If you are reading this article, you probably want to know what occupancy rate is and why it is so important for the smooth and stable operation of any contact center. In fact, this is one of the dozens of metrics used by call centers to reflect the effectiveness of their work and improve services provided. This is a comprehensive indicator that answers the following questions:

  • How busy are the agents?
  • Do they need extra assistance?
  • Are there overstaffing problems to be solved?
  • How efficiently is the idle time used?

But things are not as simple as they might seem - occupancy rate is often mistaken for agent’s productivity, which is by far not the same. As has been seen in practice, it can't be said for sure whether a high or low occupancy rate is good for productivity. To puzzle out this controversial issue, you need to understand occupancy meaning. In the case of a call center, the occupancy rate is the time spent by an agent on handling calls compared to the total working time. Thus, an agent can be 99% occupied and receive calls non stop throughout the working day, but this does not mean that their productivity rate will be high too.

How to Calculate Occupancy?

In simple terms, occupancy rate is the percentage of time spent on calls, as well as on after-call work, compared to all the available time, including quiet periods. Let's take a look at how this might look in practice. For example, a call center agent named Adam has an occupancy rate of 90%. If you could ask him how much time he has actually spent on calls and client interaction, Adam would answer that he spent 90% of his working time (e.g. 4.5 hours out of a 5-hour workday) performing his direct duties, and for the remaining 10% (half an hour), he was waiting for a call.

If we apply the occupancy percentage formula to the above case, we see that the rate is very high - our agent Adam worked hard, although this does not speak of his high performance for sure. If the calculated number was, let's say, 2 times lower, this could be indicative of overstaffing, poor management or low demand during certain hours or days. If, on the contrary, the number approaches 100%, this would indicate that an individual agent or the whole team does not have any downtime between handling customers' calls. Is this good or bad? Which of the cases above is the most beneficial for your contact center? Well, it's the right time to get into the details.

Call Center Occupancy Standards

It is generally believed that occupancy should not be too low or too high. If contact center agents are overloaded, they will quickly get tired, lose concentration, and ultimately get stressed out. They will not have enough time to process between-call requests, and this will ultimately reduce productivity and affect the level of customer satisfaction. Given this, the maximum occupancy should be somewhere between 85% and 90%.

As a rule, occupancy rate is measured not individually but at a group level. This is the average indicator of all advisers' efficiency, which is aimed to help in planning, staffing, and building new work strategies. Agent occupancy definition (call center utilization) is pretty simple, but it’s also important to know that the number of contact center employees does matter in this regard. Obviously, larger groups are often more occupied than smaller ones.

Due to this, the larger your contact center grows, the more important it becomes to monitor the maximum allowable call center occupancy. 

As seen from the above statistics, at 500 calls per minute, occupancy rate goes beyond the maximum acceptable limits and reaches 91.7%. At the same time, agents have to receive more calls over the same period of time, which ultimately leads to a decrease in required service level (SLA). So what could possibly help the company's management find the right solution? To keep its employees safe from burnout and keep the level of services at a competitive level, as well as to prevent jumps in occupancy rate, a call center should consider expanding its staff - in our case, hire 160 advisors instead of 156 to be able to provide quality service for 500 calls over 30 minutes. Fortunately, there are also many other ways to optimize call center performance.

Ways to Optimize Occupancy Rate

  1. Call monitoring. If managers want agents to be as productive as possible, they should analyze call volumes in real-time and come up with some relevant conclusions. What are peak hours when the centers receive the largest amount of incoming traffic? Which periods are off-peak? The next step is a qualitative assessment of client-service interaction. Even one small change in communication pattern can significantly optimize the call center occupancy rate. A properly constructed peak-hour communication strategy will help reduce the time clients spend in queues and, as a result, increase profits. From time to time, you can also use some software to listen to individual live calls. That's how managers can identify individual weak points and offer their professional solutions to enhance the whole team's efficiency.
  2. It’s not always easy to predict and handle customer traffic. Of course, in a perfect world, centers would always know how many agents they need to satisfy all clients and prevent them from waiting in long queues. But what could actually be done in order not to upset the balance of our call center occupancy formula? To put itself in a more advantageous position, a contact center can continuously analyze incoming traffic during days, weeks, and months to determine peak surges and possible seasonality. If it turns out that the contact center runs out of resources to handle all calls during such peak periods, outsourcing will be the most reasonable option. Instead of sacrificing the efficiency of staff, you simply direct some part of the peak traffic to an outsourced call center. As a rule, professional centers that provide this kind of service can offer your business many additional advantages. As a result, the occupancy rate of both centers remains within the normal range and the quality of service does not suffer at all.
  3. Filling in quiet periods. An analysis of the call center's activity allows its management to determine not only peak hours but also periods of inactivity when the occupancy rate drops to its lowest levels. If managers decide to leave things as they are, that would be tantamount to throwing the company's money out of the window. During idle hours or days, they should engage advisors in all sorts of activities other than calls. How about some outbound calls? Allow agents to gather customer feedback and promote some additional services. Try to motivate agents with some extra perks and create a fun, competitive environment in the call center. Quiet periods are also a great time to conduct all kinds of training sessions aimed at boosting the team's productivity.
  4. Automation of routine processes. If call center occupancy calculation shows 90% and more, the business administration should consider introducing self-service functions. This is a great tool for contact centers that seek to reduce the burden on their employees. Let customers perform simple procedures like requesting a callback, receiving availability information, placing and tracking an order. Soon you will notice that the advisers have more time for call-related tasks, and the percentage of clients lost somewhere in the queue has decreased significantly.

How Do You Calculate Occupancy and Other Metrics?

Even though the call center occupancy definition is pretty simple to understand, it is often mistaken for other measurements, which are also important for contact centers. This is particularly true for metrics such as Adherence and Conformance. To comprehend their meaning, let's recall once again what we call occupancy: The percentage of time agents spend on handling calls and doing call-related tasks in relation to the logged-in time. Now let's see how the above metrics differ from each other:

  • Adherence is the time actually spent at the workplace versus the scheduled shift time. So if an adviser has a 6-hour working day (360 minutes) but starts working an hour late (60 minutes), their adherence rate is to be calculated as follows:

(360-60)min/360min x 100% = 83.3%

  • Conformance can be called the opposite index, which means the time of the work shift versus the time that an agent actually spent at work during the day. Let's take the situation when the same advisor has worked 6.5 hours (390 minutes) instead of the scheduled 6 hours (360 minutes):

390min/360min x 100% = 108.3%

Now, you have a full understanding of what is occupancy in a call center and how to deal with it. Professional contact centers should regularly analyze the work of their agents to keep the occupancy rate within standard values and prevent employees from getting bored or burning out. Their managers know exactly when it's time to resort to outsourcing and how to organize inbound and outbound calls effectively to provide the best quality service at lower costs and with fewer resources.