How to Reduce Average Handle Time in a Call Center to Increase Productivity and Sales

Average call handle time has been something call centers have always wanted to reduce. So many theories on just how to reduce it, so many “quality assurance practices" to follow, yet barely any of them work. In this post, we’ll get familiar with just what this metric is, and how to reduce average handle time in a call center, without losing any quality in your service, or staff.

What Is Average Handle Time, and Why Is It a Problem?

Every business attempts to reduce operating costs. Time is money, and the more time each agent spends on a call, the more it costs to run a business. Since the first call centre opened, the struggle to optimize workflow has existed. Different metrics became popular, one of which was reducing the average call handle time (AHT) for each agent.

How to Calculate Average Handle Time

Each business that operates a call centre may define it differently, but the definition we would give is:

“The average time an agent takes to deal with a call and is unavailable to deal with the next one."

Using this definition, the average handle time formula would include the following metrics:

Hold time

The time when an agent places a customer on hold while dealing with internal procedures.

Wrap-up time

The time processing data, or on internal procedures connected to the call.

Talk time

The time the agent and the customer spend talking to each other.

Follow-up in call time

The time dealing with issues related to the original call.

It would not include:

The time the customer spends on the call before the agent answers it.

The time after a customer's transfer to another colleague.

Any time the agent is available to answer another call.

Average handling time (AHT) as a mathematical formula looks something like this:

AHT Original = (Hold Time + Talk Time+ Time on Follow-Up Calls + Wrap-Up Time) / Number of Total Calls
To reduce costs, many managers set a maximum average call handle time for each agent, but does it work?

It is Possible to Reduce AHT But Not by Focusing on The Formula

The irony with average handle time is that focusing on it doesn’t help call centres improve effectiveness; it just increases the number of calls.

“But how is that possible? Almost every call centre uses the formula to reduce its call handling time!”Most call centers have high staff turnover because they use metrics like the AHT formula.When the focus is on the length of the call, agents feel pressured and reduce their call time, but they don’t worry about the quality of the call, nor the customer’s needs.

They focus on finishing that call faster and then starting another. Rushing calls can sometimes lead to unhappy clients being forced to make repeated calls to solve their problem, decreasing client satisfaction rates.

So How Do You Reduce Average Call Handling Time?

We set out to reduce our call handling time, and although we managed it, it was a bit of a journey.

First off, we followed the standard “quality assurance practice" of insisting call agents reduce their Average Call Handling time. We set targets for agents to achieve this.

We had positive results which saw AHT times down and service levels up.

Unfortunately, it also had a detrimental effect on first call resolution, customer satisfaction and advisor satisfaction which were all down. Even worse, the average call handling time went up when we combined calls from customers which were about the same problem.

CAHT = (Hold Time + Talk Time + Time on Follow-Up Calls + Wrap-Up Time) / Number of Calls From Clients About a Different Subject

Starting a consultation process, we talked everything through with our agents and supervisors, encouraging them to give their honest opinions. The conclusion was that to reduce average call handling time; we had to improve our agents' call handling skills.

Our new training mantra became:'Focus on quality and speed will happen naturally.'

Improving call handling skills while keeping your agents happy is not easy to do. We managed it by using Cxceed.

The positive results were:

  • AHT times down
  • Service levels up
  • First call resolution up
  • Customer satisfaction up
  • Advisor satisfaction up
An eye test containing a number of call center terms, with eyeglasses focusing on the term call handling skills, followed by the text 'Focus on call handling skills to reduce average handle time'

How to Reduce Average Call Handling Time by Improving Call Handling Skills

How we solved the problem

Most people naturally don't like criticism, and a lot of us build defensive barriers in our minds against perceived attacks. To successfully improve the call handling skills of an agent, first, you need to convince them to change their attitude to feedback. People don’t like someone telling them what they need to improve - Just because it’s called feedback, it doesn’t mean the agent will not regard it as criticism.


The big question is how to remove these barriers.

Start by including staff in the evaluation process, and making the whole process transparent. The transparency builds trust and having your staff self-evaluate their own calls, lowers their defenses. It is a simple concept; when employees evaluate their own actions and point out areas they can improve, then they are more receptive to any coaching given.

Cxceed facilitates this effortlessly.

How Exactly Does Improving Call Handling Skills Reduce Average Call Handling Time?

Let's make an analogy here: When teaching a new pupil to drive, the instructor doesn't start by teaching them to drive fast. That would be reckless. Instead, they concentrate on ensuring that the learner builds up the right skills to deal with any situation that they might encounter on the road. Driving at speed is something that develops later.

Reducing average call handling time works the same way. Agents will start by doing great calls, and with time, they will get faster, and the average time of these calls will reduce.

We hope you found this helpful. If you have any tips you want to share or have something else to add, feel free to leave a comment down below!

Improve Your Business Today

Discover how Cxceed can help improve your customer experience and boost your profit.