Average Handling Time (AHT)

Average Handling Time (AHT) is an exceptionally useful metric for call centers showing the length of the entire process needed to finalize a single call. Measured for both inbound and outbound use cases, AHT is generally considered a useful indicator showing agent productivity in terms of call handling. But it also signals potential bottlenecks around processes and tools, as well as the quality of the database which may unnecessarily prolong typical handling times.

Read on to find out what makes AHT a useful KPI, how it is calculated, and what actions to implement to improve it. You will also learn real-life scenarios that will help you better understand if this is an indicator to which you should pay special attention in your team.


AHT, or Average Handling time, is a typical call center metric measuring the average duration it takes for an agent to handle a single interaction, from the initiation of the contact (such as answering or making a phone call, starting a chat, or receiving an email) to its conclusion that includes all administrative after work. As a metric, AHT indicates a number of good (or bad) aspects of the team’s performance, such as the overall agent productivity, the proper selection of processes and tools, as well as the quality of the database and call routing logic used.

AHT formula

AHT is typically analyzed in voice focused scenarios where it is calculated by adding the total talk time, hold time, and after-call work time, and then dividing that sum by the total number of interactions handled. However, you can imagine a team in which “talk time” is extended to non-voice use cases, for example, by including the time spent using a web chat. The formula for AHT is often expressed as:

AHT = Total-Talk-Time + Total-Hold-Time + Total-After-Call-Work-Time    

Here’s a breakdown of the components:

  • Total Talk Time: The time a customer spends actively engaged in conversation with a customer service representative.
  • Total Hold Time: The time a customer is placed on hold during the interaction.
  • Total After-Call Work Time: The time a representative spends completing tasks related to the customer interaction after the conversation has ended. This may include documentation, updating records, or any other post-interaction responsibilities.

This is of course easier to understand when real values are used to see what a result could look like and how to analyze it. Let’s look at this real-life scenario and see how we can interpret the result.

Using AHT formula – real-life scenario

Let’s consider a hypothetical contact center for an online retail company that handles customer inquiries through phone calls.

First we need to break down the components of the formula with a specific example:

  • Total Talk Time: The time agents spend actively engaged in conversations with customers. Let’s say, during a specific period, the total talk time is 25,000 seconds.
  • Total Hold Time: The time customers spend on hold while waiting for an available agent. For this example, let’s assume the total hold time is 5,000 seconds.
  • Total After-Call Work Time (ACW): The time agents spend completing tasks related to the call after the conversation ends. This includes updating records, documentation, and any other post-call activities. Suppose the total ACW time is 7,000 seconds.
  • Total Number of Calls Handled: Let’s assume the contact center handled 1,000 calls during the same period.

Now, plug these values into the AHT formula:

AHT = 25,000 seconds + 5,000 seconds + 7,000 seconds    
1,000 calls

AHT = 37,000 seconds    
1,000 calls

AHT = 37 seconds    

Based on the knowledge we have that this is a retail company and the team provides customer service we may easily assume the productivity levels in this team are very high. And this is mainly signaled by this excellent AHT metric of only 37 seconds.

However, it’s often important to keep in mind that AHT levels will vary deeply depending on the nature of calls handled. We can even imagine some circumstances where particularly short AHT may signal something not positive at all, especially in outbound sales scenarios. (see below) In such cases, it makes sense to have a closer look at the components separately, such as talk time and after call work time.

Why AHT Matters

AHT is a critical metric for contact centers because it directly impacts efficiency and customer satisfaction. While a low level may indicate efficient and quick service, it’s essential to balance speed with the quality of service provided. High AHT may suggest that representatives are taking too long to resolve issues, which can lead to customer dissatisfaction.

Contact centers often use AHT as part of their overall performance management strategy to optimize processes, improve agent training, and enhance the customer experience. It’s important to note that this metric should be analyzed in conjunction with other metrics, such as first call resolution (FCR) and customer satisfaction (CSAT), to gain a comprehensive understanding of overall performance.

Key benefits of knowing the average length of handling time

Tracking and analyzing Average Handling Time in a call center offers several benefits for both the organization and its customers. Here are some of the top advantages:

  • Operational efficiency and cost control

AHT is a key indicator of operational efficiency because it combines a few factors putting them into one metric to view. Monitoring AHT helps identify specific areas where processes can be streamlined and optimized, leading to quicker and more efficient customer interactions, or potential savings to be made in terms of tools, documentation etc.

One of the key results of analyzing this KPI for efficiency reasons may be a stricter cost control. This can be related to both team management as well as tools usage.

  • Planning, forecasting and benchmarking

By understanding AHT, call centers can better allocate resources, including staff and technology, to meet demand during peak periods. This contributes to improved workforce management and cost-effectiveness. Thanks to this, it may also positively impact the organization’s ability to make forecasts regarding call volumes and resource requirements to upscale and downscale operations in advance. In other words, this proactive approach enables call centers to be better prepared for fluctuations in demand.

