Industry / Jul 17, 2021 / 3 min read

Why Average Handle Time Matters


Profile picture for Rob Dwyer
Rob Dwyer

Many years ago, an agent who I had trained needed someone to vent her frustration to one day and I ended being that someone. Her frustration was with the Average Handle Time (AHT) target. We both worked in the retention group for a large telecom provider and she was always so proactive in reviewing bills, plans, equipment, and everything else under the sun, trying to ensure the customer was really taken care of so they wouldn't cancel.

I struggled to explain to her why the target was so much lower than her actual performance and why it mattered. I didn't actually know why it mattered! Maybe you've wondered the same thing.

Spoiler alert - Average Handle Time targets aren't about money - they're about customer experience. Let me explain:

First of all, while we know some calls take longer than others (that's why it's an average), no matter how wonderful you are, no one wakes up and thinks, "Gee, I can't wait to spend 15 minutes today talking with [insert company name here]'s customer service!" Yes, you can provide a wonderful experience, but believe me, 99.9% of calls are based on need, not the desire to make a new friend. People are busy and they want to finish this call quickly. They have other things to do. Those kids you hear in the background - this parent is now trying to listen to you and stop little Jimmy from putting his baba down the toilet necessitating a call to a plumber after this call.

Second of all, Average Handle Time only includes the time you're talking with them, have them on hold, or are in wrap, also known as After Call Work (ACW). It does not include the time they waited in queue listening to highly compressed, rather un-danceable, mono music which was interrupted by a recorded voice saying that their call was important every 45 seconds. "But Rob," you're thinking, "what does that have to do with AHT if it's not included?" I'm glad you asked!

There are a couple of metrics that involve how long customers wait in queue before reaching an agent - Average Speed to Answer (ASA) and Service Level. ASA is just the average time customers wait in queue before reaching an agent. You've probably heard of Service Level which is expressed as the percentage of interactions answered within a specific timeframe, usually 20 to 60 seconds. A common Service Level is 80/30 meaning 80% of calls answered in 30 seconds. If you're meeting that Service Level, it still means up to 20% of calls are in queue for half a minute or more. Staffing is based on Service Level requirements - there's a whole lot of math involved in that, but this is where AHT comes in. To know how many agents are needed to meet a specific Service Level, we need to know AHT. And if AHT goes up, then the scheduled staff are unlikely to hit Service Level requirements. This means longer times in queue for customers.

This is a really long way to say that AHT impacts not only the customer experience when they're talking with you, but also impacts how long they have to wait to actually begin talking with you or one of your peers. Despite what Heinz would have you believe, people don't want to wait. That's why they sell ketchup in squeeze bottles now.

Remember that agent I mentioned at the beginning of this? I wish I could go back and explain all of this. I also wish I could explain that, because she really did take pride in helping people, if she could handle each call just a little faster, she would be able to help even more people. I can't do that, but I can do that for you instead.

If you are struggling with high handle times or cannot hit your service level, let us show you how Happitu can help in 30-minutes or less. Happitu gives even the newest agents the confidence and ability to be the best agent possible by eliminating mistakes and reducing call times and process inefficiencies.

Schedule a demo or find out for yourself with a free 45-day trial