What Is Average Handle Time and How Can You Reduce It?
Customer experience has taken various forms over the past years. There has been an increase in email and chat channels for sales, customer service, and marketing. But it’s undeniable that phone calls are still a relevant way to get in touch with people.
Up to 66% of customers still resolve issues via phone. There is also compelling evidence that shows that cold-calling is still an effective sales strategy. For one, some of the largest institutions, like banks, telecommunications companies, and even consumer goods companies still do them.
But to keep good phone call operations in a call center, customer service department, or sales team, managers should watch out for essential metrics and improve on those. One good metric to keep in mind in this context is the average handle time of your staff.
What is Average Handle Time and What’s a Good Average?
Average handle time, or AHT, is the amount of time it takes per agent to conclude a phone call with a prospect or customer. Computing for AHT entails taking the sum of the total call time in a day, on-hold time, and post-call conversations and divide it by the number of total calls.
The general rule of thumb is to shoot for a lower number. So what is a good average handle time? The number could vary per industry. The average is currently at 528 seconds for the telecommunications world and 282 seconds for financial services.
But as a general rule of thumb, getting our numbers down works. That’s because the faster one can complete a call and still hit the objective of the conversation, the more calls a company can take and the lesser the on-hold time will be.
Where Average Handle Time Matters
AHT is a metric that should become a performance index in various parts of company operations. The most common areas where the number applies are in customer service, sales, and onboarding.
58% of consumers believe that customer service is a crucial factor that affects a company’s brand immensely. Having an AHT in call center operations for customer service helps measure agent capabilities to resolve any concerns or issues. The lower the AHT in customer support, the more effective a company’s aftersales will become.
AHT is also measured in sales, most specifically in cold calls and upsells. One study shows that salespeople only have five to ten minutes to prove their value to prospects. Faster sales calls mean more phone calls, which could be an early indicator of an improvement in sales if sales teams maintain favorable conversion rates.
In some cases, a company agent could also call new customers to onboard them. This kind of operation works best for specialized services and products like enterprise-level service as software, for example. This kind of service can also be provided to preferred clients. When onboarding new customers, the goal should be to make the process short and simple so that they can start a relationship with your company. Hence, some companies measure average handle time when giving onboarding calls.
In all three scenarios, the company’s goal should be to shorten the calls so that callers can move to the next customer and go about their schedules. By measuring AHTs, departments can benchmark their performance and find means to shorten call times.
Reasons for High AHT
Taking care of high AHT reasons could drastically improve sales and aftersales for a company. To do that, we must determine the possible causes of high average handle time and address those issues. Here are some of the reasons why the average call could be longer than desired.
Various business, management, and hospitality majors teach customer service. Hiring competent staff is essential, but that doesn’t mean that a company won’t need further training. Much of customer service gets learned on the job. In many scenarios, that lack of training and experience could lead to longer call times because agents are closing or resolving issues over the phone at a longer rate.
Lack of automation
We live in a day and age where digital solutions are starting to make things easier for companies. Artificial intelligence and automation help systemize repetitive tasks. In the case of phone calls, these automations could better qualify phone calls, respond to repeating concerns, or simplify sales and onboarding processes for faster completion times when not on the call. By the end of the year, 15% of all customer concerns will be handled by artificial intelligence, significantly cutting down wait times on the customer’s end.
Poor call routing
Call routing systems ensure that inbound calls get forwarded to agents at the fastest available time. Unfortunately, not all call routing services work well. Some of these problems could be due to geographical issues. These problems are more common these days where more companies are setting up virtual offices. Sometimes, the problem can be the service itself, given it could be obsolete or error-prone.
How to Reduce AHT
Once we know the problems that cause longer average handle time, it’s easier to find solutions on how to reduce AHT as an agent or team as a whole. Here are common solutions that could improve average handle times by further reducing them.
Provide constant customer service and sales training
Customer concerns could evolve with time. So your customer service team should be best prepared for these changes. Provide customer service training and equip them with technical knowledge that could streamline their phone time. In the case of sales teams, managers should also start thinking of means to help their sales professionals close at faster rates by improving pitches and providing feedback and coaching.
Create an auto-attendant
One great way to automate certain parts of the call operation is to set up an auto-attendant. These automated attendants could help with triaging inbound cases and gather information pertinent to the call before jumping on with an agent to get them ready to solve their solutions or answer any of their inquiries faster.
Build a knowledge hub
A knowledge hub is an exhaustive database of onboarding and customer concern information that people can check to solve their issues. Today, many millennials search for answers to their customer service issues on Google before calling a customer support representative. If you have a knowledge hub that appears on search engines and gives exhaustive means to fix customer concerns, it could lower call rates.
Moreover, these knowledge hubs could become a part of the onboarding process. Zoom is a great example of this as its knowledge center practically provides a long list of tutorials of various functions people need to know to use the product well.
Keep Evolving, Keep Improving
When creating an AHT improvement plan, managers and stakeholders should keep this in mind— that improvement is an ongoing journey. It would be unfair to expect all issues to improve overnight drastically. It’s not impossible, but it isn’t likely either. Instead, seek improvements in small increments.
As companies keep evolving their phone call systems, it could lead to great sales, marketing, and customer service results. An important step forward in the right direction will also mean adopting technologies that could help bring about these improvements.