Don’t settle for average
when it comes to
average handle time

Driving a better customer experience and
business decisions in the contact center

Don’t settle for average
when it comes to
average handle time

Average handle time (AHT), or the average length of time a contact center agent spends on a call from start to finish, has been the standard bearer of customer service metrics. After all, it stands to reason that the shorter the length of time an agent spends on a call with a customer, the better. It means the agent, and the process the agent follows, is efficient. It means the customer had his or her order/question/issue resolved quickly. Or does it?

Yes, AHT does correlate with efficiency, if by efficient you just mean the time spent with a caller. But, in order for an agent to be truly efficient, he or she must be able to address the caller’s need. A call that ends quickly because the customer got frustrated and hung up isn’t efficient—it’s bad business.

Increasing AHT: A pandemic response or long-term trend?

During the pandemic, 67% of large contact centers (1,000+ agents) and 63% of mid-sized contact centers (250–999 agents) experienced higher AHT.1 This increase was driven by several factors, including the consumer shift to new channels, the move to new models of working and remote workers and the need to spend time addressing more complex customer issues.

The pandemic did dramatically impact how agents interacted with customers and operations, but is also another, longer-term trend at play? And just because organizations are seeing AHT increase, does that mean that customer service quality is declining, or is the fundamental role of the agent changing?

The reality is that the pandemic-accelerated contact center shifts were already taking place due to advances in technology and changes in consumer behavior.

  • The move to digital self-service channels increased during the pandemic, but that was already underway as customers sought an experience that could be delivered anywhere, anytime, via any device. The pandemic only hastened this service channel as consumers sought alternate ways to interact with brands based upon the choices available to them.
  • Workplace flexibility and the ability to rapidly respond to workforce and marketplace changes are impacting industries across the board; in order to remain competitive, contact centers have also started to look at new ways of working. In fact, moving forward, 86% of 124 customer service organizations surveyed by J.D. Power indicated that they plan to implement permanent work-from-home models even after the pandemic passes.2

The role of brand—and balance—in AHT

Counting the minutes and seconds that an agent spends on the phone with a customer doesn’t address the intangible impact that AHT can have on the customer experience—and customer experience that can have dramatic impact on brand loyalty, customer value and, ultimately, your bottom line.

There will always be organizations that focus on minimizing AHT as a way to drive contact center efficiency; those organizations value the velocity at which agents can work through customer interactions. But there are also organizations that are committed to making service, satisfaction and the customer experience a core part of their brand. For the agents in these contact centers, AHT may be higher, but it can also directly correlate to customer satisfaction and brand loyalty.

Of course, even a customer that is satisfied with the outcome of his or her agent interaction won’t be happy if he or she felt it took too long to get to that point. When it comes to AHT, it becomes about striking the right balance for your business and your brand, and then implementing the solutions to help you achieve your goals.

Fortunately, it is possible to have positive impacts on handle time without having a negative impact on brand or customer experience.

AHT: Automation, data and real-time coaching for the outcomes-driven contact center

Gridspace enables processes that enable people to improve the contact center experience for customers—and make better contact centers decisions that positively impact your business.

From our Grace automation assistant, the most advanced, natural-sounding virtual agent, to agent coaching enabled by real-time transcription and analysis that shows performance at the agent, team and site level, Gridspace gives organizations the tools and solutions to intelligently and effectively address AHT.

Discover how Gridspace is pioneering real-time speech infrastructure for more automated and empathetic contact centers.



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