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Why the Days of Call Time Measurement are Long Gone When It Comes to Customer Service Excellence

Why the Days of Call Time Measurement are Long Gone When It Comes to Customer Service Excellence

Learn why average handle time, or AHT, is out and other metrics that you can be using.

Average handle time. Companies have been using it for years — decades, even. It’s at the top of every agent’s scorecard and, in some companies, it’s the metric that drives the entire service department. It’s what helps managers stay on top of efficient use of their service budget and forecasting. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most outdated metrics for driving customer service quality.

Why AHT Is Out

Average handle time, or AHT, is exactly what it sounds like: It’s the average amount of time it takes an agent to handle a customer’s issue. But these days, customers don’t want to be “handled.” They want real solutions to complex problems. Top service managers know that simply can’t be done in just a few seconds of call time, but many of them measure AHT anyway. Why?


Back when call centers were just starting to be an integral part of doing business, AHT was revolutionary. It was the best way to ensure reps were knocking out tickets left and right. A few seconds on the phone was enough to update billing information, check an order status, or confirm who to make a check out to. The thing is, few customers call a service center with these kinds of questions anymore. Websites, FAQ pages, video tutorials, and online manuals answer quick, simple questions like these in about the time it used to take to call in.

Today, customer service agents face issues every day that are more challenging — big questions, real stumpers — and merit a call into customer service. In other words, the calls that take time to resolve.

Some managers combat this by simply changing the standard for AHT. Instead of getting the customer off the phone in under two minutes, aim for 10 minutes, for example. Unfortunately, more challenging tickets are only part of the problem.

The Ticking Clock

Have you ever been speed dating? It’s a great way to meet people in a short amount of time by quickly assessing whether a person meets your basic requirements. If you’re like most speed daters, by the end of a few rounds you’ll have an efficient spiel to deliver, and maybe a lineup of questions to quickly get out in order of most importance, in case you don’t have time to ask them all.

The problem is that ticking clock means the pressure is on. The depth of your interactions with your date will be affected, and you may end up dating the wrong person.

It’s the same with customer service. Both agents and customers can feel that clock ticking away as the race to the end of the ticket looms. But, like many things in life, great service is a journey you take your customers on, not a destination.

No matter what target you set for AHT, it’s always going to be a measurement of service quantity, not quality. If this is your number one KPI (the metric on which all other metrics are judged), both your reps and your customers will feel lost in the numbers game.

What to Measure Instead

First Call Resolution (FCR)

This is the percentage of tickets that are solved in a single interaction with your department. It shows how well equipped your agents are to solve problems immediately. Top service organizations regularly achieve FCR rates of 86 per cent or higher.

Response Time

While a strict focus on the length of calls can be detrimental, ensuring your reps get to that caller quickly is critical. Response time does just that. The exact numbers managers shoot for depend on their business and the type of question, but they know to pay attention to trends in order to improve this metric. Are there certain times of day when agents struggle with response time? Certain days of the week?

Contact Quality

While this metric isn’t measured automatically, it does provide a window into both individual and department-wide quality of service. Top managers will listen to recorded calls and rate the agent’s performance when greeting customers, capturing their data, providing relevant information, and accuracy in call coding.

Customer Satisfaction

Last, but certainly not least, you must measure the very thing that is your department’s purpose: customer satisfaction. This is generally done via post-experience surveys as a web page pop-up, an automatically generated email, or a phone call a few days later. With this data, you’ll learn whether all other metrics are leading you in the right direction. You can also track trends over time or set up alerts for abnormally low or high ratings.


Should you continue to measure AHT? Of course. It’s still relevant as a forecasting tool and can point to deeper issues if you get any outlying data points. But if quality is what you’re aiming for, AHT should take a back seat to these other metrics.

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