Contact Center Occupancy: Where Lies the Golden Mean

Many experts state that the bigger the call center occupancy rate is, the better it is for key performance indicators, contact center KPIs and whole call center operations. This statement argues for it that the occupancy rate demonstrates the real productive term spent during working hours. Another popular thought is that the occupancy rate should be not less than 85% because if it’s lower it indicates that contact center employees are dawdling, agent idle time is too big, and the overall performance suffers from the loss of potential customers or poor customer service. 

Are these estimations right? Or maybe the situation is a bit dissimilar from what’s been told by some experts?  

Let’s deal with these questions and discover all aspects of call center occupancy - how does it differ from utilization, what is the perfect call center occupancy rate and average call center occupancy across the market, and how does the call center occupancy rate formula counted, what agent idle time is normal, how should the call center occupancy calculation work for remote agents, what is the occupancy target and other queries will be covered by this article, just allocate 5 minutes to read it.

In this article you will find:

Call center occupancy definition

Call center occupancy vs utilization?

Why call center occupancy is crucial to measure?

Popular mistakes when measuring occupancy

Best occupancy score for you


Call center occupancy characterization

Call center occupancy definition should be described as the percentage ratio of term expended on call-related activities compared to the entire shift time or logged-in period. The call center occupancy rate formula is computed as: 

Time spent on call-related activities/total working time x 100 = Occupancy rate

 Following the typically tolerated rule, the call center occupancy rate should be at least 85% or even 90%(especially for financial or healthcare industries). But to be honest, this technique isn’t universally applicable to every business, and in some cases, the rate of 70% or 75% would be more efficient(in the case of cold-calling campaigns). 

To answer one of the most obvious questions related to the call center occupancy rate, it can’t be more than 90% of the total time spent in the workplace. If it would be higher, an agent risks facing such problems as professional and emotional burnout, and a high attrition rate, so the call center will suffer from a high agent turnover score. We have a short post about agent attrition, so you should read it to understand what it threatens you with. 

Now let’s talk about why we doubt the call center occupancy rate of 85-90% is an all-around decision. Even though such a score is recommended by most researchers, from the other side it can harm customer service levels and cause higher client dissatisfaction. Why? Let’s find this out. 

When there are hundreds of calls during peak hours, agent occupancy is at the highest level. But to deal with every issue, agents have to optimize their terms and put less effort and attention into every single appeal. A high occupancy rate doesn’t mean that every client achieved high-quality and personalized service. And what if between these peak hours calls would be one or another from a highly valuable customer or a high-net-worth client? Would he feel satisfied by the poor service provided just because agent occupancy was so high that there was no time for personalized and client-oriented service? We can bet that this call can have far-reaching consequences. 

This is the reason why we offer to think about the balance between service levels and agent occupancy because when the occupancy target is just to make the employees work their tales off, there would be no good results achieved.

Contact center occupancy vs utilization

Now we have swapped to another crucial question - what is the distinction between occupancy and utilization score? Well, if occupancy is about call-related activities, the utilization rate covers all actions done during the shift, including also waiting time and even unexpected moves like visiting the lavatory. Absenteeism and coming late are not included in estimating the utilization score. 

The formula for the utilization score is a bit similar to the occupancy rate:

Period of time when the agent is online in the account/total length of the shift x 100= Utilization

The main discrepancy is that occupancy covers only actions related to providing client service - handling calls, email, web chat or messenger communication, processing request, and cooperation with other departments to solve the case. On the other hand, utilization covers such activities as training sessions, special events, conferences, pauses, and waiting time if there are problems in contact center systems. 

Why should you calculate these rates? 

An obvious but necessary question to be answered is why these two rates are so essential to be counted. Well, we will try to answer it simply and without spending your time on unneeded demagogy and theoretical aspects. 

