Tracking and reducing average wait times in your call center

Matt McGillicuddy

By Matt McGillicuddy
15 Mar 2023

5 min read


Is there anything more frustrating than listening to the same tune over and over again while you sit on hold? It’s not just maddening for your customers, 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, making sure they can reach your agents quickly and with minimum sitting around is absolutely vital. In this blog, we’re focusing our attention on how to successfully track, and reduce, average wait times in your call centre.


What is average wait time?

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

Not to be confused with average handle time (AHT) which tracks the amount of team your call centre teams are spending 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.

It also has a direct impact on your bottom line. According to research, the average cost per inbound call is $5.50 and the AHT for call centres is 6 minutes. This suggests 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’re getting started with tracking and reducing average wait time, it’s totally natural to want to benchmark yourself against other contact centres. There’s likely to be some variation on 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 require?

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


How to improve your call centre average wait time

1. Prioritise metrics that will have 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.

Abandonment rate

Average abandonment rate is a strong indicator of how satisfied your customers are with your call centre. If they’re hanging up before speaking to anybody, it suggests they’re frustrated with the wait times and it’s likely to lead to a negative association with your company. Conversation Analytics seamlessly logs each and every call, identifying which calls you’re missing and even showing you when those missed calls are most likely to happen.

After-call work

After-call work (ACW) is defined as the necessary work performed by your agents 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 performance metrics, if your agents are spending too long on ACW, prospects and customers waiting in the queue are likely to become frustrated.

Average handle time

Average handle time (AHT) tracks the amount of team your call centre teams are spending on a call with customers. It begins as soon as the agent picks up the call and ends when they disconnect. Call tracking software can log 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 is receiving every day and most importantly with call tracking, 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 ball tracking software can automatically log 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.

2. Automate your ACW

Speaking of metrics, a simple way of improving wait times is to reduce the amount of manual ACW your agents need to handle. 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, outcomes can be automatically captured, significantly reducing the ACW required. There’s no need to worry about assigning correct codes or trying to retrospectively add in outcomes.

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

3. Focus on upskilling your agents

If you want to reduce wait times, you need to empower your agents to handle calls faster and more efficiently – ideally solving problems on the first call. And it’s not just about initial on-boarding. 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 stayed 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.

4. Direct to other channels as needed

If you want to improve your average wait time, the ability to highlight calls that could be deflected is important. Each and 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 that 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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