Data makes the world go round, but without proper context, it can only tell a small part of the story. 

At a call center, for example, the average time that agents spend on calls tells you very little about the success of those calls. If the calls are super short, it could be because callers are getting frustrated and hanging up just as much as it could be because their issues are getting resolved in record time. On the other hand, if calls are taking a really long time, it could be because the average call complexity is high enough to justify it, or simply because the process is highly inefficient. 

In any case, the industry standard of 4-6 minutes can be a useful starting point for making comparisons, but it shouldn’t necessarily be your North Star. If your agents spend more than that on each call, it doesn’t mean you are losing out on customers or sales. In fact, poor call handling and low-quality customer service are more likely to be the culprit for lost customers.

Thus, you should treat your average call duration numbers with a grain of salt—they can be useful for upper management to forecast and make decisions around things like call times, agent utilization, and staff scheduling, but they won’t say much about how hard your agents are working or how good of an experience your customers are having.

Fast or Good? The Average Call Duration Dilemma

The old debate between quantity and quality is one of the greatest conundrums of modern-day business management. Now more than ever, we have the technological means to make things faster—but that doesn’t always translate into an increase in revenue or a customer base with more loyalty.

The same principles apply to call centers. On the one hand, you want your agents to be efficient, but the way you define efficiency can set you on a course to answer as many calls as possible in the shortest amount of time, or to resolve as many customer issues as you can no matter how much extra time it takes. 

Of course, the problem with customers is that they want both. They want answers to their questions, concerns, and issues without having to wait in a long queue—and without needing to make a second call or follow up. 

As for you and your call center, your goal should therefore be to improve both sides of the process. You should focus on decreasing your average call duration while also ensuring that your agents provide top-notch customer service.

Faster Call Duration Isn’t Always Better

Since it’s important to have a balance of speed and quality in your call center operations, you should aim for shorter call durations without making customers feel rushed or dissatisfied with their experiences.

This is where the problem comes with making average call duration an important benchmark of agent performance—because sooner or later it pressures your team into providing rushed solutions in order to handle more calls in a smaller window. 

Rather than pushing your agents to work faster, your call center managers should prioritize the following:

  • Hiring adequate staff
  • Routing customers to the right agent or department as soon as possible 
  • Spreading the work evenly to avoid over-utilizing your agents

Here’s What the Average Call Duration Tells You

Given the right context, your average call duration is still an important metric. It tells you:

  • How long your team is talking to customers, such as how much of the day is spent taking calls and how much is spent doing other administrative tasks.
  • How long it takes for individual agents to resolve issues of average complexity.
  • How fast agents are ending calls—which can be cross-referenced with customer satisfaction and call-resolution rates to see if they are rushing and leaving issues unsolved. 

Once again, your average call duration metric can help you make informed decisions about staffing and scheduling, but it won’t tell you the whole story of customer satisfaction or agent performance.

Here’s What the Average Call Duration Doesn’t Tell You

While definitely a good metric to monitor, average call duration is not a great metric when left alone in a vacuum.

It doesn’t tell you:

  • The quality of service received by the customer. 
  • Whether or not the agent actually solved the customer’s issue. Regardless of how long or short the call is, you want to make sure the customer’s issue is resolved without further follow-ups. Instead of average call duration, look at your first-call resolution rate to measure this.
  • Whether the customer was satisfied or not—because even if the call was super short or super long, the customer may or may not have felt heard and valued. To measure this better, you can conduct customer satisfaction surveys.

Beyond these main pitfalls, the average call duration also doesn’t say anything about:

  • The different types of customer inquiries your call center is receiving—such as new product onboarding, sales, or technical support issues. 
  • The average complexity or urgency of customer issues.
  • The most common points at which a customer will hang up, and what happens after abandoned calls. 
  • How many calls are from repeat callers?
  • What are the recurring issues customers keep having to call about?
  • How many sales and upselling opportunities agents are missing due to shortened or prolonged service calls?
  • How many customers were connected with the most qualified agent for their issue?
  • How good your agent training is.

Ditch the Average Call Duration – In a Way

Your average call duration metric probably doesn’t matter as much as some industry gurus will tell you. In fact, there’s not even a reliable consensus on the ideal duration in the first place—some say it’s four minutes, others say six, and others will vouch for a different way of calculating it altogether. Truth be told, however, most of these benchmarks are pretty arbitrary.

Yes, they may work or make sense for certain businesses, but every business is different. In other words, if you continuously strive for your call center to meet an industry average that isn’t right for your business model, it can lead to unrealistic employee expectations and bad experiences for your customers. 

Thus, just try to use your average call duration as a guide for spotting trends, and use it in conjunction with other KPIs to learn more about what you can do to improve your call center’s efficiency. 

If You Want a Lower Average Call Duration, Do These 4 Things

If all of your other metrics and observations are telling you that reducing your average call duration will ultimately lead to more productive agents and more satisfied customers, then go for it.

Here are some things you can do to lower your average call duration:

Segment by the Type of Customer

Take a deeper look into who is calling so that you can understand who is driving up your average call duration and why. 

Try to identify specific customer segments that tend to require longer calls than others. For instance, some of your customers may be frequent callers for repeat issues, while others may be new customers looking for technical advice. Once you’ve identified these causes, look for ways to improve your processes for these specific calls and update your agent training accordingly. 

Similarly, if you can connect your CRM to your call center software and redirect callers to the right agents sooner, you’ll also be able to lower your average call duration and increase customer satisfaction.

Segment by the Type of Issue

Some people call regarding product and service issues, others call for technical support, and others are more likely to have questions about billings and returns. If you implement an automated IVR system, for example, you can filter callers through a quick menu before connecting them with an agent. This will help you match the right issue with the right agent, thus lowering your average call duration.

Prioritize Your Net Promoter Score 

One good way of figuring out how to improve your call center efficiency is to conduct surveys to find out your NPS (net promoter score). If you know why certain customers would or would not recommend your company to friends and colleagues, you can use this information to improve your services and serve them faster. 

Look at Your First-Contact Resolution Rate

Your first-contact resolution rate shows how many caller issues are resolved on the first call. If both your average call duration and your first-contact resolution rate are low, it typically means your agents are either rushing through calls, are ill-equipped to handle caller issues, or are not being properly matched with the right callers from the beginning. 

At the end of the day, the key is not to ignore your average call duration but to look at it from the right perspective. If you know how hard your team works and how effective they are, then you can combine this knowledge with other metrics to help your call center grow.