In this article by Megan Jones we explore the best team leader to agent ratio in the contact centre, outlining the pros and cons of different ratios to help you find the one that works for you.
It’s relatively common knowledge that if you want to maximize your team leader to agent ratio, you’ll need to aim for something around 8–15 agents per team leader.
It’s a useful starting point, but when you really look at it, there’s a sizable difference in play – with almost double the number of agents at the upper end of the spectrum.
So how do you narrow it down to create the perfect balance? We take a deep dive into the debate to try and get to the bottom of it once and for all.
Is 1:13 the Real Sweet Spot?
According to Elizabeth Murphy, Sales Centre Manager at AllClear Insurance Services – with over 15 years’ experience in the business – a team leader to agent ratio of 1:13 offers the perfect balance, and here’s why:
“1:15 Overwhelms Team Leaders”
“Over the years, I’ve found that the 1:13 ratio really works across the floor. I’ve tried pushing it up to 1:15 in the past, and every time this has put incredible pressure on the team leaders involved, and they’ve become overwhelmed trying to manage all of their responsibilities.
“It’s not surprising when you think of all the coaching sessions, return-to-work interviews, and 1-to-1s that regularly need completing. Quite simply, more people equals more work, and it can easily become too much.”
“Anything Less Than 1:13 and Team Leaders Struggle to Fill Their Weeks”
“On the flip side, a ratio of less than 1:13 and I find the team leaders aren’t busy enough to fill their weeks with meaningful work. It’s a fine balance, but I’ve definitely refined 1:13 as the sweet spot.”
“Coaching and Team Performance Suffers Above 1:13”
“It’s not just about the stress levels of the team leaders either. When the ratio is stretched too thin, you typically find that 1-to-1s and coaching sessions are cut down from, say, 45 minutes to a shorter, more rushed, 20 minutes or so.
“This still allows for the functional sharing of key stats and performance information, but cuts the conversation short before the team leader has chance to really question any performance weaknesses and nip any problems in the bud – and this tends to have a long-term impact on the success of the team.”
For tips and advice on how you can develop your team leaders, read our article: Train Team Leaders Well
Every Contact Centre Is Different
Whilst Elizabeth’s experience and insight certainly provides a more solid answer than the 1:8–1:15 ratios, it won’t necessarily work for everyone.
If you aren’t convinced 1:13 is for you, here are some other considerations to weigh up when deciding what’s right for your contact centre.
Less Can Be More
If you have other tasks or calls for team leaders to complete, or expect them to be on hand for escalations and general support, there is definitely an argument for a lower team leader to agent ratio, including a greater likelihood of maintaining close-knit relationships in a smaller team.
This is true across multiple scenarios, from keeping track of what’s happening with everyone’s children, spouses and pets, to sitting in close proximity on the contact centre floor and work canteen, and hosting a daily huddle without feeling the need to use a megaphone.
Even working remotely, a team huddle video call will be significantly less crowded with fewer people – giving more chance for everyone to have their say and feel part of the meeting.
Just like smaller class sizes in schools, there’s less competition for the team leader’s attention and more opportunity for regular support, 1-to-1s, and coaching too. All of which can have a positive impact on working relationships and in turn can boost employee engagement and reduce churn.
Team Leaders Have More Focus and Balance in Their Role Too
It’s not just about agents’ well-being either. The benefits of lower ratios extend to team leaders too. Sadly, some team leaders are stretched far too thinly in their roles – especially when they have larger teams to look after and have other tasks they are expected to complete too.
This is where smaller teams can make a big difference, as fewer people to manage makes for more meaningful interactions, tailored coaching sessions, and more, as well as better job satisfaction, and less stress (and churn) in the long run.
In our article How to Effectively Manage a Team Leader’s Time we outline how contact centre team leaders can better manage their time
1:8 for Newly Trained Team Leaders
Smaller ratios can also be helpful for building up confidence in new team leaders before they step up to manage a full-sized team, as Elizabeth Murphy continued: “Even though I find 1:13 works best across the contact centre floor, I currently have two teams with a ratio of 1:8 to introduce new team leaders to the role and help them find their feet.”
When Can a Higher Ratio Work Well?
Despite these benefits, circumstance sometimes requires higher ratios, and some situations lend themselves more to this being a success.
Here are some key questions to ask yourself before you scale up:
Are Your Agents Able to Work Autonomously?
Success with a higher team leader to agent ratio is often driven by agents being able to work autonomously.
For example, if the role is relatively straightforward and the team is experienced, then there will be less need for a hands-on team leader – compared to a scenario where the role is varied and complex and there are lots of new starters, and a seasoned team leader is constantly in demand.
If you are under-resourced, you may find it is easier to create a bigger team of experienced agents with a higher team leader to agent ratio in place, and then move some of your less experienced agents into smaller teams with a lower team leader to agent ratio to cater to individual needs whilst still maximizing your resources.
Do You Have Well-Defined Escalation Processes and Support Resources in Place?
One of the key areas where team leaders step in is to help support their teams deal with less common queries or to pick up a customer complaint call. These are more suited to a more experienced agent.
However, team leaders can be spared a lot of this work if their teams are equipped with easy-to-navigate information to help them handle all manner of queries AND if there is a dedicated complaints team to route any unhappy customers through to.
If these tasks are being absorbed elsewhere in the contact centre, team leaders will have more time to coach and support a larger team – without compromising on the quality of support individual agents receive.
Is Your Team Leader Experienced Enough to Manage a Bigger Team?
Training, leadership experience and personality types in your team leaders can also have an impact on how big or small your ratios need to be, and you may find it varies from team leader to team leader.
In most cases, a larger team leader to agent ratio can be supported well by a more experienced team leader, who is well equipped to:
- inspire confidence in their team
- delegate responsibilities to empower agents
- set out clear expectations and escalation processes from the offset
This allows agents to work well without draining their team leader’s time. By contrast, a less experienced team leader could unintentionally create a culture of dependence and inefficient working practices.
Our article Team Leadership: What Makes a Great Leader? looks at the skills needed for great team leadership and where a good team leader focuses most of their time.
Still Not Sure What’s Right for Your Contact Centre?
Why not do your own experiment? Of course, you don’t want to shake things up and risk upsetting everyone, as that might negatively skew the results.
Why not add your next new starter into a team of 14 (taking it up to 15) or see what happens if you don’t rush to boost your team of 10 back to full strength the next time someone hands in their notice?
Over time, you’ll get a good sense of how things are going – particularly if you take the time to regularly talk to your team leaders and their teams about their experiences. You might even come to realize that 1:13 is the magic ratio after all.
For more great insights on staffing and team leadership, read our articles: