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Why Average Handle Time Matters

talkingMany years ago, an agent who I had trained needed to vent to me about the Average Handle Time (AHT) target. We both worked in the retention group for a large telecom provider, and she was very proactive in reviewing bills, plans, and equipment, trying to ensure the customer’s needs were met.

At the time, 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.

Let me try to explain with what I know now.

First, let’s remind ourselves of the purpose of contact centers - to take care of a task for the customer. While we know some calls take longer than others, 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 99.9% of calls are based on need, not the desire to make a new friend. People are busy and they want to finish a call quickly.

Next, it’s important to remember that Average Handle Time doesn’t show the whole picture. AHT only includes the time you're talking with a customer, have them on hold, or are in wrap. It does not include the time customers waited in queue listening to highly compressed, rather un-danceable music.

To get the full picture, let’s briefly discuss a few other metrics. 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 the average time customers wait in queue before reaching an agent. Service Level 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 have been 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 plays its part. 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 how long they have to wait to actually begin talking with you or one of your peers.

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

This originally appeared in happitu’s blog.