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Calculating Average Handle Time in Light of Customer Experience and IVRs

By: Peg Ayers and Turaj Seyrafiaan

Definition of Average Handle Time: The average time spent handling a contact with a customer, which may be a call, email, chat or any kind of request. The total handle time includes not only the time that an agent spends directly communicating with the customer but also time spend after the contact completing customer’s request – ACW – After Call Work (ACW) or Post Call Processing (PCP)

Calculation: Total Handle Time/Total Contacts

Example: Total time spent on handling 100 chats is 500 minutes, so Average Handle Time is 500/100 or 5 minutes.

Average Handle Time (AHT) has always been a critical piece of information for staffing purposes in the contact center. But if an agent handles a phone call, then starts working on an email, then answers an incoming chat and takes another phone call, it can be challenging to allocate the correct handle time to each contact. Fortunately, as this scenario has become more common, software designers have created solutions, so managing this is not as complicated as it once was.

AHT is combined with your volume forecast, along with the desired service level to determine your required staffing. If you expect 1,200 calls tomorrow at five minutes each, you will need staffing for 6,000 minutes of time talking to customers. If those calls take seven minutes instead, you’ll have 8,400 minutes to cover. While some centers may have consistent AHT throughout the year, most will have fluctuations that may be seasonal but are most likely the result of adding new hires to the team. New team members will have higher handle time because of asking more questions and taking more time to find answers. This must always be built into your staffing plan.

Because AHT is so critical to staffing, it’s tempting to create a tough AHT goal for agents and ask them to shorten calls. After all, there are huge savings if each call can be shortened by even a few seconds. But this is better handled on an individual basis. Rather than a specific goal, or even a range, consider comparing each agent to the average of all agents doing the same work. Anyone more than 10% off IN EITHER DIRECTION warrants a closer look. Your shortest calls may not be your best calls. And your longest may not be your worst. You want calls to be the appropriate length, and you want to do individual coaching to accomplish this.

As customer self-service has become more prevalent, AHT has gone up for most companies. Simpler tasks are now handled on the website or in the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system, so only more complicated, longer calls get to agents on the phone. It’s important to account for this whenever a change is made to allow more self-service.

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