Should You Remove Average Handling Time as an Agent Target?


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In the customer experience industry, efficiency is key. Businesses strive to provide excellent support while optimizing their operations.

One metric that has long been a staple in this quest for efficiency is Average Handling Time (AHT) and now the question that circulates much around contact center operations is that “should you remove average handling time as an Agent target?”

Average handling time has been widely utilized in call and contact centers to gauge the operational efficiency of customer support, including phone and live chat interactions, and it can also be applied to evaluate the effectiveness of less immediate communication channels like email. 

But is it time to rethink its role as an agent target?

Let’s develop some insight into this topic to understand its implications and whether it still holds value in today’s customer-centric landscape.

The Age-Old Metric: Average handling time

AHT is the average time for an agent to resolve a customer’s inquiry from initial contact to the time when the issue is sorted out. 

How to calculate AHT
Calculate Average Handling Time

The ideal AHT can vary by industry and type of customer service interaction. However, as a general guideline, a study by ICMI (International Customer Management Institute) found that the average AHT for inbound customer service calls across industries is around 6 minutes.

For decades, AHT has been the holy grail of efficiency in the customer service industry.  Considering that faster resolutions often translate to cost savings, shorter wait times, and potentially happier customers. 

But wait, does only this metric paint the full picture?

The Downside of AHT

While AHT certainly has its benchmarks, it has its fair share of drawbacks and focusing solely on reducing AHT can inadvertently lead to:

Ineffective problem resolution:  Agents may rush through interactions to meet Average Handling Time targets, leading to quick but unsatisfactory solutions leaving customers feel unheard and unvalued.

Agent Burnout: Constant pressure to lower AHT can lead to agent burnout, as they strive to meet unrealistic time constraints at the expense of quality service.

Overlooking Complexity: Sometimes some customers are facing more complex issues and may require more time for a thorough resolution. Just overemphasizing on AHT discourages agents from tackling such cases effectively.

Customer-focused Customer Service: Shifting Agent Target Trends

In recent years, businesses have undergone a paradigm shift towards customer-centricity. They now recognize the importance of fostering strong, long-lasting relationships with their customers because it helps in increasing customer lifetime value which is an important factor for a business to become profitable. This shift has brought about a reassessment of traditional metrics like Average Handling Time.

What’s Beyond AHT? Other Key Performance Metrics

So, should you remove AHT as an agent target? Not necessarily.

Rather than scrapping it altogether, consider modifying its role and using it in conjunction with other complementary metrics will  play well. 

Key Performance Metrics
Key Complementary Metrics

Customer Satisfaction (CSAT): Measure customer happiness directly through surveys and feedback. 

A study by Forrester showed that customers are more satisfied when their issues are resolved quickly.

As AHT increases, customer satisfaction tends to decrease. If you are able to manage and resolve customer’s issues in depth and effectively then a satisfied customer may not sometimes even care about AHT.

First Contact Resolution (FCR): Focus on resolving issues in a single interaction aligns with AHT but emphasizes quality over speed.

 According to a study by Dimension Data, 84% of organizations that work to improve their FCR rates see an increase in customer satisfaction.

Quality Assurance (QA) Scores: Evaluate agent performance based on the quality of their interactions, ensuring that they prioritize customer satisfaction.

Customer Effort Score (CES): Assess how easy or difficult it is for customers to get their issues resolved. A seamless experience can lead to higher loyalty.

The Ripple Effect

In the quest for exceptional customer service, it’s imperative to view AHT not as a rigid target but as a dynamic metric that can be leveraged for improved customer experiences with other key metrics mentioned above.

Intellicon empowers your CX teams to:

  • Analyze AHT trends and their impact on key metrics.
  • Optimize AHT goals to align with FCR, QA scores, and CSAT improvements.
  • Identify and mitigate agent burnout risks through intelligent and data-driven insights.

Conclusion: Keeping up with the pace

In the end, the answer to the question “Should you remove Average Handling Time as an agent target” depends on your organization’s priorities and goals. While it shouldn’t be the sole focus, it can still play a role in optimizing operations. However, the emphasis should shift towards providing exceptional service as ultimately a satisfied customer is the most important metric of your success.

Are you ready to redefine your customer services metrics and  strike the perfect balance between efficiency and customer satisfaction.

Get connected today for a free Consultation and Demonstration session. 

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