Average handle time: Importance, how to measure & optimize

by Andy Nguyen
Average Handle Time

Average handle time (AHT) is one of the most popular metrics to measure the efficiency of customer service agents and organizations.


Tracking the average handle time gives you insights into how effectively agents address customer issues — the shorter the AHT, the better. 

You’ll also be able to discover how to reduce customers’ time on hold and increase the number of calls handled by agents to improve customer satisfaction.

It’s easy to think that lower AHT gives a better customer experience, but there is much more at play here is a great quote about average handle time from Nextiva blog:

The costs of customer callbacks and increased agent recruitment and onboarding are much higher than any savings that could be gained through shorter calls.

In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about AHT. We’ll also show you how to measure it, along with seven actionable steps to optimize your AHT right away.

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Let’s dive right in. 

What is average handle time?

Average handle time or AHT is the average period of an entire customer call from start to finish.  

The AHT metric is extensively used in call centers and contact centers to measure the operational efficiency of phone or live chat support. It can also be used to measure the effectiveness of non-immediate contact channels like emails.

To measure AHT, you’ll have to consider these data points:

  • Call initiation.
  • Hold time.
  • Talk time.
  • Post phone call work or After call work (ACW) like entering customer information.

AHT is used to analyze the efficiency of agents and the customer service organization as a whole. It’s an effective metric for establishing new milestones or goals like handling more calls per agent or serving more customers effectively.

Additionally, AHT is a crucial call center Key Performance Indicator (KPI) along with metrics like the average speed of answer, first call resolution, customer satisfaction score, and Net Promoter Score (NPS.)

To get a clear understanding of the Average Handle Time metric in call centers, refer to this video: What is Average Handle Time and How Do You Fix It?

How do you calculate average handle time?

To calculate average handle time, you’ll need a few data points like total talk time, total hold time, and follow-up time or after-call tasks. 

The formula is:


For example, let’s say a call center agent handles 15 total calls on a given day. The agent spends 40 minutes talking, two minutes on hold, and three minutes completing post-call tasks.

So the average handle time would be 40 + 2 + 3 / 15 = 3 minutes

Using this important metric, you can project staffing needs by calculating the workforce required to serve each customer. 

Note: the perfect AHT can be determined in conjunction with NPS and CSAT score (Customer Satisfaction Score.)

A Net Promoter Score (NPS) is a customer service metric that measures the willingness of your customer to recommend your product or service. A CSAT is another service metric that measures customer satisfaction for your product or service. 

When to evaluate average handle time

Measuring the average handle time allows organizations to identify workflow inefficiencies and develop effective strategies for eliminating them. 

Here’s when it’s the right moment to evaluate if your AHT for a given call, task, or process is optimal:

  • When updating systems or re-engineering processes.
  • When automating workflows.
  • During regular reviews to identify time-consuming tasks for your representatives. 

The importance of average handle time

With the help of average handle time, you can reduce costs, plan staffing levels, and analyze employee performance. It is also an effective metric for establishing benchmarks or new customer service goals. 

Here are a few advantages of an optimized average handle time for the support team of a call or contact center:

1. Boosts operational performance

By determining the correct AHT for your organization, you can reduce time-consuming activities like hold time and call transfer time.

As you eliminate bottlenecks in the workflow process, the overall operational performance improves, and your agent can handle a higher call volume. 

2. Better customer experience

With an optimized average handle time, agents will have a better framework of dos and don’ts to handle customer calls more effectively.

Customers will be able to resolve their issues quickly and will not be left waiting for long, leading to greater customer satisfaction and proactive customer service.

3. Brings down operational costs

You can reduce your overall costs by reducing inefficiencies and wasted time. It will help you reduce overheads like labor requirements and overtime payments.

For example, let’s say your contact center receives more than 20,000 incoming calls in a given month. If you can shorten every call by 15 seconds, you’ll end up saving hundreds of hours in labor costs by reducing average handling time. 

So, what is a good average handle time for a call center?

The average AHT varies depending on the industry standard. It can also vary from department to department in the same organization. 

Generally, the average handle time can be higher if a call is complex or of high value.

Let’s look at the average handle time for a few different types of call centers:

Services/BusinessesAverage Handle Time (in minutes)
Financial Services4.7
TelecommunicationsOver 8 minutes

Source: Nextiva 

Now, let’s take a closer look at what leads to a high average handle time for a call center or contact center. 

3 causes for a high average handle time

Here are three common reasons why many call centers end up having a high AHT:

1. Absence of omnichannel contact routing options

Omnichannel routing uses pre-configured rules that allow a customer to get to a suitable support agent at the right time, regardless of the interaction channel.

Omnichannel routing ensures that no one gets lost in the shuffle by routing customer queries to suitable agents. This goes beyond just routing phone calls to agents — contact center omnichannel routing encompasses channels like email, text messages, and social media.

For example, let’s say a customer saw an error code on their smartwatch screen and sent a message to the manufacturer. 

The manufacturer’s contact center could use machine learning to help its intelligent routing system understand the customer issue. The error gets routed to an agent who has plenty of experience dealing with this issue.

All of this happens in a matter of seconds because of omnichannel contact routing. This fast grievance resolution will also add to customer loyalty. 

An absence of omnichannel contact routing leads to unnecessary holds and a customer getting generic replies instead of expert and personalized services.

2. Time wasting routines

Many call centers make extended greetings and unnecessary sign-offs, which leads to a higher AHT. You want your agents to be professional and helpful but not overly familiar.

It can often become challenging to strike the right balance while building a cordial relationship with your customer. However, your priority should be to respect your customer’s time by eliminating unproductive conversations and the average duration per call.  

