Definition: Also known as idle time, available time is time spent by agents ready and waiting to take calls. If an agent is logged into the ACD and is not engaged in another task like talking to a customer or in after-call wrap (ACW), they are available.
It could also be described as “waiting for calls time”.
It can help to think of available time as the inverse of occupancy – the percentage of agents currently engaged in a task.
Industry advice tends to suggest that an occupancy rate of around 85% is a safe average to aim for. 85% occupancy translates to 15% availability.
Availability can be simply represented like this:
Total seats (100%) – Occupancy% = Available time
Why is available time important?
A contact centre’s available time is a resource reserved to protect KPIs against unexpected rises in contact volume. There is a tendency among some workforce planners to view available time as waste – the fact that 15% of agents are not currently taking calls is seen as inefficient.
This overlooks the reasons that available time is actually useful.
If there is 0% available time, nobody is ready to take the next call that comes in. As a result, customers have to start queueing. If call volume remains steady, the queue will not decrease and KPIs will come under threat.
Available time also helps to protect the well-being of agents. 85% occupancy does not mean that 15% of the workforce never work; it means that 15% of the time they are present comprises spaces between calls.
When occupancy approaches 100%, agents take call after call without stopping. This has been shown to drastically affect motivation and the ability to perform effectively, ultimately leading to burnout.
What is the right amount of available time?
There is no universally accepted ‘correct’ value for available time – it really comes down to the needs of the individual contact centre and the predictability of call volumes.
Available time is much harder to manage in centres with fewer seats. This is because each agent who is not taking a call represents a larger proportion of the total number of agents. In a large centre of 500 seats, two absent employees make relatively little difference to overall performance.
However, in a small centre of 20 seats, each agent makes a proportionally large contribution. If 14 of the 20 agents are taking calls, the available time is 30% – generally considered quite high.
As such, it would be extremely difficult to schedule a small pool of agents with enough accuracy to maintain a consistent 15% availability.
The upside of a small agent pool is the ease with which you can influence availability.
If 19 of those 20 agents are taking calls, available time is just 5%. That might place too much pressure on your workforce, but bringing in 1 more agent increases available time to just under 10%.
It’s advisable to agree on a realistic range for availability and avoid ‘tinkering’. If your approach to changing demand is too reactionary – you let staff finish early or schedule overtime – you become vulnerable to sudden changes in volume.