If to start from call center occupancy, it should be measured at least to comprehend the effectiveness of your work scheduling strategy. By counting occupancy rate the knowledge of the periods when operators just sit and do nothing can be achieved. To answer also a query of how the occupancy rate should be set for remote agents, we will say shorty - the same as it is for office-based employees. There is no functional dissimilarity between agents who operate from an office and those who stay at home, so if you have set the occupancy rate at 75%, it should work for both groups of operators. 

Another great issue that is resolved by using occupancy rate calculations is the employment strategy. By using this rate, you can discover either you have too less agents to process the entire contact center unload or the situation is diametrically opposite - you have hired too many operators for the amount of work you are dealing with. 

What is about the utilization rate, it is vital to count the spending on actions which have no concern for client service. These costs are sometimes a big burden for business, so measuring how much time is spent on such events can bring no direct impact(anyhow, agent training is must-have even if costs a huge price) or outcomes can be a powerful indicator of potential budget changes. Another option to be covered by utilization rate is it’s irreplaceable for counting total shrinkage rate as utilization score is equal to internal shrinkage score. 

Mistakes that can be done while evaluating call center occupancy 

Numerous experts have spent years creating dozens of metrics for evaluating call center operations and activities. This is the reason why sometimes it is really difficult to distinguish one metric from another. But to make your life easier and deal with this task, we have accomplished such “similar” metrics in this paragraph to be sure that you will never confuse an occupancy rate with any other similar scores. 

Adherence of Scheduling 

The first one on our list is an operator’s timetable adherence metric. The schedule adherence rate is being counted as:

Period of total working time that has been spent according to the schedule/ the entire time that has been scheduled x 100 = Adherence

Timetable commitment is an important metric to measure agents’ discipline and their willingness to follow rules. For every operator, it is counted separately, so it can be an argument to make a decision about the future of the worst offenders of the firm’s scheduling strategy.

Presence Score

This metric is often named the Conformance Rate, and it is counted as:

period of time that was spent at work / the period of time that has to be spent at work by schedule x 100 = Presence

Even though this metric is quite obvious and sometimes it just isn’t necessary to be calculated. Agent absenteeism is a big problem in the call center industry, but it can’t be resolved with the assistance of a conformance rate - the real reasons are specifics of the agent’s job, permanent communication with unpleasant individuals, difficult scheduling models, and emotional burnout. Anyhow, the presence score is important to be compared to the schedule adherence rate, because it is not enough to be at work for all scheduled hours if the agent has been late for two hours. 

Occupancy doesn’t have any link with productivity

Provocative title, isn’t it? Nonetheless, occupancy is the metric for workforce management, not a KPI rate. The agents can perform a 95-99% of occupancy rate, but the clients can be dissatisfied and angry with the service provided while the operators may also be frustrated about their job conditions. Operate the occupancy rate to make changes in staffing and scheduling strategies, not to comprehend the time spent doing some call-related activities as an indicator of productivity. 

Distinguishing the workforce management metrics for the real KPIs is important to avoid unrealistic expectations and faulty planning. 

How to find a suitable occupancy rate for an exact business? 

We have already mentioned that there is no single solution for any firm - for some businesses, this rate can be 90% and the entire customer service department will work in the right way, while for others 75% of occupancy rate is too big because of necessity to provide highly personalized client service. 

But to find a suitable solution, it is not enough to just know how the rate calculates. You have to take into account all specifics of an exact industry, target audience expectations, specifics of scheduling, cultural differences, product’s or service’s pros and cons, and many other factors which have a strong influence on how well the call center works and what strategy will be chosen. 

We propose to you four tips to select an ideal and fully personalized occupancy strategy for your business. Just follow them and stay confident that you have not done a mistake that has been done by hundreds of managers before you. 

Determine the peak and easy hours

The call center never has a similar unload rate just because customers have their own circumstances which make them call you only in a few hours per day. Despite the pick hours, you can also be acquainted with peak days, such as Friday, when unloading rises and your customer service team works under the powerful pressure of hundreds of callers. 

