Effective Call Center Management: Average Handle Time

Call center benchmarking operations help organizations compare the performance of their call center both historically and against other firms. As a result, managers can make steady improvements while making their company more competitive. In response to the opportunity, managers can assess call center performance based on the quality, and responsiveness of the service customers receive as well as the overall productivity and cost of their operation.

Productivity metrics such as average handle time can help call centers provide the best service at the lowest possible cost.


Defining Average Handle Time

Problems such as confusing work procedures, a lack of knowledge, poor listening skills and inadequate communication skills can all cause agents to spend too much time handling a particular issue. Monitoring the average amount of time spent by agents on a single issue can help managers identify employees who may benefit from additional training. Additionally, if the entire call center has high average handling time, managers can know to look for ways to streamline applicable policies and procedures.

Average handle time equals the total amount of time spent on the phone, following up issues and completing post-contact work divided by the total number of calls handled. Work such as recording notes and completing reports counts as part of after-call work time. Call centers with higher values for this metric should assess their training and operational needs.


Measuring Average Handle Time

Average handle time requires that tabulation of all the time spent on a single issue. The amount of work navigating between and closing screens, creating call records and procedural compliance can all substantially increase this metric. The amount of time a caller spends on hold while an agent researches a question can also cause inflate handle time. Although agents and managers can manually calculate this metric, effective call center management calls for using call center software for real-time monitoring.


Reducing Average Handle Time in the Call Center

Organizations that become overly focused on the average handle time rating for their call center do so at their own risk. Pressured agents hurrying through calls can create a negative experience for callers and can, therefore, improve the metric while harming the firm. Instead, managers should use the following budget-friendly tactics to reduce average handle time while maintaining a high level of customer satisfaction.

Agent Monitoring

Paying attention to overall call center performance can facilitate benchmarking, but the practice limits the number of insights available to managers. By enabling agent monitoring in contact center software, organizations can discern whether their call center performance issues are systemic (operational problems caused by factors such as policies, procedures and workplace culture) or particular agents. When all agents underperform, companies can look for managerial problems. On the other hand, when either one or several agents are causing average handle time measurements to sore, managers can schedule individual training and coaching.

Agent Training and Coaching

Agents who understand what their employer expects can work efficiently while focusing on customer needs. Similarly, agents who understand the needs of their customers can create the type of positive customer experience that leads to growth. Of course, agents with proficiencies in the products and services offered by their employer can also better serve callers. Call center training often costs little and brings with it an exceptional ROI.

Call and Contact Recording

Companies that keep records of all interactions between customers and their call center can deeply analyze their performance. For the purpose of understanding why some calls take longer than others to handle, managers can listen to the recordings and view chat and email records. By evaluating the causes for extended issue handling times, companies can achieve significant reductions in their average handle time statistics.

Procedural Evaluations

Cumbersome or unclear agent procedures can easily cause average handle time statistics to skyrocket. Knowing this, managers should periodically review workflows within the call center. Unfortunately, employers often cannot identify procedural hurdles without employee feedback. Companies should implement open communication policies and encourage call center agents to share their frustrations and suggestions with supervisors and managers. Additionally, companies should use customer surveys to get feedback from customers that can help streamline the call center operation.

Call Routing

IVR systems can reduce handling time by matching callers with the agents who have the skills and knowledge that can best handle their issues. Ineffective IVR routing systems can extend handling time, so managers should periodically review IVR menus for clarity, accuracy and efficiency.

Customer Greetings

Average handle time includes every part of the call, so companies can benefit from the use of concise greetings. Automated call routing systems and call center agents should keep their greetings as short as possible without offending customers.

CRM System

Customer relationship management (CRM) systems can ensure that institutional knowledge stays readily accessible to call center agents. Many CRM solutions provide for self-service solutions, including FAQs, databases and ticket management modules that can reduce the number of calls that require real-time human interaction. Also, the CRM can instantly display to agents caller history and other relevant information that can speed issue resolution.

Customer Service Technology

Call center management already has benefited from technology. Still, new opportunities continue to arise that leverage technology to reduce average handle time and improve the customer experience. Call centers that take advantage of the latest available tools stand a good chance of gaining the effectiveness needed to give their organizations the competitive edge they need to stay relevant in the modern economy.


Effective call center management depends on the availability of accurate and relevant benchmarks. Average handle time, a key measure of efficiency, helps compare call center performance with historical and industry norms. Customers continue to crave a personalized and pleasant experience with their favorite brands, but they also want to receive fast resolutions to their issues.

Although average handle time can reflect poorly on particular agents, the metric can also indicate systemic problems for which managers must accept responsibility. Ultimately, however, improving this call center metric requires a team effort with input from customers, agents, managers and the technology marketplace.


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