Tips for Lowering Your Call Centers Handle Time


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Talk Time vs Handle Time

First, let’s define the difference between handle and talk time. Handle time is the entire cradle-to-grave time period that a call was handled. An agent picked up the phone, spoke with the customer, and hold time or mute time is included, and after-call work time as well. Talk time is just the period in which an agent is actively conversing with the customer on the other end.

If I ever see an upward trend in overall handle time, I break the calls down. I will pull a report that shows total handle time, talk time, and after-call work time. We can look at speech analytics to see how much silence there is. All these little bits of information are used to parse out what inefficiencies are happening on these calls.

Hold time should be almost zero. Extended hold periods could mean we have a lack of training, or now there are different types of calls coming in that we were not ready for. Your mute time is almost synonymous with hold time, which should be close to zero as well.

The number one enemy of handle time other than hold time is after-call work. Are you making your reps be in after-call work meaning, is there excessive memo-ing, excessive work that needs to be done on an account when sales are done? Are you struggling with your reps being in after-call work for longer than necessary, keeping them from going back to “available”? Make sure you have a phone system that allows for your agents to only be in after-call work for about 15 seconds. Let them take breathers before jumping right into their next call, but from a technology standpoint, make sure you are doing whatever you have to do to limit after-call work.

Call Breakdown

Now, your after-call work looks good but there is still an issue. If you think you might have a phone issue or a program issue, break the calls down:

Issue Handling
Cross-sell/ Upsell
Memo-ing/ After-Call Work

Technology can either hurt you or help you during your opening/intro/verification. For example, during an automated intro and verification, an IVR asks for social security numbers, account numbers, and other pieces of qualifying information. Then a rep picks up, they ask for it again. This is both redundant and a HUGE time-waster. That interaction could cost 20-25 seconds per call, and furthermore, the caller might ask why they have to give you that information again- wasting another 20 seconds while the agent explains that.

Introduction Mistakes

Long, antiquated intros are boring and annoying. Please do not do this; customers calling in are sick of sitting through 10 seconds of, “Thank you for calling XYZ Bank, service is our priority and we try to do what we can for our customers. Your call is very important to us.” Callers do not care, and frankly, it is irritating. Marketing on the other hand is feeling very happy they could get that message to all their callers, right? Think of handle time from a customer experience perspective. “Thank you for calling XYZ Bank, my name is Tom, how can I help you today?” Done! Build a rapport, make sure the callers know your agent’s names.

Issue Handling Tips

During issue handling, make sure you are training thoroughly, but even when you do, there will always be questions your agents will not know the answers to. That is okay! Consider implementing a KMS (Knowledge Management System) for your agents to utilize. Add questions agents are able to search for, so a supervisor does not need to be called for every question an agent might not know. After several weeks, you will have a huge repository of questions searchable by keyword. This will save lots of time in the long run.

Cross-sell / Up-sell

When it comes to cross-sell/upsell, make sure it is working from a conversion standpoint. Many organizations will have some sort of legacy product that they always try to sell at the end of a call, it does not convert, and in the long run, it only ends up costing the organization money. Agents are now wasting 30-45 seconds trying to sell a product that will not sell. However, this does not apply to every situation! Sometimes the extended handle time is worth the higher cost-per-call because your cross-sell/upsell product does sell, and it is highly profitable.


Never take a closing statement or follow-up question off your script. Do not take away the “Is there anything else I can assist you with?” ending because you want to wrap the call up. Customer experience should trump everything else.

ACW / Wrap Time Tips

There are a couple of ways to make after call work as low as it can. Auto-memo-ing is a feature you can use to automatically memo your Salesforce or Zendesk. You could also create quick acronyms for your agents to use to fill out forms more quickly. For example, use “CU” for Customer and “AC” for Account. Just be sure your terminology is consistent company-wide, or it can get confusing for management.

I hope this helps make your handle and talk times the most efficient they can be!

Want more call center operations content? Head over to our weekly call center operations podcast “Advice from a Call Center Geek!” at

Thomas Laird
Founder and CEO of award-winning Expivia Interaction Marketing Group. Expivia is a USA BPO omnichannel contact center located in Pennsylvania. I have 25 years of experience in all facets of contact center operations. I have the honor of being a member of the NICE inContact ICVC Board. The iCVC is a select group of inContact customers selected to join as trusted advisors to help InContact validate ideas for new products and features and plans for future innovations. I am also the author of "Advice from a Call Center Geek" and host of the podcast of the same name.


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