As a result, the conclusion follows from the fact that unloading is different even during a single day. So, you don’t need as many agents on empty hours as it is during peak hours, right? Now you can put some changes into your schedules to shuffle operators and select the working model to cover peak hours and pay less to operators who are maintaining easy periods when the number of customers decreases a few times. 

As a result, you can greatly reduce costs as well as create a better scheduling model, maybe even with the integration of hybrid timetable tactics to ease the life of agents who deal with invasions of clients during peak hours. 

Another goal is to focus on improving the service level during the most unloaded periods because if the service level suffers because of the great number of customers who come with their requests, the bigger number of customers will receive poorer client service. 

Invest in training sessions and coaching

If you want the operators to deal with more issues, provide better customer service, avoid agent attrition, emotional and professional burnouts, and as a result bring you more sales, deals, and satisfied customers, you have to invest both in their professional and personal skills and abilities. 

Special training sessions with highly experienced and qualified coaches help to improve or gain new skills, both soft skills and hard skills, avoid popular mistakes and problems which can take place during conversations with the customers, and boost the overall call center performance. 

Training should include improvement in problem-solving, communication, adaptability, stress resistance, active listening, product knowledge, conflict extinguishing, and other hard and soft skills. 

Remember, that one skilled, experienced, and well-trained operator costs three unqualified ones. There is no other way to provide a great customer service level despite the training and coaching of the operators.

Staffing strategy improvement

This paragraph is not recommended to be read by the operators because it can harm their feelings. 

And after this disclaimer, we can finally say our thought and justify it - the overemployement leads to the low occupancy rate, some agents just keep idling, and the business pays more for nothing. Some managers hire too many agents just because of the irrational fear of customers who can receive no answer because of the lack of operators. As the result, you receive higher costs while some agents sit, and do nothing, and what’s even worse is that they can’t get a real experience, because there are too less requests for your agents’ army. 

What is in the end? Such workers leave and go their own way, while you receive a high turnover rate, additional costs which bring no outcomes(despite the lost nerves), and even the customer service level suffers because agents can’t be engaged in work regularly. 

There is nothing difficult about measuring the total number of calls and other requests received in the last few months, comparing this number with the overall staff number and the average quantity of calls processed by an operator per working day. Now you get the formula: the total number of calls and appeals received per month (as a sample)/ average quantity of calls processed by an agent per month = number of agents needed. It is a great call center occupancy benchmark. 

Remote agents can greatly support the business

But what if the situation is diametrically opposite to the one we have described above? What if there are so many callers during peak hours that existing agents can’t deal with them, and you just have no place or equipment to hire new ones? Keep calm - there is 2022 outside, and the remote job is the most popular workforce management trend across the planet. 

Operators who are working from home can be a powerful assistance in the task to deal with peak unloadings of customer requests. These workers are always more satisfied with their job, they are not that dependent on the schedule, and they are easy to train and coach via video calls and meetings. Another great option is it’s easier to hire remote workers if you want to offer a partial rate. 

They will help to offload office-based workers, deal with peak hours and create positive and flexible working environments and relationships. 

Final Thoughts

To close the discussion about call center occupancy, we will repeat our conclusion - there is no universally accepted rule for selecting the occupancy rate. For your business, it may be 75%, and for another firm, the rate of 90% can be too little. Comprehend call occupancy rate as a workforce management metric and never try to measure productivity by using occupancy score - it doesn’t work without any buts. 

Use this article also as an instructional tool to differentiate the various types of workforce management metrics - schedule adherence, conformance rate, and utilization score. Keep in mind that all of them have different goals and are counted in dissimilar ways.

But we are not in 1922 to count everything using long difficult formulas - now software is going to do all calculations without our participation. Our cloud-based call center software has numerous options to measure operators’ productivity and all activities, as well as occupancy and utilization rate. Visit our website to learn more!

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