A call center uses various key indicators to gauge its performance. But so far, the basic and simplest metric of all is the contact center average handle time (AHT). Today's article will discuss what these numbers imply and how they should be calculated. 

What Is The Contact Center Average Handle Time (AHT)?

It measures how long it takes for agents to handle customer issues (Image source: Rawpixel). 


AHT is a key call center metric that measures how long it takes agents (on average) to handle a customer query. This measurement covers all the time spent interacting with the customer, from when they first reach out until the issue is 100% resolved. Below is a summary of what's usually included: 

  • Talk time: The amount of time a center agent spends directly conversing with the customer.
  • Hold time: The time the customer spends on hold while waiting for the agent to address their inquiry or transfer them to someone else. 
  • After-call work: Any extra time the agent spends following up on the interaction. Examples: documenting the customer call, sending emails, processing refunds, etc. 

A lower AHT is usually ideal (and we will return to that shortly), though note that it's not always the best performance indicator. In certain cases, a higher AHT reflects a more thorough customer service approach, where the agent takes the time to understand an issue down to the root.

How To Calculate Your Center's AHT

1. Call AHT

Total AHT = (Total Talk Time + Total Hold Time + Total After-Call Work Time) / Total Number of Calls

Let's say you're analyzing call center performance for a week using the following data: 

  • Total Talk Time: 1,000 minutes
  • Total Hold Time: 500 minutes
  • Total After-Call Work Time: 300 minutes
  • Total Number of Calls: 100 calls

Now, you can plug those values into our average handle time formula:

AHT = (1000 minutes + 500 minutes + 300 minutes) / 100 calls = 18 minutes

2. Email AHT

Email AHT = Total Email Handling Time / Total Number of Resolved Emails

  • Total Email Handling Time: The total time agents spend handling all resolved emails within a specific period, including time spent reading, composing responses, researching issues, and any other tasks related to the email inquiry
  • Total Number of Resolved Emails: The total number of emails your team successfully addressed and closed within the chosen timeframe

Suppose you were analyzing your email support data for a month and found the following: 

  • Total Email Handling Time: 200 hours (converts this to minutes for the formula: 200 hours * 60 minutes/hour = 12,000 minutes)
  • Total Number of Resolved Emails: 300 emails

Now you can use the formula:

AHT (email) = 12,000 minutes / 300 emails = 40 minutes/email 

3. Live Chat/Live Support AHT

The formula for live chat is similar to other channels:

Live Chat AHT = (Total Chat Time + Total After-Chat Work Time) / Total Number of Chats

Let's say your entire team spent 500 minutes this week to handle 75 chats (with 100 minutes of after-chat work time). The AHT would be:

AHT (live chat) = (500 minutes + 100 minutes) / 75 chats = 8 minutes/chat.

Why You Need To Calculate Your Contact Center Average Handle Time

You can identify areas where processes are lacking (Image source: Pexels). 

Better Customer Experience

A very high AHT indicates your agents take too long to resolve issues, which is usually the reason for customer frustration. On the contrary, excessively low AHT suggests agents rush customers off the phone before their concerns are fully addressed, another common issue that leads to dissatisfaction.  

Therefore, monitoring AHT helps balance these extremes and allows you to identify areas where processes are lacking. For instance, there might be a knowledge gap among agents that your company has yet to address. 

Assessing Agent Performance

Sometimes, individual AHT can highlight areas where agents excel or need improvements. For example, let's say there's an agent with consistently much lower AHT than their colleagues; they might struggle to resolve common issues effectively. On the other hand, an agent with a significantly higher AHT may require extra training procedures. 

Of course, it's important to use the metric with caution here. Some customer issues are complex and require lots of time to resolve. Therefore, a high AHT for these interactions doesn't necessarily reflect poorly on the agent's performance.

Cost Management

Calls handled efficiently translate to a higher call volume during an agent's shift. Over time, your call center might need fewer agents, especially during peak times, which would help save a lot of money. 

You can also optimize agent scheduling to ensure just the right number of agents for call volume during a specific period. There will be no more idle time; everyone will be properly assigned! 

