June 6 –

Occupancy rates indicate the approximate amount of times you expect your agents to be productive, i.e., actually on the phone, taking calls, performing after call work, answering e-mails, etc. An occupancy rate of 90%, for example, means that your agents, on average, are working 54 minutes and have six minutes of idle time for each hour that they’re available to take calls. This does not mean that the agents are goofing off for six minutes in every hour. It means that for a few seconds between calls, the agent may get a breath while there are no calls waiting in the queue.  People cannot be expected to be occupied 100% of the time if a reasonable speed of answer goal is to be met.

Since this non-work time is presumably used for relaxing, recharging, or other down-time, it is commonly accepted that lower agent occupancy – more idle time – has positive effects on an employee’s performance and morale. However, lower occupancy rates do require more staff, and thus higher costs, to handle the same number of calls. Also, keep in mind that as the occupancy rate decreases, speed of answer improves – since more employees are available, the same number of calls can be answered more quickly. Because of this inverse relationship between occupancy and service level, the calculation of staffing requirements by your workforce management application can result in one or the other statistic turning out better than expected.  Once you have forecast the workload and identified the speed of answer goal, the staffing predicted to meet that goal will result in a predicted occupancy rate.  Notice that occupancy rate is an outcome, not a goal.  If you make occupancy level the goal, service level will be the result of the calculation and may not meet your expectations.  You can only make one of these (occupancy or service level) the goal and the other is a result.

So what is the right occupancy rate for your call center? Is there an “industry standard”?  The short answer is there is no standard and the right occupancy for your center may vary from one queue to another.  Remember that occupancy is a result of workload and service level requirements.  Large teams have higher occupancy naturally than small teams.  In a small group handling a very specialize contact type, you may find that an occupancy of 65% is all you can achieve and still meet your speed of answer goal.  You might need to find something for agents to do between calls to keep from being bored.  But in a large team of 100 agents or more handling the same call type, you might achieve occupancy at 95% naturally and need to build in some artificial breaks to avoid agent burnout.  Track your occupancy rate against absenteeism, adherence to schedule and turnover to help identify opportunities for improvement.

Note: This week’s tip was provided by Maggie Klenke, founding partner of The Call Center School. She can be reached at Maggie.klenke@mindspring.com