Contact centers are filled with bustling activity: phones ringing, a cacophony of voices — some raised a bit as they try to de-escalate a customer — keyboards clacking as agents respond to chats and emails. The energy in the room communicates one thing: move fast. How do we decrease our average handle time with a customer? How can we be more efficient in our operations?
These questions boil down to one main KPI: speed. It’s the metric that hangs over the heads of most contact center employees and their managers. And for good reason. Customers today value speed in their customer service experience and will reward fast, high-quality support with their loyalty.
But moving fast doesn’t guarantee happy customers. That’s why, as you consider what KPIs to focus on in your contact center, improving average handle time (AHT) should be high on your list of priorities. Your average handle time measures the average time it takes an agent to resolve a service interaction from start to finish. It accounts for the customer’s entire interaction with your brand — including hold times, the time spent in actual conversation with agents, and any necessary follow-up.
This metric gives a full picture of your operations, helping you determine hiring and training needs, find gaps in the customer experience, and update processes and tools. As a rule of thumb, you should shoot to reduce average handle time, moving customers through your service team as efficiently as possible.
Let’s dig into why and how.
3 Benefits of Improving Average Handle Times in Your Contact Center
Reducing your average handle times offers essential insights that benefit your operations and your customers. When you improve your AHT, you get:
1. Increased Customer Throughput
Moving customers through interactions faster means your team can help more customers. Let’s say you’ve recently released a new feature that isn’t working as expected. Customers are flooding your lines with questions. Losing a customer who’s waiting in line to talk to you might permanently damage the relationship, leading to bad reviews, loss of future sales, etc. But imagine if your team can handle every customer who reaches out in a reasonable time frame. That personal touch with each customer — even if they come to you a little frustrated — has a massive impact.
By improving your average handle time, agents can manage more customer interactions. Plus, you see faster response times and improved overall throughput, ensuring more customer issues are addressed promptly.
2. More Productive Agents
When you reduce your average handle time, you’re more likely to improve productivity across the board. A lower AHT indicates that you’ve optimized your processes and tools. Agents can handle more queries in the same time frame, boosting their productivity without compromising quality. Ultimately, your team is more productive, more purposeful, and more effective.
3. A Better Customer Experience
Your customers win when you decrease your average handle time. No one likes spending an hour (or more) of their day on a customer service interaction. When you reduce your AHT, you’re supporting an improved customer experience. Today, customers expect to engage with someone immediately when seeking support. And a lower AHT makes that possible.
>> Ready to learn more about how Broadvoice can help improve CX and productivity in your contact center? Talk with one of our team members.
5 Easy Ways to Improve Average Handle Time in Your Contact Center
Ok — so hopefully you’re convinced that improving your average handle time is a huge benefit. But how do you do it? Here are five strategies to get you started improving your AHT.
1. Streamline Your Omnichannel Experience
A sloppy omnichannel experience is one way to add time to your customer interactions. Customers want to move seamlessly between channels when they reach out to you. But a blip in the process of moving from texting to a phone call or from a phone call to an email makes for a disjointed experience and wastes time.
Establish an omnichannel strategy for managing interactions across channels so customers don’t get lost in the process. Then, connect your channels through a single software platform to give agents the context they need to help customers.
2. Optimize Your IVR
Your IVR menu can be a huge timewaster if it’s not set up effectively, and that can then extend your AHT by a mile. Imagine a customer chooses the wrong menu option, leading them down a rabbit hole with your billing department when they just had a simple question about your product. That customer’s not going to be a raving fan.
Examine your IVR menu and clean up your routing so the customer goes to the right agent with the first click. And then, if you want to take the optimized experience further, add automation or AI into the process. Let an intelligent virtual agent handle simple interactions and trigger actions so customers can find resolution without ever actually talking to an agent.
3. Boost Your Onboarding, Training, and Coaching
Effective onboarding, training, and coaching can significantly impact whether your agents can move quickly through an interaction. Companies that invest in a standard onboarding program increase the productivity of new hires by as much as 70%. Plus, ongoing training and coaching contribute to engagement and higher productivity. It makes sense.
When your employees are empowered with the best resources from the start, they’re more likely to know how to help a customer. By improving your coaching, your agents will be better at their jobs, and your customers will feel the difference.
4. Integrate with AI for Agent Support
Artificial intelligence is the latest hot topic, and for good reason. AI can help improve your average handle time by taking on the tedious, repetitive tasks that slow down your agents. Integrate AI chatbots into your contact center to field simple customer issues using natural language processing to imitate human interactions. Speed up email and SMS interactions using AI-drafted templates. Or rely on AI to search your knowledge base for agents so they can find resources for customers faster.
5. Give Agents Clear Talking Points to Cut Timewasters
Agents are human, which means they can get caught up in conversation or go on tangents, leading to an increased average handle time. Sure, sometimes that interaction is important in building a relationship with your customer. But if an agent wanders on every interaction, you won’t be able to help as many customers in a day.
To speed up operations and reduce average handle time, give your agents clear talking points and scripts to guide them through interactions. New hires, in particular, can benefit from having the words in front of them so they know what to say next. You can also use Smart Scripting to give agents real-time support while they’re on a call without leaving your desk.
How Outsourcing Can Help Improve Average Handle Time
If we get right down to it, the biggest challenge in reducing average handle time is often just not having enough agents to respond to customers. Contact centers are plagued by high turnover rates, absenteeism, and talent shortages, making it challenging to help customers how you want. Outsourcing can help.
Outsourcing gives your team the support it needs during peak times when it feels like every customer is reaching out simultaneously. With outsourcing, you’re more likely to get customers the help they need. In the end, your customers will be happier, and your average handle time will be cut in half. Sounds good, right?
Plus, BPO outsourcing tools like CXHub can help you end the intimidating task of searching for outsourcing vendors, wading through RFPs, and finding the right outsourcing partner for your contact center. Filling skill gaps with outsourcing can help improve your contact center’s overall performance.
Want to see how you can improve your contact center’s average handle times (and other operations)? Schedule a demo with one of our specialists.