Most importantly, faster issue resolutions minimize the back-and-forth communication required to get to the root of the issue. Needless to say, it reduces the overall time and resources for each interaction, further saving unnecessary costs.

What Is Considered A Good Average Handle Time? 

6 minutes is a reasonable target (Image source: Pexels). 

A benchmark of roughly 6 minutes is often considered a reasonable target for call center AHT. 

Nevertheless, finding the right number for your specific call center is more important if you want to balance efficiency with customer satisfaction. Hence, the estimated number will depend on several factors, including: 

  • Industry: Different industries have significantly different call complexities. For example, technical support calls for complex software might have a much higher AHT than a clothing order inquiry. 
  • Channel: AHT varies between phone calls, emails, live chat, etc. Emails often involve back-and-forth exchanges, naturally leading to a higher AHT than a voice call (where issues can be resolved in a single conversation).

How To Reduce Your Contact Center Average Handle Time

Use Effective Processes And Tools

Every call center should build a comprehensive knowledge base for all agents, with clear and concise information on frequently asked questions (FAQs) and common troubleshooting steps. 

A standardized workflow/script for common call scenarios is also highly recommended, as it provides a solid framework for agents to follow and ensure consistent outcomes. 

We suggest utilizing screen-sharing and other co-browsing tools for a more visual approach to customer service. These platforms are powerful, easy to follow, and reduce lots of waiting time when discussing technical problems or guiding customers through a complex process. 

Understand The Products You Are Supporting

When agents have a strong grasp of the product, they can handle a wide range of inquiries and resolve customer issues quickly; there's no need to escalate problems to specialists. 

Also, most customers are quite observant and can sense an agent's expertise through interactions. Therefore, a knowledgeable and confident agent is more likely to instill trust in customers, fostering a more positive brand image. 

Your business should provide agents with comprehensive training programs that cover all relevant product aspects, from features and functionalities to common troubleshooting steps. Schedule regular knowledge refreshers every few weeks so they can stay updated on all updates and evolving trends.

Observe Other Data

Do not just focus on the AHT metric. Your team must analyze all the call recordings alongside quality scores to pinpoint areas where calls get bogged down.

On another note, customer feedback forms and surveys can shed light on why customers contact the call center in the first place. Are they struggling with product issues? Or do they have trouble familiarizing themselves with your self-service options?

Understanding these frustrations helps identify areas for improvement that can reduce call volume and, ultimately, the AHT. 

Use Interactive Voice Response (IVR) And Effective Routing

Virtual center solutions like StringeeX introduce a convenient IVR system, which allows customers to navigate pre-set menus and access information for simple queries. Cases in point: checking account balances, making payments, resetting passwords, etc. Live agents no longer have to spend time on these basic inquiries and can use their expertise for more complex issues. 

StringeeX also has an efficient call routing system that directs calls to agents with the required skills and knowledge for a specific issue. Since callers are now connected to the most experienced agents, there's no need for further transfers or time-consuming resolutions, and the AHT will decrease as a result! 

Common Mistakes To Avoid When Handling Customer Issues

Always be professional no matter what happens (Image source: Pexels). 

Lack of Empathy

People with unresolved issues are understandably stressed and upset. Hence, your agents must demonstrate genuine understanding and active listening through conversations with customers. That way, the brand's image will remain mostly unaffected even if the resolution doesn't meet customer expectations.

Pushing Products Or Scripts

Most of us can tell when someone is not being genuine, and so can customers; they will realize when your agents are more interested in pushing a sale/following a script than genuinely helping them. The golden rule is to build trust and resolve issues first before introducing extra services or products. 

Unprofessional Communication

Surprisingly, many agents lack one of the most basic qualities of a good call center rep: professionalism.

Ensure your team always stays courteous during any conversation. Even when dealing with angry customers, remember to use respectful language, maintain a positive tone, and never interrupt them.


It would be ideal to keep your contact center average handle time short — but not too short that customers feel like your agents are rushing through the problem. If you have any other questions, feel free to contact our team.