Average handle time (AHT)

Definition

Average handle time (AHT) refers to the total amount of time every contact center agent spends in conversation with each customer – including hold time and time spent completing forms or other tasks as a result of the conversation, as well as the length of the conversation itself – is added up and an average taken to calculate the average handle time. The figure can be calculated weekly, monthly or quarterly and historically was a key metric for measuring contact center performance when the primary form of contact was the telephone.

The theory goes that the longer an associate needs to be on the phone to resolve a customer’s issue the more that call is costing the company and the less time the associate has available to service other callers. However, if a longer initial call ends with a problem being resolved then the customer is happy and won’t be calling back.

What’s more, today volumes and complexities of contact are much greater, as is the choice of channels – alongside voice, agents now handle live chat, SMS, email and even social media making average handle time more of an indicator for planning staffing levels and checking scripts and knowledge bases are working well and are up to date.

As more companies begin to leverage self-service elements such as FAQs, community forums and chatbots to deflect low-value contacts, the likelihood that a call into a contact center needs more time to resolve increases as does the possibility that the contact will be a real moment of truth for the customer in question.

And while average handle time can help to highlight the fluency of conversation between an agent and a customer, it can’t measure an agent’s soft skills or emotional intelligence, both of which are crucial to achieving a positive resolution in a moment of truth.