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Improving Call Center Service Level: Choosing the Right Goal

Managing call centers is a constant balancing act.

You know how it is.

The delicate balance between customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction and shareholder satisfaction is an on-going struggle.

Some companies have gone as far as determining that putting their people first makes for better service which leads to more profit.

No matter what your position and approach to managing the delicate balance, you have wondered about how to measure your service level.

You may have considered evaluating your service by limiting the number of abandon calls (abandon rate), or the flip side of this which is measuring the number of calls answered (also known as answer rate or accessibility).

You may have measured the average speed of answer.

You may have combined these measures into a single indicator that goes under so many different names but comes down to this: “x” percent of calls answered in “y” seconds.

By working with the ” x” percent of calls answered in “y” seconds indicator, which I’ll call Grade of Service (GOS), you have realized that setting a goal for the GOS is much more demanding: should you go with with 80% calls answered in 20 seconds, or 90% in 0 seconds or 70% in 30 seconds?

Back in the 90′s when the world of call centers was booming the rule of thumb was 80% calls answered in 20 seconds.

Soon however managers realized that setting an appropriate GOS was dependant on their type of business/industry.

Many theories exists on the origin of the proverbial 80% in 20 seconds like the Pareto Principle for example.

As a workforce management expert I discovered an answer that left me thinking that the 80 in 20 was perhaps more than a rule of thumb concocted out-of-the-blue.

I discovered my answer when I learned that the GOS had an inverse proportionate relationship with the Occupancy Rate (the rate of how busy agents are – see my article “Call Center Service Level – How Low Can You Go”).

Regardless of the potentially great reason behind the 80% in 20 seconds GOS goal, I would like to point out that there are ways for you to confirm which GOS goal is best for you.

Let me demonstrate what I mean in the following table:

Grade of Service (GOS)
20 seconds
30 seconds
60 seconds
120 seconds
65%35.6 FTE35.5 FTE35.1 FTE34.4 FTE
70%36.4 FTE36.2 FTE35.7 FTE35.0 FTE
75%37.2 FTE 37.0 FTE36.5 FTE 35.6 FTE
80%38.1 FTE37.9 FTE37.4 FTE36.4 FTE
85%39.4 FTE39.1 FTE38.5 FTE37.5 FTE
90%41.0 FTE40.8 FTE40.0 FTE38.9 FTE
99%48.9 FTE48.6 FTE47.6 FTE45.9 FTE

The table above contains the results of a tedious analysis that shows how many FTE (Full-Time Equivalent) requirements for each GOS goal.

Notice that if you staffed your call center with 35.6 FTE you could achieve 2 different GOS goals: you could choose 65% calls answered in 20 seconds or 70% of calls answered in 60 seconds.

Still if you staffed with 37.2 FTEs you could choose 75% in 20 seconds or 80% in 60 seconds.

You can perform the same analysis with your particular data.

You need a Worforce Management Software that can create forecasts and schedules.

Simply get the WFM software to generate schedules according to your business model against your particular call volume, and Call handling time.

Run each schedule generation with a different GOS and track the FTE results in a grid like the one above.

(Do not try this with a simple Erlang-C calculator; this analysis requires the creation of schedules to deliver realistic results based on your scheduling complexities).

The above analysis will help you determine the various GOS you can choose from based on the number of FTE you can afford.


Do not lose sight of the Occupancy rate that increases in the event you choose a lower GOS.

Otherwise, you may end up creating a “sweat shop” instead of a motivating working environment.

The delicate balance is a constant challenge and keeping our sights on our people, our customers and our wallets is the way to success.


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