What’s the best way to use contact handle time as a key performance indicator?


The amount of time agents spend handling interactions in each supported channel (e.g., inbound/outbound calls, chats, emails, short message service (SMS)/text, messaging, social media, etc.) is a critical key performance indicator (KPI) for contact centers, and has been one of the most common productivity measures since call centers began decades ago. For calls, average handle time (AHT) is the combination of average talk time (ATT) and after-call work (ACW) time; in digital channels, contact handle time is the time to complete the customer interaction. Changes in handle time at a site level can help contact center leaders diagnose issues; for example, an increase may be caused by slower-than-normal system response time. At an agent level, contact handle-time outliers – whether significantly higher or lower than average – can help supervisors identify coaching and training opportunities.

Concerns arise about the use of handle time as a KPI when it is overemphasized, especially at the agent level, e.g. using handle-time punitively, or as the sole KPI to determine the order of shift or vacation bidding. Focusing on one KPI, like contact handle time, or even one category of KPIs, such as productivity, provides a one-dimensional view of performance that doesn’t tell the whole story. Contact center stakeholders at all levels – agents, supervisors, managers, executives – need a holistic view of performance. A balanced scorecard that measures productivity along with quality, effectiveness, customer satisfaction and reliability (for agent scorecards) provides the necessary insight. The most effective balanced scorecards also identify trends by comparing performance day-to-day, week-to-week, etc., rather than merely providing a snapshot of performance at one point in time. In addition, KPIs should not be static and should be reassessed at least twice a year. It’s a good time to take a fresh look at all your KPIs. For more information about KPIs and balanced scorecards, see DMG’s white paper: Top KPIs for Managing Customer Service, Sales and Collections Contact Centers