3. Unnecessary details and repetitive calls 

Speaking on the phone with different agents and providing the same information or describing the same issue can get very annoying for a customer. Having repeat calls about the same problems can be frustrating for agents too.

This back and forth for inbound and outbound calls can make your average handle time suffer. 

Having relevant information readily accessible to all representatives and agents is now considered a customer service best practice.

So what are some best practices you can implement to improve your average handle time

7 ways to optimize your average handle time

If your call center’s overall average handle time is high, here are a few ways to have a low AHT without negatively impacting the quality of the call:

1. Improve training

Average handle time depends on your agents’ ability to answer questions and handle a customer’s issue quickly and effectively.

A contact center should ensure that their agents get extensive training on using the Customer Relationship Management (CRM system), software live chat and helpdesk, various business tools, and operating computer hardware. 

They also have to be aware of the company standards, policies, and guidelines.

Representatives can also use agent scripts to manage their time more effectively to help lower AHT.

Agent scripts help customer service representatives understand what to do when facing a certain customer issue. This enables you to standardize processes, resulting in a better customer experience and more efficient work from the customer service team.

Another excellent way is role-playing with recordings of the agent’s conversations. 

It helps you identify how to improve customer interaction and resolve customer issues on the first contact. 

The exercise aims to devise a concrete plan of action to meet the service level a customer expects. This plan should help the employee get a clear understanding of what they’re required to do, enhancing confidence in their customer interaction. 

2. Introduce efficient call routing systems

You can reduce your call center’s average handle time by making sure a customer gets connected to the right agent instantly.  

For example, you can route the call of a customer who needs a particular kind of service to agents who have the required knowledge about it.

A call center’s routing process should be well-tuned to maximize agent productivity and the customer experience. It will help your contact center save time by cutting down on transfer time or reducing the average amount of time on calls.

Having an omnichannel contact center will help you reach out to your customer across all touchpoints.

3. Build strong internal communication channels

Multiple email threads between departments or call center agents can be time-consuming and counter-productive. 

Similarly, transferring calls back and forth within the company’s representatives to resolve a particular issue can also increase average handle time.

Enabling internal agent chat interaction can solve this by speeding up communication. These channels help cut down on customer hold time or the number of times a customer may have to repeat something. 

As a result, a representative can resolve customer issues or grievances faster, improving the average handle time. 

4. Create an exhaustive knowledge bank

A knowledge base is a central place for storing information that everyone in your organization can access. It can be a collection of FAQs, decision trees, visual guides, and videos that are easy to understand for all users.

With adequate knowledge, agents can easily offer the right solutions in a short duration of time.

The required information in the knowledge base available on-demand will ensure that contact center agents don’t waste time searching for it. 

The knowledge base, along with other self-service resources, can prove beneficial in reducing average handle time and improving efficiency in the long run.

5. Record agent calls

To identify inefficiencies and areas for improvement, it is a good practice to record calls.

You can then review the recording during agent training sessions to identify gaps and areas to improve efficiency.

If a call center uses recorded calls for training, it can also optimize its customer support service. The call center can use these recordings to grasp how people react to long wait times, how they engage during talk time, and how they experience the entire call time as a whole.

Moreover, you can also use recordings to identify the best performers. 

For example, if an agent successfully resolved a customer query and left them delighted, then you should applaud their efforts. It can also act as a case study of customer satisfaction for other agents to follow and emulate.   

It’ll help representatives be more prepared and confident while dealing with a customer and optimize the average handle time. 

6. Evaluate and monitor agent performance

Even the most experienced and seasoned agents require some level of mentorship and monitoring. 

Call monitoring programs, conference calls, and listening in on calls in real-time are essential for ongoing training and monitoring agent performance.  It can improve metrics like call transfers, hold time, and escalated calls.

Some key metrics to look out for while evaluating the average handle time are:

  • Average hold time.
  • Average talk time.
  • Missed calls.
  • Declined calls.
  • Accepted transfers.
  • Average wait time.

Wondering which call center metrics you should track? 

Check out these 15 essential call center metrics to ensure maximum productivity and profitability.

Now, the easiest way to monitor the productivity of your agents and representatives is by using a productivity management tool like Time Doctor.

What Is Time Doctor?

time doctor

Time Doctor is an agent performance management software used by small, medium, and large businesses to boost team productivity.

Here are some Time Doctor features that can prove beneficial to achieve your organization’s AHT target: 

  • Tracks time taken by an agent to complete a given task or assignment using its automatic time tracking features.
  • Generate analytics reports such as attendance and hours tracked to understand how your agent manages their time.
  • Rate websites and applications based on their relevance to work. 
  • Pay your agents directly with Paypal, Wise, and Gusto integrations.
  • A Chrome extension to integrate with top project management and CRM software.
  • An app for all devices: Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, and iOS 

7. Streamline processes and use workflow automation

To prevent your team from being overwhelmed, you can automate repetitive tasks.

For example, an employee may have to spend a considerable amount of time transferring a customer to the correct department. This can be frustrating for a customer whose query is relatively simple.

Using automated tools like IVR or Interactive Voice Response can eliminate the need to have an agent at each step. 

It not only helps cut down on long unnecessary wait time but is also beneficial in providing personalized services to customers.

Wrapping up

Improving the average handle time of your call center or contact center is a comprehensive process and requires proper planning and analysis. 

By tracking average handle time, you can significantly reduce an agent’s time on a call. Even the slightest reduction in AHT can help lower your costs, reduce staffing needs and remarkably improve your company’s bottom line.

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