How to Evaluate Your Contact Center’s
Service Level Goal

By Rebecca Wise Girson, Founder, Wise Workforce Strategies, Inc.

A recent discussion on Linkedin has me thinking a lot about the root causes of overstaffing. I submit that one of them may be as basic as having the wrong service level goal.

When it comes to the things we measure in our call centers, service level attainment is one of the most important metrics, so we want to get it right. But ask anyone in your contact center how your service level goal was established and you’re likely to hear “I don’t know. It just is what it is.” Well, “what it is” is going to cost your center money (and potentially customers) if “what it is” is the wrong goal.

Our service level goals represent the percentage of calls we want to answer within a given number of seconds. For example, if our service level objective is 90/20, it means that we intend to answer 90% of the calls that come in within 20 seconds.

Unlike average speed of answer (ASA) and abandoned call metrics, which can be manipulated and misleading especially when used in isolation, a service level goal fulfills a dual purpose. As a key component of forecasted agent requirement calculations, the right service level goal ensures we provide enough resources to minimize customer wait times. At the same time, service level goals help us to contain unnecessary staffing costs by ensuring we don’t schedule more people than needed.

The criticality of identifying the right service level goals for your center’s contact types cannot be understated. The process of picking the right goal is part “art” and part “science.” As I say this, I also acknowledge that choosing the proverbial “right” goal is a subjective process influenced by individual opinions, experiences, and industry norms. Nevertheless, should you decide to accept the challenge of evaluating your center’s existing goals, here are five things you’ll want to consider:

  1. If you rarely (or never) come close to meeting your service level goal, you may want to consider reducing it.
  • Why? When you miss the mark over a long period of time, it’s almost the same thing as not having a goal to begin with and we become numb to even small improvements. As is the case with all goal setting, set something that’s achievable and move up from there.

  1. If you always exceed your service level goal, it’s not necessarily a good thing.
  • Why? Although it’s tough to hit the goal right on the nose, exceeding it significantly indicates you’re staffing too many people (too many people who may be getting paid to sit around and wait for the next call). This can be an issue, particularly for small groups, which is why multi-skilling is so popular. However, in larger groups, we’re not usually doing ourselves any favors in terms of better customer service when we exceed the goal, but we are costing our companies a lot of money.

  1. If the percentage of calls expressed in your service level goal is higher than 90%, but your cost-per-call is relatively low, consider lowering the percentage in your goal.
  • Why? You could be spending more money to hit a 90% goal than you are risking by lowering the goal to, say, 85%. Do some what-if analysis to compare the cost-per-call of potential abandoned calls with the potential loaded salary savings of going to a lower goal to see if the higher goal is worth keeping.

  1. If the number of seconds expressed in your service level goal is considerably lower than your call type’s average time to abandon, consider increasing the number of seconds in your goal.
  • Why? Although no one likes to wait on the phone any longer than absolutely necessary, there are some call types where people are willing to hang on a bit longer. For example, if I’m calling because my electricity has been shut off due to a late payment (hypothetically speaking, of course), I’m willing to hang on longer than I would responding to some late-night infomercial trying to sell me something I really don’t need. Examining the average time to abandon should be a key component in evaluating all of your service level goals.

  1. If your service level goal is the same for all of your call types, something could be wrong.
  • Why? Some calls cost more than others and some callers are willing to wait longer than others. For this reason, there is no such thing as an “industry standard” service level goal. Even within your own business, people are calling you for different reasons, therefore, each call type’s service level goal should be evaluated on it’s own merit.

Service level goals are not sacred cows and should not be treated as such. As with every other metric, so-called “best” practice and process in your contact center, service level goals should be subject to periodic review in order to ensure they’re still serving their intended purpose for your business.

Rebecca Wise Girson is the founder of Wise Workforce Strategies and the publisher of A 25+ year contact center industry veteran, Rebecca has held leadership positions at AT&T Universal Card Services, Convergys Corporation, and two of the most recognizable names in the contact center technology industry. Rebecca can be reached at

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