When a client, user or customer picks up the phone to contact your charity, it’s in everyone’s interest for the call to get handled swiftly. After all, time is money; one of our most precious resources. While you might think that in our modern world of digital connections, the customer experience happens primarily online, this is not so: Zendesk reports that up to 66% of customer issues are dealt with over the phone (Zendesk). Average handle time – the total number of seconds/minutes your customer service agents generally require to deal with customer support enquiries – is one of the most essential metrics for customer-centric contact centres. And, looking over the statistics, it’s easy to see why. 

Strikingly, 15% of callers will hang up the phone just 40 seconds after initiating contact with a call centre – and that’s regardless of whether they speak to a support agent, interact with IVR (interactive response system), or simply wait on hold (Ifbyphone). What constitutes a ‘good’ average handle time varies between industries, but can be as low as five minutes or less (Cornell University). Clearly, prompt handling time is paramount – but delivery of a quality customer experience is equally important. Over 50% of users will abandon an organisation forever after just one sub-par experience or interaction (Microsoft). So, how can your charity contact centre simultaneously deal with phone-based enquiries in a good average time, and ensure delivery of high-quality customer interactions?

What is AHT (Average Handle Time)?

Average handle time, or AHT, is often one of the first KPIs (key performance indicators) call centre agents or customer support staff are judged by. Although ‘handle time’ traditionally refers specifically to phone-based enquiries, some contact centres include AI-powered chat or email in analytics.

According to Hubspot, AHT “is a metric that measures the average amount of time needed to resolve a support or service request. This includes any time spent on holds, delays, or follow-up actions to fulfil the customer’s needs.” (Hubspot).

Essentially, average handle time indicates the average total duration of a customer enquiry, from the moment the line goes live to the moment it stops. 

Low AHT is often seen as something of a holy grail in customer interactions. When the total talk time is relatively short, your customer service team is able to handle more customer issues; that’s self-evident. But it’s absolutely crucial to balance efficiency with quality – customer satisfaction and exemplary customer service should also be a foremost priority. 

Depersonalised customer interactions, poor agent performance or a frustrating customer journey, for instance, will damage the end result, no matter how short the total talk time. Focusing only on low AHT can leave you open to risks such as:

  • Negative CSAT, customer satisfaction or NPS (Net Promoter Score)
  • Increased hold time, as users are bounced from agent to agent
  • Decreased sales, and more after-call work needed to resolve issues
  • Poor reputation within the charity (or other) industry
  • Hampered business growth, as users search for better service
  • Inability to deliver first-call resolution (you can read more about the importance of first-call resolution in our blog post)
  • A detrimental brand experience and negative word-of-mouth marketing

An optimal solution such as our VCC (virtual contact centre) strikes the perfect balance between efficiency and excellence, positioning your business to achieve a positive AHT metric whilst ensuring your clients receive that all-important personal touch. To find out more or to request a free demo, get in touch today. 

Why is average handle time important?

AHT constitutes a vital metric of your charity’s UX (user experience) and CRM (customer relationship management). It can be used to quantify the overall efficiency of your contact centre and helps inform future improvements, both in agent performance and customer service. Management staff and contact centre directors often look to AHT as one of the key touchpoints of operational success. 

According to Hubspot (via Invesp), up to 67% of users would prefer to interact with an organisation over the phone than with social media (Hubspot). With so much customer management still happening over the phone, and such a large part of the customer journey rooted in human interaction – not to mention the contemporary importance of fast and efficient service delivery – it’s easy to see why average handle time is so important to your charity.

How Do You Calculate the Average Handle Time

AHT is primarily still employed to measure average handling times of phone-based customer support enquiries. However, it’s worth noting that this is not set in stone. Given the recent push towards customer-centricity, and the growing uptake of omnichannel software, increasing numbers of contact centres are using AHT to evaluate AI chat, email, or other forms of user communication.

But speaking specifically about phone-based customer interactions, average handling time takes into account:

  • The total talk time
  • The total hold time
  • The total number of calls handled

Again, it’s important to note that measuring AHT in isolation will not facilitate optimal operational levels of your contact centre. In fact, doing so is likely to do more harm than good. Call centre agents who are overly-focused on average handle time will almost certainly be preoccupied with hurrying users off of their phones or dashboards, and neglect to take the time necessary to deliver a meaningful (and profitable) customer experience.

