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Recent studies of contact centre professionals have found that average call handling times (AHT) are increasing.

Does it matter?

While AHT is a marmite metric, which is equally loved and loathed, depending on who you’re talking to, a rising AHT score does not automatically represent a failure on the part of your contact centre team.

Here’s why.

A rise in average handling times may be inevitable
There are a few key reasons why average handling times are going up – and why it might not be a problem:

Self-service is getting better. As more customers find their answers on your intuitive, comprehensive knowledge base, or get support from a rapidly-learning chatbot, fewer customers make contact with simple, single-issue queries.

Calls are getting harder. Your effective self-service environment may be reducing call volumes, but it is also concentrating tougher calls on your contact centre. More challenging queries may also be the result of more complex technology or offerings; helping customers navigate these challenges inevitably takes longer.

Agents are improving the customer experience. Longer handling times may represent agents working harder to please customers, and give them a complete resolution on first contact. Of course, this isn’t always the case, and any agents with unusually long handling times may need support to resolve issues more efficiently.

Average handling times are still a key metric.

Despite major shifts in the contact centre world, largely driven by technology, average handling times are still a key metric for understanding and measuring the performance of your centre. By monitoring AHT you can identify roadblocks, inefficient processes and gaps in agent knowledge.
AHT should be a prompt for further investigation, rather than a standalone metric to judge performance, as it only tells part of the story.

Contact centres should always focus on quality first. If your agents are providing a quality service and keeping customers happy, then everything else should fall into place.

What is the industry average for handling times?

According to Call Centre Helper, the industry standard for AHT is 6 minutes.

The average varies significantly by business sector:

  • Telecommunications: 528 seconds
  • Retail: 324 seconds
  • Business and IT services: 282 seconds
  • Financial services: 282 seconds
  • AHT does not tell the complete story

It’s important to remember that low AHT is not necessarily a good thing. Short calls could be a sign that callers are getting frustrated, cut off or not given adequate time to resolve their query. Conversely, increasing AHT is not necessarily a good thing either. Yes, longer calls could be a sign that customers are being given plenty of time, or that calls are increasingly complex, but it could also be a sign that agents are poorly equipped to support customers, or that agents have to wade through complex processes to complete routine tasks.

Transform your contact centre

Are your average handling times slowing down – without good cause?
At IPI we help hundreds of contact centres understand the meaning behind the metrics, and can advise on the best processes and technology to deliver the right result.

For example, call recording and speech analytics can provide valuable insights in your calls, and shine a light on hidden issues. We can even identify silences on calls – which can help pinpoint lost time when agents are waiting or switching between systems.

Contact our team to find out more.