Last but not least – AHT can be used for benchmarking against industry standards, or comparing performance within internal teams handling various projects. This external and internal perspectives help create an honest look at what’s possible in the team – identify areas where the call center excels or where improvements are needed.

  • Agent performance management

AHT is a valuable metric for assessing individual agent performance and can be one of the major metrics helping compare productivity within the team. It provides insights into how efficiently agents handle customer interactions, helping identify areas for improvement and guiding training initiatives. This analysis may also uncover gaps in training, tools usage, bloated processes and unnecessary documentation that can be limited.

  • Customer experience

While efficiency is crucial, maintaining a balance with the quality of service is equally important. AHT helps ensure that customer issues are resolved in a reasonable timeframe, contributing to overall customer satisfaction. In many cases, higher focus on customer experience and successful issue resolution leads to putting less focus on shortening handling times (see below). This is especially true where typical queries require a complex, multi-step approach to solution.

  • Service Level Agreement (SLA) adherence

AHT is often used to measure adherence to SLAs. Ensuring that interactions are handled within the agreed-upon timeframes helps meet service level commitments and maintain customer satisfaction. Therefore handling times can be included in agreements between parties, for example in outsourced call centers.

  • Continuous improvement

Regularly tracking handling times allows call centers to implement continuous improvement initiatives. This can involve refining processes, providing additional training to agents, and adopting new technologies to enhance efficiency.t

While AHT is a valuable metric, it’s essential to consider it in conjunction with other key performance indicators (KPIs) to gain a comprehensive view of call center performance and the overall customer experience.

For whom AHT is crucial – and who can skip it

There are more than a dozen of typical metrics that call center admins tend to look at to better understand how performant the team is.

Knowing the combined time it takes to handle one caller is definitely important but not to the same extent for all teams. Below we gathered top reasons that make teams look at handling times more, or less carefully.

Call centers that should pay more attention to AHT

Inbound sales: In a sales-focused contact center, efficiency is crucial. Agents handling inbound sales calls should aim to keep AHT within reasonable limits to maximize the number of calls they can handle and, potentially, increase sales opportunities.

Interestingly, inbound sales use case can be considered differently than outbound sales for which low AHT may not necessarily be a good signal.

Technical support: In technical support, quick issue resolution is often a priority. Customers contacting technical support usually want their problems solved as efficiently as possible and it may be hard to find an exception from this rule. Emphasizing AHT can help ensure timely assistance.

Transactional processes: Contact center teams dealing with routine or transactional processes, such as billing inquiries or account changes, may benefit from focusing on AHT to enhance operational efficiency.

Call centers that pay less attention to AHT

Customer service: While AHT is still important in customer service, it may be less critical than ensuring a high level of customer satisfaction. Customer service teams often prioritize issue resolution and customer experience over speed, so AHT should be balanced with other metrics.

Quality Assurance and escalation teams: Teams responsible for quality assurance, handling escalations, or resolving complex issues may need to spend more time on each interaction. Emphasizing AHT in these cases could compromise the quality of service.

Relationship-building functions: Teams focused on building customer relationships, such as customer success or loyalty programs, may prioritize customer engagement and satisfaction over quick handling times. Longer interactions may be necessary to understand and address customer needs.

Outbound sales and retention: Outbound sales or retention teams may focus more on the quality of interactions and persuasiveness than on minimizing AHT. Building rapport and addressing customer concerns might require longer conversations.

It’s important to note that while AHT is a valuable metric, it should be considered alongside other key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics, such as customer satisfaction (CSAT), first call resolution (FCR), and Net Promoter Score (NPS). Additionally, individual customer preferences and the complexity of the issues being handled should be taken into account when determining the appropriate balance between efficiency and quality of service. Each contact center should tailor its approach to tracking handling times based on its unique goals and customer requirements.

Industry benchmarks

It’s definitely important to build internal benchmarks for AHT by looking at historical data or results from other teams. However, at an early stage of the company or the team itself there may not be any historical data and that doesn’t mean we need to start from scratch as some indicative external benchmarks do exist.

Average Handling Time (AHT) benchmarks can vary widely across industries and even within different segments of the same industry. It’s important to note that these figures are generalizations, and specific organizations may have different benchmarks based on their unique business models, customer expectations, and service offerings. Moreover, technology, processes, and customer preferences evolve, influencing these benchmarks over time.

AHT – benchmarks per industry

Retail and e-commerce:

  • Inbound customer service: 4 to 8 minutes
  • Inbound sales: 8 to 15 minutes


  • Customer service: 4 to 10 minutes
  • Technical support: 10 to 15 minutes

Financial services:

  • Banking inquiries: 6 to 12 minutes
  • Credit card support: 8 to 15 minutes


  • Appointment scheduling: 5 to 10 minutes
  • General inquiries: 7 to 15 minutes

Travel and hospitality:

  • Reservation inquiries: 6 to 12 minutes
  • Customer support: 8 to 15 minutes

Technology and software:

  • Technical support: 10 to 20 minutes
  • Software training: 15 to 30 minutes

Utilities (energy, water, etc.):

  • Billing inquiries: 5 to 10 minutes
  • Service requests: 8 to 15 minutes


  • Policy inquiries: 8 to 15 minutes
  • Claims processing: 15 to 30 minutes

Please note that the above benchmark values are rough estimates that are for reference and comparison purposes only.