The average handle time formula

With that caveat, there is a simple formula you can use to measure the average handle time in your charity contact centre:

(Total talk time + total hold time + follow-up time) / number of calls = AHT 

To take a real-terms example: let’s say your charity receives 75 calls, which average out to 1,500 minutes with hold time at 350 minutes and follow-up time of 250 minutes. Applying the formula gives us the calculation:

(1,500 + 350 + 250) / 75 = 28

That means your average handle time is 28 minutes, at which point, alarm bells should start ringing. That is far too long, and likely to be significantly higher than your competitors. According to Call Centre Magazine, the standard AHT across industries is six minutes and ten seconds (Call Centre Magazine).

How to Reduce Average Handle Time in a Call Centre

A low AHT is important in ensuring a positive customer experience and delivering excellent service. 

Perhaps the most obvious method for reducing average handle time is to have your customer service agents hurry users off the line; but this is definitely not advisable. Pursue this strategy and you’ll quickly see sales plummet, legions of dissatisfied users, and potentially-irrevocable damage done to your industry reputation. This is why efficiency for efficiency’s sake will never deliver positive results for your charity. 

Instead, there are a number of techniques and best practices you can implement in your virtual contact centre to achieve both essential touchpoints: a good average handle time, and a positive customer journey. This is when a virtual contact centre truly becomes a competitive advantage.

5 steps to reduce average call time

Below, we’ll outline five steps to improve average handle time for your charity virtual contact centre without sacrificing customer service or the user experience. 

1. Comprehensive agent training

A thorough and inclusive training programme will help to ensure your service agents are equipped with the skills to do their job at the highest, most efficient level. Paired with data analytics and monitoring, proper training is one of the best ways to achieve positive agent performance and reduce average handle time. This includes training on contact centre elements such as customer relationship management (CRM) software, interactive voice response (an IVR system), and AI-powered chat; remember, AHT can include non-phone-based interactions. 

2. Use analytics to streamline workflows

There’s a good chance that, somewhere in your user or customer journey, there is an inefficiency; and therefore, the opportunity to improve the process. Future-proof virtual contact centre software such as our VCC is inbuilt with sophisticated analytics capabilities. The information you gather from this can be used to refine and elevate customer interactions, shaving seconds and even minutes off of your average handle time.

3. Optimisation of routing and call handling

In an ideal world, every customer issue would be dealt with effectively and efficiently in a rewarding first-contact resolution that satisfies all parties. However, whilst this is a good standard to aim for, it’s not always possible. And that’s OK; what’s important is that users are directed to the right agent calls. The faster this happens, the better – but don’t write-off customer interactions after the opportunity for FCR has passed. 

4. Prioritise data accuracy and user information

For the modern contact centre, there’s no real excuse for out-of-date customer information. That’s especially true in the charity sector, where data security and user privacy are so important. When service agents don’t have access to the latest relevant data, it hurts the user experience and staff are forced to waste precious seconds searching for it – this will drive up the average handle time dramatically. 

5. Implement an effective knowledge base

Any charity contact centre should deploy a digital  knowledge base as part of its customer support resources. Defined by Tech Target as “a centralized repository of information […] a machine-readable resource for the dissemination of information” (Tech Target), you can think of a knowledge base as a uniform, reliable and consistent directory of data. As it relates to your charity’s contact centre, a knowledge base would be a central location for storing all information relevant to your service department. Why work so hard to ensure accurate data if it isn’t stored and indexed in an accessible manner? Implement a knowledge base to give your agents near-instant access to vital user information, and you’ll quickly see your AHT start to fall.

Maximising Charity Communications in Every Channel

Hopefully, by this stage you’ll have a clear understanding of what average handle time is and why it matters, how you can go about calculating it, and the steps you can take now to improve the AHT of your charity’s virtual contact centre. 

In very general terms, low AHT is a positive metric and something all contact centres should strive for; but this should always be accompanied by a word of warning. Don’t fall into the trap of having tunnel vision when it comes to average handle time. If your service agents are overwhelmingly focussed on delivering quick turnaround times – and that’s their only goal – your charity communications will suffer serious damage. Users will come away from interactions dissatisfied, your reputation and integrity will fall through the floor, and countless enquiries will be pushed but never resolved. 

Instead, aim for a more holistic approach, and seek to balance low AHT with high service level. This will not only ensure that calls are dealt with as efficiently as possible, your charity will also be positioned to make the most out of every interaction; delivering a rewarding and personalised experience that stands as an prime example of quality across the industry. 

Our flagship VCC is a made-to-measure communications solution for charities. With rapid setup, omnichannel functionality, CRM integration and data accessibility – alongside a number of other future-proof tools, it’s the perfect answer to maximise your charity’s communications. 

Reduce your AHT now by implementing a cloud-based virtual contact centre for your charity. Book a demo today to find out how our VCC can transform your client interactions.