Call Center Occupancy and Agent Utilization

How much time do your agents spend logged into the system and either working or ready for the next customer? Are they optimally engaged or approaching burnout?

Two fundamental call center metrics can provide you with clear-cut answers: the call center occupancy rate and the agent utilization KPI. These key metrics will inform you of the call center’s core productivity levels, agent ROI, and personnel management skills.

What is occupancy in a call center?

The call center occupancy metric shows how much time call center agents spend on call-related activities while they are logged in.

It can be looked at in two ways:

  • the time spent on call-related activities versus the time spent while logged in but not handling calls
  • or the percentage of the agent’s logged-in time that’s spent on call-related activities.

Call center occupancy is based on the time that agents are logged in and available to take calls. This is an important detail to note.

Call-related activities include talking to the customer, being on hold, and doing after-call work (wrap time). Non-call-related activities can include break times, training sessions, meetings, or even procrastination.

But the occupancy rate only includes the time that an agent is logged in and can be available to take calls.

What does call center occupancy tell you?

Call center occupancy tells you two things:

  • what percent of time call center agents are productive
  • and what percent of time agents are simply logged in, but idle and waiting for calls

This metric is generally shown as a percentage. For instance, a 50% occupancy rate shows that agents only spent half their logged-in time on taking calls and handling call-related activities.

What is the call center occupancy benchmark?

Let’s look at occupancy rate benchmarks from two sources, then we’ll look at what the ideal occupancy rate should be.

The first is a global metric courtesy of the World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation. The second comes from online calculations made by readers of Call Centre Helper – an industry trade journal.

It isn’t surprising that call center professionals interested in reading an industry journal would have higher than average occupancy rates. But this is one metric that you don’t want to have too high.

Why is call center occupancy important?

The occupancy rate is related to your staffing levels. It lets you know if your staff levels are appropriate for the amount of call center work available.

A high occupancy rate means that call center agents don’t get that much time between calls. The higher it goes, the less time they have.

This usually happens because the call center is understaffed, there was a temporary surge in call volume, or agents are taking too long to process after call work.

Why call center occupancy is important

It isn’t good to have rates that are too high. Keeping agents constantly working won’t necessarily make the call center more productive.

Overly high occupancy rates can lead to

  • overworked agents
  • call center burnout and agent turnover
  • poor customer service quality
  • longer call queue times
  • higher hold times

The correct occupancy rate prevents agent burnout.

A low occupancy rate means that agents have plenty of time between calls. Agents might like having less work to do, but an overly low occupancy rate results in lower call center ROI.

There are a couple of reasons behind a very low occupancy rate:

  • the center is overstaffed
  • or the typical call volume dropped for some reason.

What is agent utilization in a call center?

Call center occupancy is often confused with agent utilization percentage, but these metrics are not the same. Agent utilization considers the entire time they spend at work along with paid vacation time or paid leave.

Agent utilization represents how much of an agent’s total paid working time is spent logged-in and either handling or available to handle call-related activities.

This metric includes all the time spent on non-call-related activities and compares an agent’s logged-in time to their entire time spent on the clock. If an agent is getting paid, that time should be included.

What’s the difference between agent utilization and the occupancy rate?

Agent Utilization versus Call Center Occupancy Rate

These metrics are often confused with each other or used interchangeably because they appear to be similar. Let’s look at a few comparisons that can help make the differences clearer:

  • Agent utilization is based on the entire time an agent is working whereas occupancy rate is based only on the time agents are logged-in and available for calls
  • Utilization looks at what percentage of total paid time an agent is available to work on calls while occupancy rate looks at how much of the working time is used for call-related activities in comparison to being idle
  • Agent utilization is a general call center assessment metric. Occupancy rate takes a closer look at one component of the agent utilization KPI
  • Agent utilization includes all the time an employee is being paid for and can include paid time off. Occupancy rate sticks to the time spent working for the call center while logged into the system

What does a contact center agent utilization tell you?

Your contact center’s agent utilization rate tells you what percent of paid working time agents spend logged into the system either handling calls or available for calls.

A 75% agent utilization rate means that agents dedicate 75% of their paid working time or 45 minutes of every hour to call-related activities.

This KPI is a quick way to see how much time agents spend on their primary job – the call-related activities. Any activity that isn’t related to an agent’s core role of providing customer service can be considered call center shrinkage.

Understanding this metric can help you gauge how well the call center is managed and provide insight into general workforce cost control.

Agent utilization rates are inversely correlated with the cost per contact. High agent utilization correlates with a low cost per contact. Low agent utilization shows that agent costs are increasing and can therefore be correlated with a higher cost per contact.

Some non-call-related activities result from wasting time. An extremely low utilization rating can point to issues with productivity and time theft. For example, an employee who doesn’t have to clock in and out might choose to leave early one day without subtracting that time.

But this doesn’t mean that all non-call-related time isn’t productive. And it doesn’t mean that you want the highest rate possible.

Many non-call-related activities are essential to improving the contact center’s productivity, performance levels, and directly contribute to business growth. A few are related to the necessities of life.

These activities include things like:

  • Training sessions
  • Team building activities
  • Pep talks
  • HR-related meetings
  • Lunch and break times
  • Lateness or leaving early
  • Paid vacation or time off
  • Sick days

You don’t want to overwork your staff, deprive them of certain rights or ignore their biological needs. And it isn’t smart to slash training sessions if the center’s performance will suffer. So, one can’t realistically aim for a 100% utilization rate.

