Average Handling Time is Over-rated

Average Handling Time (“AHT”) refers to the amount of time, on average, it takes for an agent to terminate a call after it’s been answered.

I suggest that you cannot have short average handling times and score very high customer satisfaction numbers. Pick one metric, you can’t have both.

AHT is great for highly transactional environments with minimal customer service if-then scenarios and where the customer doesn’t expect good service (when is that ever the case?).

You want your customer service agent to go above and beyond and “wow” your customer – they’re not going to do it in 3 to 5 minutes. If you’re going to reduce their compensation for going over their AHT, they’re DEFINITELY not going to go above and beyond the call of duty.

Short AHT’s just incentivize agents to offer the minimum amount of service required and/or to get off the phone as quick as possible – is that what you want to offer your customers, the bare minimum?


This post speaks (a) primarily to call center clients because you have the power to make changes and (b) to request call centers to counter any clients that hyper-focus on AHT’s.

If a call center does a lousy job, it’s not their brand that suffers.

If a call center loses a client, their revenue doesn’t go down.

Speak up clients!


On one hand you want your customer support agents to solve the problem the caller is trying to fix. If that happens, the person will inevitably use your travel agency for his next trip. That is the goal isn’t it? To fix the problem. To keep the customer from being somebody elses customer.

You don’t want your customer service agents to offer a quick fix to realize it wasn’t the right thing (or worse, to offer a solution knowing it wasn’t the right one) just to keep their AHT numbers down. It happens all the time.

You don’t want customer service agents to hang up on callers just to keep their AHT numbers down. Happens all the time. Ever called, got through to an agent and been immediately hung up on? It happens all the time.

You don’t want to have the client call back again and again and ‘ask for a manager’ to fix something that should have been fixed on 1 call. How is that helping your company? Now that customer thinks even less of you to begin with. Your ultimate goal is to increase their lifetime customer value, not to pass the buck to some other department or up the supply chain.


I’ve spoken to call centers and agents in India and the Philippines that have ridiculously low average handling times working in AHT obsessive call centers that (surprise surprise) have low callers satisfaction numbers.

Entirely too many call centers use AHT as the holy grail of metrics and penalize call center staff for not meeting their AHT targets. Yet the very same call center do not have a scaleable way to trap exceptions that legitimately require considerably longer time than allotted.

I won’t even get started on how savvy call center agents devise work arounds to keep their AHT low. Is that what you want your staff focusing their energy on, circumventing the system?


Turn AHT from a metric to penalize staff into a metric to identify outliers. Use AHT to find agents who went beyond the call of duty to fix the problem. Who called the airline, who spoke with ticketing, who kept the customer updated – who solved the problem. Yes it took 4 hours but that customer will use your travel agency and tell all their friends about it and maybe even mention it on their blog, Twitter and Facebook which will lead to even more customers. You see where this is going.

Use AHT as part of a number of metrics.

If you’re using AHT with some success, think about how AHT may be hurting your business as well.

If you want to build a sustainable travel agency that values longer term customer value and wants to properly incentivize agents to solve the problems your clients are calling for – better eliminate AHT or put it’s importance much lower on the list of metrics.