Think about the next customer service call that you're rep is going to take. Do you want the call to be fast or good?

The correct answer is both — because your customers expect both. When customers call or message your support lines, they're expecting a clear and concise response. They don't want to waste time waiting on hold or explaining their problem over and over again to your rep. They want the right answers and they want them fast.

In time, you'll figure out the best approach to meeting both of these customer needs. However, it helps to have a metric that you can use to monitor your success. That's where Average Handle Time comes into play with your customer service team.

Average handle time is a popular data point that determines how long it takes to deal with support or service requests in your business. In this post, we'll break down what average handle time is, how to calculate it, and how you can cut it in half at your company.

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Average handle time provides unique insight into how productive your support and service interactions are for your customers. It's an important metric to constantly keep track of if you wish to improve your customer's experience with your brand.

Why is average handle time important?

Average handle time is an essential customer service metric because it relates to the customer's most valued commodity: time. In fact, according to Forrester, 66% of adults believe that the most important thing a company can do is value their time. By measuring AHT, you can monitor how well your customer service team is meeting this demand and make necessary changes to your support and service offers, if needed.

Reducing your AHT often means that your customer service team is being more productive. Customers aren't spending as much time working with your reps and your team is solving cases at a faster rate. This not only improves the experience for the customer but also allows your reps to take on more cases in their daily workflow.

Now that you understand why average handle time is a key customer service metric, you'll probably want to know how to calculate it for your service channels. Below is the formula you can use to calculate AHT in your business.

How to Calculate Average Handle Time

While the math is essentially the same, the variables you use in the average handle time formula will vary slightly depending on the communication medium you're evaluating. For example, let's say I have a business that offers phone, email and chat support options. We can calculate the AHT for each of these channels using a similar, but not identical, formula.

Let's start with the phones. Let's say my phone team fielded 200 calls this week. When we add up the values for each call together, we see that the total amount of talk time was 1,000 minutes, hold time was 500 minutes, and follow-up time was also 500 minutes. If we were to calculate AHT for my phone team, we can see that it would be 10 minutes per call [(1000 talk minutes + 500 hold minutes + 500 follow-up minutes)/200 calls = 10 minutes].

Next, let's look at email. For email, there are no hold times, there's only follow-up. So, we would measure AHT by adding up the total amount of time it took to resolve each case starting from the time it was first opened. For example, let's say my business received 500 email tickets and took 10K minutes to resolve them all. In this case, AHT would be 20 minutes per email (10,000 minutes / 500 emails = 20 minutes).

Finally, we can measure chat AHT using the same type of formula as email. Similar to email, there's no hold time on chat, only talk and follow-up time. So, let's say my business took 300 chats and spent 2,000 minutes talking to customers and 2,000 minutes following up with them. The AHT for my chat channel would then be about 13 minutes per chat [(2,000 talk minutes + 2,000 follow-up minutes) / 300 chats = 13.33 minutes].

You can use this formula to calculate and compare the AHT of each of your service mediums. However, how do you know if your company's AHT is on par with other businesses in your industry? In the next section, we put together some industry standards you can review to see if your team is resolving cases as fast as your competitors are.

Average Handle Time Industry Standard

Since there are a lot of factors that influence average handle time, coming up with a proven standard for every industry is nearly impossible. However, Call Centre Magazine used its Erlang calculator to calculate a global standard for AHT that applies to every industry. After reviewing over 190K entries, Call Centre Magazine found that the average handle time for almost all companies is about six minutes and three seconds.

Cornell University also performed a separate study that calculated AHT across four major industries. You can find those results in the chart below:
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Source: Call Centre Helper

If your business seems to be falling short of industry standards, take a look at the next section for some tips you can use to reduce average handle time at your company.

Average Handle Time Tips

Many businesses constantly try to reduce average handle time but struggle to find effective results. The truth is, there's no short cut to fulfilling a customer's needs but there are measures your team can take to deliver solutions faster. Below are some average handle time tips you can use to create a quicker customer experience with your support and service teams.

Provide proactive customer service.

Proactive customer service is one of the most effective ways to reduce average handling time. These are instances where your service team is providing support to your customers without the customer reaching out first. That way when your customers do need help, your team is already prepared to resolve their issue.

One great example of proactive customer service is providing your customers with a knowledge base. A knowledge base is a portion of your website that's dedicated to answering common questions that your customers may have about your product or services. If a customer calls in with one of these questions, the service rep can provide a brief explanation and direct them to the knowledge base rather than spending the time to walk through the entire answer. This saves your rep from having to repeat simple and repetitive steps that customers can take on their own.

Create guides for your reps.

Just because you have a knowledge base for your customers doesn't mean that your customer service team doesn't need one either. You can create an internal knowledge base that includes guides and cheat-sheets that only your reps can see. So when customers do call in with those repetitive questions, your rep will know exactly what to say and do for the customer.

This comes in handy particularly with reducing the average handle time of new or inexperienced customer service reps. At HubSpot, we have a section of our internal knowledge base dedicated to common problems that new reps will most likely experience. When support reps are just starting out, they can quickly navigate to these articles to help them troubleshoot during a call.

Adopt customer service tools.

Customer service reps love gizmos and gadgets, especially the ones that make their lives easier at work. Give your team some more tech to play with and adopt customer service tools that will provide them with advanced troubleshooting options like screen-sharing, API goggles, and ticket automation. These additions not only give your support team a technological advantage but can improve the customer's experience as well.

For example, virtual assistants allow your reps to not only share their computer screen with a customer but perform actions on the customer's screen as well. If a customer is having trouble performing troubleshooting steps, the rep can take over their mouse and show them exactly what to do rather than wasting time trying to clarify the steps. Reps can even record the interaction so that the customer can replay the explanation should they need it again.

Don't sacrifice quality for speed.

While it's good to be ambitious when reducing average handling time, make sure you're not sacrificing the quality of your customer service in return. Some reps may be overeager to close cases and will rush through troubleshooting steps or cut corners to save time. This often leads to them making mistakes that end up costing them more time and effort as a result. Rather than motivating reps to provide the fastest support possible, focus on providing the most-effective support and your team's AHT will take care of itself.

If you're looking for more data to review at your business, check out some interesting customer satisfaction metrics.

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 Customer Service Metrics

Originally published May 6, 2019 8:00:00 AM, updated May 06 2019

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Customer Service Metrics