Average Handle Time (AHT): a crucial KPI?

24 Aug 2021 | Managing your customer relationship centers

How busy are your remote representatives during their workday? For contact centres, the Average Handle Time (AHT) is one of the variables for optimization used to evaluate the level of agent workload. Easy to monitor, this variable is ideal for setting objectives to be reached, and for helping to optimize contact centre’s costs. But what is the real role of this KPI for measuring your customer relationship management?

Here’s a hint: we are not suggesting that you stop using AHT in your customer relationship strategy, but rather that you avoid some utilisations that we consider to be unproductive. Changing the way you leverage KPIs is not difficult and can even be the starting point for implementing this virtuous circle we call Customer Love.

What is the Average Handle Time for a contact?

Why is Average Handle Time important in your customer relationships?

The Average Handle Time (AHT) corresponds to the average time spent by a remote representative communicating with a consumer, including subsequent time spent finalizing the case, such as administrative tasks, back-office operations, contact coding for statistical analysis, and much more. In the industry, Average Handle Time is usually referred to as AHT. This metric is essential for determining how the flow of incoming requests is handled, the activity load at a customer relationship centre and team scheduling.

How is the average handle time calculated for a contact?

AHT can be calculated as follows:
(Conversation + Hold time + Follow-up) / Call

The time spent for a contact varies according to the:

  • Customer type
  • Nature of the customer’s request
  • Communication channel
  • Profile and skills of the remote agent

It is also important to consider that someone who is new at their job, or who has not yet mastered the skills related to a particular activity or inquiry typology, takes longer to handle an incoming request than a seasoned senior representative. Also, a remote representative has a harder time providing an optimal customer experience in a multi-lingual environment if they are not using their native language. This is why Amicio operates 100% locally in the markets of the brands we represent.

Can you use AHT to manage a contact center?

Average Handle Time provides critical data for effectively managing a remote customer contact centre. Among many other things, it also helps with:

  • Adjusting workloads for remote representatives
  • Scheduling teams based on required skills and business sectors
  • Reducing wait time for consumers as much as possible

AHT also helps you define whether a customer request should be treated as Level 1 or Level 2 (for more complicated cases requiring a remote representative with more expertise and takes more time). To be effective for managing a contact centre, AHT must be studied holistically. The actual duration of handling itself is not the most important factor, but it does tend to highlight possible trouble areas. For example, if AHT is too high, it could mean that the remote representative does not have access to adequate information, or that new challenges in handling contacts have emerged.

Can you use AHT to define management objectives?

When performance objectives cause a decrease in service quality…

As the Average Handle Time is easy to quantify, it is tempting to consider it as a management goal. This tendency is further reinforced by the basic logic of outsourcing, where brands entrust management of their customer relationship to service providers. As contracts are based on the hourly rate for a remote agent, or the cost of processing a contact, AHT is by definition the element that most impacts the provider’s margin. That leads to undesired side-effects with respect to the business logic it is supposed to optimize. In fact, providers who are paid based on the number of calls tend to increase short calls. A problem that would usually take a 5-minute call is handled via several 2- to 3-minute calls. Neither the brand nor the consumer can be satisfied, but perhaps the objective was respected!?

… to a decline in customer experience quality…

Consumers may (often) feel that the remote representative is worried more about respecting their time allotment than answering the question or resolving the problem. This results in more short calls, with service quality that might be lacking!

… and the service offered by the contact centre

Taking this logic even further, AHT becomes a symbol of KPI-driven management tyranny. The lack of satisfaction for the remote representative, always stressing to reach their objectives, impacts the quality of handled calls. Fortunately, companies are slowly learning to break away from Average Handle Time for contacts, now focusing more on the quality of their customer relationships. Companies have more to gain by satisfying customer requests and building consumer loyalty.

Conclusion: what is the role of AHT for customer relationship centres?

Average Handle Time remains an essential piece of data for effectively managing a contact handling centre, both with respect to workloads and team scheduling and for being able to quantify the time consumers have to wait (which is an important metric for measuring customer relationship quality). Its place is therefore in the hands of support teams and analysts so they can fine-tune representatives’ workloads and skills. On the other hand, AHT should not under any circumstances be used as a management objective. Pursuing that business logic often ends up having the opposite effect. The solution is to no longer function with a mindset focused on cost reduction, but rather with a desire to create added value. As they say at Zappos, one of the first companies to abolish AHT from its management objectives (a strategy that led to dizzying growth for the company): “The customer must be happy after every contact!”

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