Learn how to calculate average handle time for calls and find out what it really means for your call center (and what it doesn’t mean).
What is average handle time? How do you calculate average handle time? How important is it, even? These are questions that buzz in the air of every call center, whether you’re dealing with inbound or outbound calls.
Your average handle time is the average time it takes for a call center agent to handle a call. This includes any time the customer is on hold, the time an agent is actively engaging with a customer, and the time between calls when an agent may be recording information about the call or sending an email to the customer.
It’s not difficult to calculate average handle time. First, add together the hold time, talk time, and post-call work, then divide that by the number of calls. But there’s more.
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Factors to consider when you calculate average handle time
Just as an example, here’s how we might calculate average handle time for an inbound call center for one day.
Callers on hold: 100 minutes
Talk time: 700 minutes
Post-call work: 200 minutes
So your total call time for the day was 1,000 minutes.
If you had 200 calls, you would divide 1,000 by 200 to get an average handle time of five minutes. Or if you had 500 calls, your average handle time would be two minutes.
To be clear, these are random numbers chosen specifically so the math would be easy to see. Your average handle time may be quite different. In fact, there are a lot of factors that impact your handle time.
For outbound calls, your handle time might be higher if you’re selling something more complex like life insurance than it would if you’re making follow-up calls for a fitness center membership. Your times may be higher still if you’re working with complex software systems where customers need expert assistance.
Similarly, a more hands-on approach to working with customers will give you a much higher handle time than a company that uses AI as the first line of customer service calls.
So why focus on call time and lowering rates? Like many metrics, your average handle time can be a great tool when you use it in context.
Here’s an example. If each month you calculate average handle time as five minutes, then see that jump to six or seven minutes, you know something is going on. There’s a new problem with your service or product. Maybe you’ve hired new people and didn’t fully train them.
Beware, though! Remember that context is essential here. Are your customer service scores higher with that higher handle time? Was there a revenue increase that corresponded to higher handle times? Did your company offer a new product or service that necessitated additional customer support? This is where your metrics begin to work together to give you a fuller picture of what’s going on.
Once you look at all the factors and still want to improve your handle times, here’s what you can do.
7 Ways to reduce handle times on calls
You know how to calculate average handle time, you’ve looked at your numbers in context, and you still want to get those times down. Here are some steps you can take.
1. Improve your training program. Well-trained call center agents are key to better customer service, more efficient operations, and lower call times.
2. Dissect your metrics. It’s always possible that you have a few call center agents who are dramatically shifting your handle times in one direction. Scan your metrics and see what happens when you exclude these agents.
3. Add more call center agents. High call times could be a simple matter of increased demand without the staff to handle the volume.
4. Use scripts. Especially for outbound call centers, scripts can do wonders for keeping conversations on track.
5. Monitor call center agents. Think of monitoring as part of training. Listening to your agents in live time can give you a lot of insight into their strengths and weaknesses. Which, of course, gives you a direction in further training.
6. Use the right software. Call center software is a powerful tool for improving almost all your metrics.
7. Stop worrying about handle time. Again, your handle time can be an important metric, but it has to be part of the overall calculus. If your customer service is excellent, your revenue is increasing, and your call center agents are efficient and happy, step back and appreciate that. Don’t focus so much on handle time that you impact the positive factors.
If you need additional help handling calls, using script templates, organizing your call center, or increasing your efficiency, be sure to get in touch. We’d love to help you with all of that and more.
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