What is the agent utilization benchmark for call centers?

A commonly accepted call center agent utilization benchmark is from 80 to 90%. This range is backed up by call center consultant Henriette Potgieter. In an interview with Call Centre Helper, she recommended 86% as a precise target to aim for.

Just like with the occupancy rate, there are many reasons why you don’t necessarily want a super-high agent utilization rate. Here’s why you might want to keep this metric in the sweet spot.

Why is agent utilization important?

Even though this metric is broad, it will give you an overview of how well the call center is being managed. Agent utilization is key for spotting scheduling issues, assessing performance goals, estimating workload, and calculating core costs.

A low score can be a red flag that agents either don’t have enough to do or aren’t being supervised well. An excessively high score shows that agents are overworked, don’t get enough training, are under too much pressure, and may begin quitting work due to the conditions.

Calculating call center occupancy

The occupancy rate is usually calculated for a set of agents across a certain timeframe. It includes all an agent’s call-related work which is sometimes referred to as handle time. This includes talk time, hold time, and wrap time.

This figure is then calculated against their total logged-in time. You divide the total handling time by the total logged-in time, then multiply that sum by 100. This gives you the metric as a percent.

Here’s what that looks like, step-by-step:

  1. Find the total handle time: talk time + hold time + wrap time
  2. Find the total logged-in time (your contact center solution should include this)
  3. Divide total handle time by total logged-in time.

Here’s what the formula looks like:

 Occupancy = (talk time + hold time + wrap time) / total logged-in time x 100

Call Cneter Occupancy Formula

Here’s a quick example for a hypothetical call center:

Total handling time: 2,500 minutes

Total logged-in time: 3,000 minutes

Occupancy = (2,500 ÷ 3000) x 100 = 83.3%

Calculating agent utilization

Managers sometimes consider agent utilization to be difficult to calculate because it includes time spent taking breaks, going to the bathroom, attending meetings, having training, etc.

An easy way is to simply subtract an agent’s logged-in time from their shift or paid working time. This simple formula looks like this:

Utilization in minutes = paid working time – logged-in time

The formula in percentage is:

Agent Utilization Formula

So, a hypothetical call center’s calculation might be:

Total logged-in time: 3,000 minutes

Total paid working time: 3,500 minutes

Utilization = (3,000 ÷ 3,500) x 100 = 85.7%

You could also make this more complicated by calculating it based on the average handle time and other granular metrics. Here are two methods for doing so within a given timeframe:

Utilization = ( (average number of calls x average handle time in minutes) / (workdays x average hours worked in a day) ) x 100

Utilization = ( (average number of inbound calls x average inbound handle time in minutes) + (average number of outbound calls x average outbound handle time in minutes) ) / (number of days worked x average daily work hours x 60 )

Note: Utilization is generally calculated in minutes. So, if you’re working with the time in hours, multiply that figure by 60 to convert it into minutes.

How do you lower occupancy in a call center?

Occupancy rate and agent utilization need to be balanced since it isn’t good if either one gets too high or too low.

Occupancy rate shows how much logged-in time is spent on call-related tasks versus idle time. Quick reminder: this metric should be kept between 85 and 90%. If yours is higher, it needs to be reduced immediately to prevent agent burnout.

Here are a few steps for lowering it:

Minimize after call work with better software, automation, smart systems, and more efficient workflows

  1. Introduce better self-service IVR capabilities
  2. Have supervisors monitor calls to determine how agents can work through issues faster
  3. Introduce smart voice and chatbots that can handle initial customer service, take in information, and then provide agents with a clear picture of what to do
  4. Improve staff scheduling with accurate call volume forecasting and predictive contact center systems

How to Balance Call Center Agent Utilization Rates

Agent utilization needs to provide enough time for training, breaks, and any HR requirements. If your utilization rate exceeds 90%, the call center’s performance, agent retention, and long-term organizational health can be damaged.

This metric should be evaluated closely to see if the shrinkage time is constructive or pointing to wasted time and poor management.

Here are some issues you may want to check out:

What are your utilization metrics when broken down by inbound calls, outbound calls, agent skill level, or time of day?

  • Are you providing customer service for products that are extremely complicated or technical and require more agent training?
  • Do you have enough supervisors for the number of agents? Or are agents left to their own devices?
  • Are there times when the call volume swings wildly, leaving agents with nothing to do?

Break down how the time is used, then pinpoint what’s causing the shrinkage. Once that’s done, you can find ways to make the time more constructive.

This might include:

  • using interactive live call monitoring for efficient, on-the-spot training
  • recording calls and working screens to create a targeted training library
  • integrating call center games, goals, and fun activities into the working time
  • using live speech analytics for smart coaching that doesn’t require a supervisor.

Level up your agent utilization and occupancy rates with Ozonetel

These closely related metrics are indispensable for call center management. And the contact center solution you choose is your biggest asset in precisely understanding and manipulating your KPIs at will.

Ozonetel’s Cloud Contact Center delivers detailed analysis with 70+ management-friendly automated reports.

You can get an in-depth look with a 21-day free trial that includes full access to all our features, personal onboarding, and unlimited calling. Get started now.

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