Experiencing bad AHT levels? Check out this 14-step improvement plan

Average Handling Time is a useful metric mainly because it’s relatively easy to calculate and track, as well as explain and report to external teams. When values are not meeting the expectations of the team management and higher-ups, you may implement a simple step-by-step improvement plan following the checklist below.

Improving AHT requires a systematic approach that addresses various aspects of the operation. Here’s a step-by-step improvement plan:

☑ Step 1: Analyze current AHT performance

  • Review historical data to identify trends and patterns, also check out benchmarks in this article.
  • Identify specific call types, processes, or projects with longer expected handling times.

☑ Step 2: Conduct root cause analysis

  • Investigate the reasons behind longer AHT, considering factors such as complex issues, system inefficiencies, or agent skill gaps.
  • Collect feedback from agents and supervisors on challenges they face.
  • Collect feedback from customers by running surveys, NPS measurement, or simple yes / no polls.

☑ Step 3: Define clear AHT goals

  • Establish realistic and achievable targets based on historical and industry benchmarks, as well as organizational objectives.
  • You may differentiate goals for various call types, projects, or processes if necessary.

☑ Step 4: Agent training and development

  • Provide targeted training to address skill gaps and enhance efficiency if this is signaled as the key issue.
  • Train agents on using tools and systems effectively to reduce handling times.
  • Consider reducing processes and documentation where possible.
  • Implement ongoing coaching and mentoring programs.

☑ Step 5: Implement effective call routing

  • Optimize call routing strategies to direct calls to the most skilled agents for specific call types.
  • Ensure you use efficient IVR (Interactive Voice Response) systems to gather relevant information (or allow self-service – see below) before connecting to a “real” agent.

☑ Step 6: Use knowledge management systems

  • Ensure agents have access to updated and comprehensive knowledge bases.
  • Implement quick-reference tools, such as cheat-sheet or checklists, to facilitate faster issue resolution.

☑ Step 7: Promote self-service options

  • Encourage customers to use self-service options for routine queries.
  • Integrate your IVR trees with CRMs and payment gateways to ensure real-time changes regarding options offered to clients.
  • Provide easy-to-use online resources, FAQs, and tutorials.

☑ Step 8: Adjust and enhance your scripting tools

  • Review the contents of scripts in use – ensure only relevant, practical and actually used information is included.
  • Use interactive step-by-step guides as part of your scripts.
  • Make sure your scripting tool gives access to relevant tools that can be accesses without switching tabs. (e.g. online maps, CRM, payment processing)
  • Implement automated data cleaning options within your script to ensure data accuracy and speed up post-call activities.

☑ Step 9: Streamline processes

  • Identify and eliminate unnecessary steps in workflows.
  • Implement process automation to reduce manual intervention.

☑ Step 10: Implement call monitoring and quality assurance

  • Regularly monitor calls either real-time or through listening to recordings to identify areas for improvement.
  • Provide constructive feedback to agents based on monitored calls.
  • Consider using call whispering as a training method.

☑ Step 11: Incentivize efficiency

  • Introduce performance-based incentives tied to AHT goals.
  • Recognize and reward agents who consistently achieve or exceed AHT targets.
  • Consider using gamification options combined with financial incentives.

☑ Step 12: Update technology and tools

  • Invest in modern call center technology to improve efficiency.
  • Ensure that software and systems are up-to-date and optimized.
  • In the case of on-premise setups, consider starting the process of moving systems to the cloud to ensure speedy updates, more flexible integrations and higher customizability.

☑ Step 13: Regularly review and adjust strategies

  • Conduct regular performance reviews and reassess AHT goals.
  • Modify strategies based on changing call patterns, customer expectations, and technology advancements.

☑ Step 14: Monitor and address burnout

  • Keep track of agent stress and burnout levels.
  • Implement strategies to promote a healthy work-life balance.

Remember that the improvement process is iterative, and continuous monitoring and adjustments are essential for sustained success. It’s best to regularly assess the impact of changes and improvements made to have full visibility into the impact these changes are making.

Be creative about measuring AHT

While Average Handling Time is a relatively straightforward metric to keep an eye on, there are plenty of factors that can skew your data.

Therefore it’s important to use customizable KPI dashboards that track AHT levels exactly the way needed by your team. It’s typically beneficial to keep AHT measurements separate based on multiple factors, such as the products sold, type of calls handled (inbound or outbound), or what kind of customers are handled. Robust call center software typically offer fully flexible KPI dashboards that help you track as many KPIs as you like that are based on custom formulas to ensure you have an excellent overview of the performance.

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