Running a contact center often feels like a balancing act.
You have to juggle great (and speedy!) service while ensuring agents aren’t overworked.
Misjudge this and you’ll end up with:
- unhappy agents and customers, or
- a labor bill that is larger than necessary.
Either situation will harm your business!
Getting this balance right isn’t easy.
But measuring call occupancy can keep you on the right track.
In this post:
- What exactly is call center occupancy?
- How is call center occupancy calculated?
- Why is occupancy important?
- Call center occupancy vs. utilization
- What is the ideal call center occupancy?
- 7 ways to improve call center occupancy
What exactly is call center occupancy?
Call center occupancy essentially measures how busy your agents are.
It shows the percentage of time they spend on call-related activities vs. the amount they spend either idle or completing other work.
Call-related activities include both talk time and after-call work like data entry or scheduling callbacks.
How is call center occupancy calculated?
Calculate occupancy with this simple equation:
Top occupancy calculation tips:
- Be sure to define handle time clearly
- Decide exactly which activities count as wrap-up
- If you use statuses to measure agent activity, make sure staff are using them properly!
Your wrap-up time will be artificially increased if agents use the wrap-up status to complete other tasks.
Here’s how occupancy works
With an occupancy rate of 75%, agents spend an average of 45 minutes of every hour on call-related work.
In this scenario, agents (arguably) have too much idle time.
With an occupancy rate of 95%, agents spend 57 minutes every hour on the same tasks.
In this scenario, agents have just seconds to think between calls.
Mistakes will creep in!
Why is occupancy important?
Your occupancy rate shows whether you are staffing your call center correctly.
A low occupancy rate suggests you are overstaffed; you’re probably overspending on labor.
But a high rate puts agents at risk of burnout.
That’s a bad thing in it’s own right! But also, it leads to poor service.
Agents need some downtime to compose themselves between calls.
Knowing your occupancy rate on different days, seasons, and times helps you schedule agents more effectively.
Call center occupancy vs. utilization
Occupancy is often confused with utilization. It’s easy to see why as both metrics measure productivity and are both calculated as a percentage.
However, there are subtle differences.
Utilization measures the time agents spend logged in during shifts.
It aims to show the proportion of time agents are available to help customers vs. the amount of time they spend on other tasks.
This typically includes activities like:
- Unplanned breaks
It does not include paid breaks, being late, or absence.
What is the ideal call center occupancy?
Most contact centers aim for an occupancy rate of between 80% and 90%. Occupancy rates in this range are efficient but don’t overburden agents.
But don’t forget – occupancy is a measured average rate.
If you achieve 80% over an entire day, there will be intervals when your rate is higher and periods when it is lower than this.
Your ideal may differ slightly from these benchmarks. Check the conditions in your contact center to get a better idea of what works for you.
7 ways to improve call center occupancy
There are a lot of ways to target occupancy.
The most effective method ultimately depends on the challenges you face…
(Unlike other call center SLAs, occupancy can be too high or too low. Your job is to fine-tune!)
So the first step to improving occupancy is tracking it.
Once you’re informed, you can mix and match any of the stellar strategies we’ve listed below!
#1 Track hourly variations
Are you happy with your overall occupancy rate? That’s great!
But, a good overall number could be disguising excessively busy or quiet periods during the day. Agents may be overworked at times and underworked during others.
It’s absolutely vital to monitor call volume at small intervals.
This will help you to identify outlier periods and adjust your staffing accordingly.
#2 Reduce after call work
Cutting back on after call work can massively reduce handle time, thus decreasing occupancy.
There are many ways to make savings, from automating tasks to creating better processes and encouraging agents to work during calls.
And the savings can be significant: 41% of call center time is spent on repetitive admin.
Our article on reducing after call work has 11 ideas you can try.
#3 Use outsourced agents (BPOs)
Outsourcing calls is a useful way to correct occupancy issues.
These third-party call centers help deal with increased call volume without a costly and time-consuming hiring process.
It’s perfect for seasonal spikes in demand, or for keeping up when your customer base is growing rapidly.
There are plenty of options for both on and offshore outsourcing. Find out more in our guide to BPO call centers.
#4 Improve routing
Calls that are routed and rerouted end up taking far longer than they need to.
Customers have to repeat their issues to multiple agents who then have to spend time sending calls to the right teams.
If call routing is a problem at your contact center, you probably need a better way to capture intent at the beginning of an interaction.
Most enterprise contact centers rely on their IVR for that.
It’s especially the case when those IVRs are equipped with conversational AI functionality; Delta Air Lines adopted this approach and were able to reduce misrouted calls by 15%.
#5 Improve self-service options
Adding better self-service options to your contact center is a sure-fire way to balance your occupancy.
We mentioned IVR systems above, and that’s a good starting point.
Other self-service channels contribute to reduced call volume and, therefore, occupancy.
(Not to mention higher CX and lower rates of churn!)
Although, occupancy isn’t the only reason to offer self-service: 73% of customers want the ability to solve problems on their own.
#6 Hire remote agents
The traditional model for contact centers – massive rooms full of phones – is quickly losing relevance.
There are several reasons for that:
- Covid changed employee expectations
- Your limited to the specific area where your “massive room full of phones” is
- The building itself is a natural limiter of growth!
So, if your center is at capacity and your occupancy is still high, you probably need to hire remote agents.
Advances in cloud technology make it easier than ever before to hire agents who can work from anywhere.
This can be especially useful if your occupancy rises seasonally, making it impossible to justify the cost of expanding your office.
Read our guide to find out more about starting a virtual call center.
#7 Offer omnichannel support
If your occupancy is consistently low you may have to reduce the number of agents working in your contact center.
But sometimes that isn’t an option, or it’s a short-sighted one.
In that case, you’re better off creating an omnichannel support experience.
This will allow agents to focus on other support channels like email or chat at times when call volume is low.
Call center occupancy highlights potential staffing issues
Call center occupancy is a useful way to see how busy your team is. Figures that are too high or low can point to issues you need to solve.
Once you know where your issues lie, you can start to implement ideas to solve the problems.
But occupancy is just a single metric. Tracking it alone won’t tell you all your need to know about contact center performance.
For a complete overview, consider tracking some of the call center KPIs in this article as well.