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Optimum Call Center Service Level Goals: How Low Can You Go?

Successful call centers constantly look for ways to improve every aspect of their business.

You focus on the quality, the quantity and the spirit of your service.

In other words you know your customers want it good, fast and they want to feel important.

Among the several factors that a call center executive might explore in order to optimize the return on her investment is the service level goal.

The higher the service level the higher the investment.

You already know this, and you have noticed that the higher the service level the more your agents must find themselves sitting idle waiting for calls.

Not exactly the kind of picture you want to see.

Realizing your agents are having more conversations with their colleagues than with your customers, you may wonder about reducing the number of agents.

Yet you know reducing the number of agents is tightly connected to the level of service you offer your customers hence the “law” of Occupancy Rate:

The busier your agents (high occupancy) the lower your service level, and the more idle time your agents have (low occupancy) the higher the service level.

In attempts to look for new ways to cut operating expenses you question if your customers would accept a lower service level?

How much lower can your service level be before your customers start to complain or move to the competition?

Before you answer the question “How low can you go” with regards to your service level target for your customers, I recommend you reacquaint yourself with the “law” of Occupancy rate.

In effect, the question of how much waiting your customers might be willing to accept should be balanced with the question of how busy you want your agents to be.

Remember the busier your agents are the lower your service level will be.

In effect, you will find the right service level target goal when you determine your occupancy rate goal.

Besides the obvious effect on customers, here are some other effects you will need to consider when setting an occupancy rate goal:

  • When agents find themselves overwhelmed by calls, they can increase their after-call work to slow done their pace which will cancel out any savings you may have hoped for in reducing your staffing levels.
  • Agents might choose other jobs within your company, or worst, they might go to the competition both of which will cancel out your savings by increasing your hiring costs.
  • Eventually it will become harder to attract and retain good people.
  • Agents who choose to stay might become disgruntled and this attitude might reflect on the kind of service your customers receive.

The Recipe:

Remember set your Service Level goal by determining your Occupancy Rate goal.

Service levels are often worded as follows: x % calls answered within y seconds (eg. 80% calls answered within 20 seconds).

Occupancy Rate is better described by the formula (Total Logged In Time – Total Idle Time) divided by Total Logged In Time.

Total Logged In Time is also known as Staffed Time, meaning the total hours all agents were signed in the phone system in order to take calls.

This may vary according to your telephone system.

After you have set an Occupancy Rate goal, you can then determine the equivalent Service Level goal by performing an analysis based on historical data for your call center.

Correlate the past Occupancy Rate with the Service Level achieved.

You will look for instances where the new Occupancy rate goal was achieved and you will collect the corresponding Service Level data wherein you will observe a pattern which will serve as your new Service Level target.


When you set your service level by determining the right occupancy rate, you gain on all fronts.

The right occupancy rate becomes a competitive edge: you will attract the best employees because you are offering the better working conditions.

Better employees deliver superior service ergo you will attract and keep more customers.

Your agents are happy and your customers are happy.

This equation delivers happy shareholders.


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