A research conducted by HubSpot revealed that customers are not as frustrated with slow response time (19%) and inability to self‑serve (14%) as they are by repeating themselves to multiple support reps (33%) and long hold times (33%).
Since call centers are often customers’ first — and sometimes their only — human interaction with a company, you cannot mess with the experience because it can cost you a fortune. It can ruin your brand image, expedite customer loss, impact your long‑term sales, and eventually, ruin your business entirely. In this blog post, we’ll discuss one of the key KPIs of call centers — Average Handle Time, which when kept in check not just improves the bottom line but also drives up your NPS and CSAT score. Let’s get started.
What is Average Handle Time(AHT)?
The time taken to handle a call from beginning to end — starting from call connection, talk time, hold time, and follow‑up work to resolve that call account for Average Handle Time. To put it simply, it’s the total time a customer is on a call plus the amount of time an agent spends on tasks after that call is concluded, divided by the total number of calls. Here’s a formula to calculate the same:
Don’t let numbers fool you because a drop in AHT doesn’t necessarily mean that you have improved it. You need to look at it in the light of your NPS and CSAT score.
How AHT Affects the Operational Costs of Contact Centers?
The impact of reduced AHT can be massive on your bottom line. Nonetheless, there has been a drastic increase in it in the past few years. AHT increased 10.99 percent from 2013 to 2016 and has only continued to rise ever since then. Even a small reduction in AHT can have a huge impact on your operational costs.
For example, 100,000 calls were received at your call center in a month. The total talk time amounted to 1,000,000 minutes, hold time to 50,000 minutes, and after‑call work to 300,000 minutes. By using the formula mentioned above, your AHT is 13.5 minutes.
Imagine the labor costs that you can bring down by shortening the total incoming calls by 10 seconds each — you could save an approximate of 278 hours in labor costs.
But as we mentioned before and it’s worth repeating — Don’t let the numbers fool you. Pressurizing agents to bring down the handle time of each call by 10 seconds can have a negative impact on other call center KPIs such as First Call Resolution (FCR), escalated calls, etc.
Aiming to resolve customer issues as quickly as possible, agents will highly risk the overall brand experience of customers. After all, what’s the point in reducing AHT if the customer doesn’t get the required information and is left transferring from one agent to another. Therefore, reducing average handle time simply for the sake of AHT and costs is short‑sighted.
Factors that Affect Average Handle Time
A fair understanding of various factors that affect AHT is of utmost importance in order to reduce AHT judiciously. Else, reducing AHT will reduce the bottomline of your business.
- Repeated Calls: If a customer calls you multiple times to resolve a single issue, then you are not just increasing your AHT but also staking the quality of service levels. Moreover, if the agent doesn’t acquire the required competencies, then they might put the customer on hold for longer durations, which will again drive up your AHT.
- Call Transfer Times: Sometimes agents are required to transfer an inbound customer query to another department. Such kind of call transfers require you to put the customer on hold. And not just this, before transferring the call, you’d interact with the customer to learn about their issues. So, the hold time, talk time, and transfer time will altogether drive up your AHT.
- Repeated Validations: This is an aftermath of call transfer. The first agent acknowledges incoming calls from the customer by asking a few questions in order to understand the issue. When the agent transfers the call, the same set of questions are imposed by the second agent and the process continues forever, increasing your AHT and leaving behind customers unhappy and frustrated.
Average Hold Time is the average amount of time that a customer waits in the queue before the call is answered by an agent. Although it isn’t a component of AHT, it highly drives your CSAT score; therefore, being one of the key factors to influence AHT. The industry standard for hold time is 20 seconds.
How Does Cognitive Technology Help Reduce AHT Without Compromising on CSAT?
1. Augment Agent Productivity With a Unified View of Information
Support agents more than often feel lost in the sea of data and this brings us to the prime challenge in customer service — Findability. Despite digging around files and switching between multiple apps, support reps struggle to find the answer to the customer query, which increases the hold time.
Cognitive technology helps agents cut through the noise by providing them relevant, enterprise‑wide information as and when needed, regardless of where it resides and which support platform they use. With a unified access to the information, support agents can easily find what they are looking for without toggling between different consoles.
2. Real‑Time Guidance for Agents to Resolve Customer Queries Efficiently
Cognitive platforms enable your support mavens to resolve customer queries faster by fetching the most relevant case resolving information such as top related articles, top SMEs, customer journey insights etc. from the knowledge base. They also give you insights into what new articles can be added to help agents bridge the existing content gaps.
3. Automated Quality Management to Train Agents Better
Another way to reduce AHT is by improving the knowledge and skills of your agents. The better the agents are trained, the more efficiently they handle customers. However, support managers struggle to identify the areas where an agent needs to improve.
By evaluating and scoring the calls up to 100 percent, AI‑powered cognitive tools automate the process of quality management. Therefore, finding agents’ areas of improvement becomes a cakewalk. Moreover, the resources that were earlier caught up in manual quality management can now be shifted to high‑value engagement activities, like agent training and coaching.
4. Intelligent Call Routing for Improved First Call Resolution (FCR)
Imagine the level of customer frustration if you keep transferring them from one agent to another. Increased call transfer time doesn’t just leave the customer unhappy and frustrated, but it also results in prolonged AHT.
Cognitive tools enable call routing, which helps you connect to the right representative right off the bat. By taking into account agents’ expertise, skills, channel of support, etc., AI‑powered enterprise technology routes the call to the best matched resource, reducing workload and increasing operational efficiencies.
5. Seamless Handoffs for Better Customer Experience
Cognitive technology gives a unified view of customer journey, which further refrain agents from imposing repetitive questions on customers. After all, we know how frustrating it can be for customers to repeat themselves or information to different support representatives. Moreover, not asking the same set of questions from customers reduces the AHT also as talk time reduces.
Looking for More Ways to Improve Your Service Desk Bottomline?
Average Handle Time is a subset of cost per ticket. So, if your overall cost per ticket is in check, your AHT is by default under control. To learn how you can bring down the cost per ticket without impacting operational efficiencies, read our E‑Book The Complete Guide to Cost Per Ticket. Download it now!