1 in 3 customers will stop doing business with a brand they love after one bad experience.1 When customers contact organizations, they expect instant access, short wait times and the option to always be able to speak to a live agent. To meet these expectations call centers do one of two things: employ more agents or increase occupancy rates.
Occupancy is defined as the amount of time advisors are busy engaging with customers: on calls, waiting for calls, engaged in wrap time or on hold. According to Contact Center Helper, the ideal occupancy is 85-90%. This is because more customer engagement leads to more customer satisfaction simply by reducing wait times, delivering rapid solutions and having the bandwidth to upsell and review services.
But are there times when an 85% occupancy rate is not the ‘sweet spot’? Here’s why a lower occupancy of 75% is something that could be worth considering:
When contact centers are flooded with a high volume of calls, agents have less time to focus on the most important queries. Opportunities to upsell or nurture are missed in the rush. If agents are simply being reactive, there’s no time to follow up with vulnerable customers, offer personalized experiences to high-value contacts or proactively reach out to those in need. More time spent dealing with important queries builds customer loyalty, creates ripple-effects of goodwill and encourages people to spread the word of excellent service to family and friends. For emergency services, BPOs and utility providers, it’s even more vital – reaching out to customers could have life-changing consequences.
Automation and AI handles the simple, repetitive tasks, freeing up agents to deal with high-priority conversations. Automating low-complexity tasks decreases the occupancy rate as quick queries are filtered from the queue. The result is increased efficiency, significant cost savings and the time to get the most out of every call.
Intelligent automation can join seamlessly with the agent’s interface, allowing agents and supervisors to update their availability in real time. Instead of wasting time manually searching for available agents, schedules are automatically managed for optimal efficiency. Instant reporting improves the agent experience by allowing teamwork and friendly competition, so the occupancy rate can be lower than 85%, whilst customer experience remains consistently high.
Agents working from home are great assets, especially with WFO (Workforce Optimization). Their flexibility means that even when demand increases, occupancy does not have to. This avoids advisor burnout – research has shown that occupancy rates over 85% could be responsible for half of agent turnover.2
If agents are spending less time engaging with customers, there is more time for other things. Upskilling is a great use of the extra time contact centers gain from shifting occupancy rates from 85% to 75%. Training and online courses increase employee satisfaction and help the customer by delivering a top experiences, as well as fighting costly agent attrition. Training can identify different skills, meaning that contacts can be routed to the most appropriate available agents.
A lower occupancy rate also provides more time for Corporate Social Responsibility and volunteering, so agents have the chance to support the local and international causes they care about. A little more time in the day is also great for agent satisfaction – fifteen-minute morning yoga breaks, free fruit or regular team meetings, for example, are all proven ways to boost agent motivation, concentration and positivity, boosting the efficiency of the contact center in the process.
Although there is a lot of evidence backing the 85% occupancy rate as a key metric to aim for, sometimes lowering the rate can lead to a better customer service overall, even if the amount of time spent engaging with customers is slightly reduced.
1 PwC, ‘Experience is Everything,’ 2019
2 Kronos Incorporated, ‘The Employee Burnout Crisis,’ 2017. According to a survey of 614 HR leaders in the US in 2016, 46% say that burnout is responsible for up to half of workforce turnover, followed by unreasonable workload and after-hours work.