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Often, we look at particular statistics with a single focus, typically related to whether we’re meeting service levels or operating efficiently. It’s worth taking a fresh look at some of the more commonly-used statistics to see if we’re getting all the valuable insights they offer. Average Handle Time (AHT), for example, can be used to determine whether your team is meeting defined service levels and working efficiently. It can also be an important factor when forecasting call center staffing or identifying problems with the systems that support your agents.

First, let’s make sure that we have a clear understanding of this statistic. To calculate AHT, start by determining Handle Time (HT).

  • HT indicates the length of time that was dedicated to activities for calls from queues, over a specific timeframe. Activities include time spent on ACD calls and time spent on activities (such as writing notes) that can be directly attributed to the call (often referred to as “after call work time”). For example, personal calls would be excluded from HT calculations, as would training and breaks.
  • AHT is calculated by summing the ACD call duration and after call work time, divided by the number of ACD calls in a timeframe (for example, an eight-hour shift).

Now that we’re clear on the activities and timeframe on which AHT is based, what can this statistic tell you?

  1. Are you meeting defined service levels? It’s important that agents spend an appropriate amount of time with customers. You don’t want customers to feel they’ve been rushed through a call or, worse, that an agent ended  a call without confirming that issues have been resolved. For example, if a customer calls in for a password reset, the agent should make sure that the customer can log in using the new password before ending the call. (As an added benefit, this practice will help keep your first call resolution rate higher because customers don’t need to call back if they have problems with new passwords.)
  2. Are agents meeting individual and team quotas? While you want agents to provide customers with quality experiences, there’s a limit to what’s considered an appropriate amount of time to spend on a call. To minimize any excessive or unnecessary chatting time, you may have quotas for your agents that set expectations for the number of calls they handle over a shift.
  3. Do you need to adjust your staffing forecasts? The time that agents spend with customers isn’t always completely within their control. New marketing programs may mean that calls take longer because they require more customer education. Sales may be increasing over time and you don’t have enough agents to handle ongoing, higher call volumes.
  4. Are backend systems causing delays? Sometimes, increasing call time can be completely unrelated to agents or callers, such as when changes in backend systems cause delays. For example, slow computer system performance may mean that agents and callers are waiting for systems to return order numbers, new passwords, or confirmation numbers. These types of issues will frustrate both your agents and their callers as they to wait for these systems to “catch up” to the discussions.

In all of these cases, AHT can help you determine whether ACD calls and their related activities are taking an appropriate length of time. Identifying when the time is not appropriate (either too long or too short) is important for maintaining service levels and operational efficiencies. This statistic can also help you adjust estimates future staffing requirements, as well as when issues beyond agents’ control are hindering their ability to resolve issues in a timely manner. To help you identify AHT trends, use historical reports to compare AHT for various agents over time. While this statistic may increase during a short‑term period, you may want to investigate if it is consistently higher for one agent in a group or if it spikes for a group of agents (or all agents) for an unknown reason.

On a final note, if you’re interested in some practical suggestions for reducing AHT, here’s a great article from the Call Center Helper Magazine web site: 49 Tips for Reducing Average Handling Time.

See you next month.

 

Tags: agent activity, agent productivity, average call handle time, backend systems, customers, first call resolution, forecasting, handle time, service levels, statistics.

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