How to track and reduce average wait times in your call centre

Matt McGillicuddy

By Matt McGillicuddy
15 Mar 2023

7 min read


There’s nothing more annoying than being on hold listening to the same tune over and over again. It’s frustrating for your customers, and it’s also terrible for your profits. According to our recent survey, nearly 40% of customers are being forced to wait in long call queues and a further 30% claim that being put on hold is a source of frustration.

If you want to provide better customer experiences, tracking and reducing average wait times in your contact centre is absolutely vital. In this blog, we’ll highlight some of the ways you can keep average wait times to a minimum.

What is average wait time?

Average wait time (AWT), or average speed of answer (ASA), is the amount of time your customers spend on hold. That can be when they’re first waiting to get through to an agent, or the number of times they’re put on hold during a call. For instance, it may be when your agents put them through to another department or complete a task.

Important to note that AWT isn’t to be confused with average handle time (AHT). AHT tracks the amount of time your call centre teams spend on a call with customers. AWT is a key health indicator for your contact centre, as it can provide a holistic overview of where you’re doing really well, and where you need to make improvements.

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It also has a direct impact on your bottom line. According to research, the average cost per inbound call is £4.50 and the AHT for call centres is 6 minutes. So, this means the average cost per minute for call centres is £1. Every minute saved, whether that’s during waiting time or handling time, is literally £1 saved.

What are average wait times in a contact centre?

When you want to track and reduce average wait times, a good place to start is benchmarking yourself against other contact centres. There’ll likely be some variation in average wait times based on the following:

  • Does your contact centre handle support calls? Sales calls? Both?
  • How complex is your product or service? i.e., someone buying life insurance might spend more time on the phone than someone buying a new shed
  • How much after-purchase care do your customers need?

With these things in mind, it’s sometimes difficult to provide an average. But typically, most call centres aim to answer 80% of calls within 20 seconds.

How to improve average wait time in your contact centre

  1. Prioritise metrics that will have a real impact

There are lots of useful call centre metrics you should be measuring, but if reducing average wait time is your goal, there are four you need to zero in on.

Average abandonment rate

the average abandonment rate is a good indicator of how satisfied your customers are with the service they received. If they’re hanging up before speaking to anybody, it's likely they’re frustrated with the wait times. As a result, it could lead to a negative perception of your company. Conversation Analytics seamlessly logs each and every call, identifying which calls you’re missing and even showing you’re missing them.

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After-call work

After-call work (ACW) is defined as the work your agents need to do after a customer interaction. Depending on the complexity of a customer request, after-call work might take under a minute or it could take ten. A high ACW rate can have a significant impact on other key call centre metrics. In other words, if agents spend too long on ACW, prospects and customers waiting in the queue will end up feeling frustrated.

Average handle time

Average handle time (AHT) begins as soon as the agent picks up the call and ends when they disconnect. Call tracking software logs AHT in your preferred system, giving you a holistic overview. With this figure in mind, you can start to optimise call centre operations.

Call volume

Call volume tells you how many calls your call centre receives every day. Most importantly call tracking shows you where those calls are coming from. Tracking call volume as a metric depends on your agents and sales team meticulously logging each and every call. But call tracking software automatically logs both inbound and outbound calls for you, as well as providing high-quality analysis to give you better visibility on how your agents drive successful call outcomes.

Automate your ACW

Speaking of metrics, a simple way of improving wait times is to reduce the amount of manual ACW for your agents. One of the most common issues in call centres is to ensure that your agents are a) completing activity codes and b) assigning the correct activity code. A lack of activity codes and outcome reporting makes everybody’s job much harder.

With tools like Conversation Analytics, you can automatically capture outcomes which significantly reduces ACW. There’s no need to worry about assigning correct codes or trying to retrospectively add in outcomes where there’s a risk of human error.

Benefits of tracking and lowering ACW in your contact centre include:

  • Reducing your AHT, meaning fewer missed and abandoned calls
  • Increasing customer satisfaction and improving the overall experience
  • Reducing contact centre operating costs by reducing repetitive work
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Focus on upskilling your agents

If you want to reduce average wait times, you need to empower your agents to handle calls faster and more efficiently. Ideally, you want agents to solve problems on the first call – otherwise known as first-call resolution. And it’s not just about initial onboarding. Regular training will help your agents feel engaged, supported and confident. There are a few ways you can champion continuous improvement in your contact centre.

The first is to use call intelligence tools to automatically monitor and log outcomes of calls coming in and out of your contact centre, at scale. By tracking every call that comes through your contact centre, you can spot trends or common mistakes that you can address in regular training sessions.

This will update your agent’s knowledge, master those make-or-break moments, and help your agents stay focused on developing the right skills throughout their careers.

The second is to share learnings from your best-performing agents. Tools such as Agent ID help you take control of your agents' success by replacing guesswork with clear insight. It enables you to see how well each team member is doing, giving you complete visibility of how they – and therefore your business – are performing.

With agent scorecards, you can get even more granular with agent performance to make sure agents nail the customer experiences they deliver. You can rate different elements of calls they make and take, making it super quick and easy to pinpoint specific areas of improvement at an individual agent level.

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Direct to other channels as needed

If you want to improve average wait times, the ability to highlight calls that could be deflected is important. Every phone call is an opportunity. When your customers pick up the phone, you can extract detailed intel that can be used to minimise wait time and reduce pressure by deflecting calls efficiently.

For example, if you have a record of frequently asked questions or queries that can be resolved via other channels, such as your website or a digital self-service channel, you can work on call deflection by solving issues before they even start to dial. Plus, handling minor queries elsewhere ensures your contact centres are focused on customers who are more likely to generate revenue.

Tools like Conversation Analytics are perfectly placed to help you monitor and analyse calls at scale, giving you vital intel that will have a real impact on your business and improve call centre efficiency.

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