and spent 300 minutes talking, 30 minutes on hold, and 30 minutes sharing updates with colleagues and creating tasks for follow-up, the computation will be:
300 + 30 + 30
In this example, the AHT is 12 minutes, a figure too high compared to the industry benchmark, which is around six minutes. However, the ideal AHT varies according to your business size or industry. Some fields, like telecommunications, will have longer than a six-minute AHT since most customer concerns are complex, e.g., incorrect charges, which largely involve reviewing subscription history and filing dispute reports.
Why Your Call Center Has High AHT
At the core, a high AHT stems from inefficient processes and poorly equipped agents. This is why at the top of the list of ways to improve average handle time is reassessing workflows and providing customer service representatives with proper training and tools. Here are the specific reasons your call center has high AHT:
Representatives spend more time on calls when they don’t have a mastery of the topics customers raise. This manifests as dead air, with the agent not knowing how to respond to complex issues or long hold time, as they consult other colleagues for information.
In some instances, the issue is the lack of skills. Agents ask irrelevant questions or find it hard to locate the answers they need in the database. In both of these cases, proper training is critical. Go over your call recordings or listen to live calls and take note of agents’ areas for improvement.
The AHT goes up when customers are routed to an agent or department that doesn’t match their inquiry. They’ll be put on hold and transferred, contributing to an even longer time on the call. As you might expect, this is incredibly frustrating for callers.
According to an Invoca report published in 2021, 74% of survey participants have hung up after being placed on hold. Customers avoid calling because of long wait times and too many transfers. That said, review your call routing rules and IVR system and ensure that customers reach the right destination for their concerns.
The same Invoca report showed that 53% of the survey participants said they needed to repeat their reason for calling when talking to several agents. When customers need to keep telling their concerns, the AHT increases because the call drags on. With a robust IVR system collecting essential details from customers from the get-go, the problem of repetitive requests for information should be addressed.
Improving AHT boosts call center productivity—lowering operational costs, protecting agents’ well-being, and creating a pleasant customer experience. To reduce time spent on calls, invest in the proper training of agents, ensuring they have the confidence and mastery of product knowledge. More importantly, choose a business phone system equipped with robust call routing and IVR systems, analytics, call monitoring, and AI tools to support your team better.