The Schedule Compliance Paradox

How agents can comply with their schedules yet still miss their calls

By Mark Vicinanza, EngageWFM

A critical success factor in Workforce Management (WFM) administration is having the right people available at the right times to meet service level objectives. The WFM team forecasts call volume along with average handle time (AHT) to create schedules with the sole purpose of meeting the service level goal. The assumption is that when agents follow their prescribed schedule, service levels will be met. Yet despite schedule compliance by agents and expected call volume and handling times, the schedule fails to meet the requirements of the service delivery model and service levels plummet. This examines this paradox, how it occurs, and what to do about it.

There are a number of different terms used to measure the result; adherence, conformity, compliance, signed in percentage, etc., but there are really only two terms which most accurately describe the concept. Unfortunately, the terminology is not universal, so for purposes of this discussion, I’ll use Adherence and Compliance. However, the bigger concern is not the categorization, but that many in the industry do not differentiate or fully understand the two Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and ultimately adopt only one of them as a goal for their center. The key is to understand that the two KPIs are different and should be measured independently as each are linked as a method to track a percentage of scheduled time. The end result is they can both impact service levels.

The Adherence Factor

In simple terms, Schedule Adherence is the amount of time an agent is scheduled for work divided by total scheduled time. For example, an agent is scheduled on the phones from 8:00am – 5:00pm and is also scheduled for an hour lunch and two 15 minute paid breaks. Therefore, the total scheduled time on the phone is 7 1/2 hours.

Using this example, if the agent is late returning from their breaks a total of twelve minutes (seven minutes on the first break and five minutes on his second), the agent would have staff time of 7:18 of their 7:30 minute schedule or 97.3% of schedule time (Adherence Pct).

Signed in time / scheduled time = Adherence pct

(438 minutes/450 minutes = 97.3%)

Someone may ask, “It’s only a few minutes, so why is it important?” The answer is simple — there are serious downstream impacts:

  • Lower service levels which impact customer satisfaction
  • Planned activities are aborted (training, coaching, meetings, etc)
  • Negatively increases staff occupancy (agent burn out)
  • Telephone costs increase from additional toll charges
  • Replacement cost for the missing agents due to non-adherence

And, if adherence gaps are not addressed with the agent, a few other things happen:

  • The agent may think it is okay to go over his breaks and continue the practice. Translation: you continue to lose staff time.
  • Other managers may be addressing it with their team members and be viewed as being hard or petty. Translation: management loses respect. /li>
  • At the rate of twelve minutes per day of lost time, by the end of the week it will be an hour of lost time. By the end of the month, it will be four hours, and by the end of the year, you would have lost over a week of productive time. It’s like giving the agent an extra week of vacation! /li>

Generally, adherence issues should be addressed immediately by reminding the agent and sharing the goals and expectations of the business unit. Once the goals are shared, hold agents accountable for meeting the goal. If you’re fortunate enough to have a WFM system, reports can easily be generated to identify any issues. If you do not have WFM software, all is not lost as this KPI can be manually tracked with a proper system or process.

The graph below highlights the financial impact of lost schedule adherence by exposing the hidden costs of failing to track adherence. This does not include the other costs associated with the missed time (customer satisfaction, service levels, toll charges, etc).


Schedule Compliance

When the WFM team generates a call center forecast, they take extra care in reviewing historical call volume, AHT, and call patterns to predict expected service levels based on current staff for an upcoming period of time. The forecast is generally done in 15 or 30 minute intervals for the call center operational hours. During this process, agent schedules are created with breaks and lunches according to the rules of the call center.

This process allows the WFM team as well as the management team to identify potential service gaps due to understaffing and schedule backup resources for phone time. The management team can also plan other off the phone time such as coaching, training, developmental meetings, etc. as well as plan for out of office events such as vacation time.

The challenge for most centers is that its agents may be used to going to break/lunch with friends or at a particular time. Also, managers are sometimes reluctant to enforce the schedules due to a perceived morale issue and there is often resistance from agents to take scheduled breaks or lunch at assigned times. Many contact managers have said compliance “sounds harsh” or “strict,” but in reality it’s an effective indicator of agent productivity. Frankly, call center managers should be tired of looking for feel good terms all the time. Schedule compliance is a critical component to the success of the center and should be treated that way.

The obvious answer to overcoming these perceptions is straight forward communication and training. As stakeholders in the company’s proposition of delivering benchmark service, agents need to fully understand the downstream effect of not following their schedules. As with any measurable KPI, managers must set goals for their agents and train them accordingly. It’s been my experience that most agents want to do a good job to meet organizational goals, so understanding the “whys” will help them meet and/or exceed goals and model the desired behaviors.

If agents fail to follow their schedules, the results can be dramatic. The below graph illustrates the degree of impact to the customer experience and service levels with the removal of just TWO FTEs in a 30-minute interval.


  • WFM maximizes staff efficiencies to meet service level demands.
  • Intraday management of resources is of the utmost importance.
  • A few staff members not following schedules or improper resource allocation can significantly impact the customer experience.

Setting a Schedule Compliance Goal

What should a Schedule Compliance goal be? The goal should allow agents ample time to complete a call, but not feel like they are required to rush a client off the phone just to go to break on time. By the same token, agents should not be sitting in aux state or ACW for extended periods of time to meet your compliance goals.

As an example, we’ll use agent John Brown. He’s scheduled to be on the phones from 8:00am – 5:00pm. John is also scheduled for an hour lunch and two 15 minute breaks. Therefore his total scheduled time on the phone is 7 ½ hours.

If John leaves for his first break seven minutes late and comes back seven minutes late, he would be seven minutes out of compliance for the day assuming he followed his lunch and second break periods exactly as scheduled.

Compliance time / scheduled time = Compliance percentage
(443 minutes / 450 minutes = 98.4%)

Difference Between Schedule Adherence and Compliance to Schedule?

Yes, there is a difference between the two KPIs and an agent can meet your compliance goals, but not meet adherence goals.

Let’s say your center only tracks compliance and the goal is 95%. Could it be possible that the agent’s schedule adherence is 95% and compliance is 95%? The answer is unfortunately — Yes….

For example, an agent is scheduled 8am – 5pm with two 15 minute breaks (7 ½ hours of phone time). The agent logs out as scheduled for breaks, but also during the day, logs off the phone for 22 extra minutes. If you’re just measuring compliance, they would be at 95%. However, the agent is also at 95% for adherence and the center lost 22 minutes of phone time!

Compliance time (428 minutes / 450 minutes = 95.1%)
Adherence pct (428 minutes/450 minutes = 95.1%)

In one center I visited, the agents had a compliance goal of 90%, but no adherence goal. In effect, the agents could be logged off the phone for 45 minutes and still meet their compliance goal. Closer examination revealed they were exceeding their compliance goal of 90%, but their Adherence percentage was only 94%. On average, each agent was logged out an extra 27 minutes per day at a cost of an extra $300K per year in staffing requirements.

The assumption by managers is that since there’s an established goal, why spend their time on adherence if both the agent and manager are being measured on compliance. The manager may assume that since the agent met the compliance goal, why drill down further because on the surface it would appear that spot on schedule compliance was good enough.

Therefore, it’s important for all employees of the contact center understand Compliance, Adherence and their potential impact to service levels.

Mark Vicenanza can be reached at