What Is the Difference Between an Abandoned, a Missed and a Lost Call?

Telehone receivers of different colors hanging on the green background

In this article we explain the difference between an abandoned call, a missed call and a lost call.

What are they and Why do They Matter?

Not every unanswered inbound call occurs for the same reason. Most often, customers will get fed up and quit the call queue. But not always.

Let’s identify each possible reason for an unanswered call and share whether that reason makes it an abandoned, missed or lost call.


To clarify the difference between types of unanswered calls, here are definitions for each.

Abandoned Calls – Every call that is terminated (hung up) by the customer, from when they complete the IVR process to when an advisor picks up, is considered to be an abandoned call.

Missed Calls  – In the sense of inbound, a missed call is a call that’s deliberately disconnected by the contact centre. This is rare but can happen when the call reaches the maximum wait time that’s set by the ACD system. In outbound, however, a “missed call” refers to a call that reaches the customer’s answerphone.

Lost Calls – A lost call refers to any call that fails to reach an advisor. So, abandoned and missed calls are both types of lost calls. Yet, they’re not the only sort…

Another type of lost call, which is not often discussed, is a “dropped call”. Caused by technical errors, dropped calls were rare when the world ran on landlines.

However, network connectivity issues increase dropped calls. These are more prevalent within remote contact centre environments, as poor advisor WiFi can be a key cause.

A dropped call rate of even one or two percent should set alarm bells ringing.

Check These Definitions Match Up With the ACD System

Lost calls are generally detected, recorded and tracked within the ACD system. This is useful data for forecasting and scheduling.

So, make sure that the ACD system’s definition of each matches the contact centre’s. Having one version of the truth is crucial.

“If you’re taking any metric from an automated report, check the system’s definition and understand what it tells you,” says John Casey, a resource planning expert at CCplanning.

A headshot of John Casey

John Casey

“For example, some telephony systems have three different triggers to calculate abandon rates. These report different rates, as they start reporting abandons at different periods.”

So, don’t take the definitions above as gospel. Although it is how most planners would define each type of lost call, it’s not always the case. So ensure everyone in the planning team understands how every metric is measured.

Important Insights for Tracking Lost Calls

ACD systems produce call abandon reports. These enable contact centres to keep tabs on lost calls in real time and historically, with lots of insights into abandoned calls especially.

Call abandon reports from the ACD system will share information across various call queues. For example, contact centres can often capture:

  • The percentage abandon rate across the day
  • The average time to abandon
  • The longest customer wait time before abandon

Each of these insights can be like gold dust to resource planners. Can they always be sure that they’re accurate? Not always…

Be Aware of This Niggling Issue

Sometimes the telephony software doesn’t synchronize with the mapping of the workforce management (WFM) system.

The problem here is that the telephony system may record a call as abandoned or missed in one interval, but the WFM records it as belonging to the next.

A headshot of Doug Casterton

Doug Casterton

In this scenario, the telephony system would place the lost call within the interval it first entered the queue. The WFM system would place it within the interval that it was lost.

According to Doug Casterton, Head of Operational Excellence at Get Your Guide, this problem has stumped many planning professionals, playing havoc with the forecasting process.

“A lot of people struggle to come to terms with why their abandon rate is so bad in a certain interval, as they may have perfectly staffed that period. Yet it’s often because the contact started in the previous interval,” says Doug.

So, be aware of this problem and consider whether it is influencing lost call rates.

Finally, to track dropped calls, ACD systems may not provide the right insights. Number testing software can help here to constantly check for connectivity errors.

Still using spreadsheets to calculate abandon rates? No problem. The following article shares a great guide to do so manually: How to Measure Call Abandon Rate

How to Reduce Lost Calls

Reducing lost calls means that more customers get the answers they seek. Here’s how contact centres can do so while increasing customer satisfaction and retention in the process.

Improve Staffing

Easy to say, difficult to do. But, by building better forecasts and schedules, contact centres can more accurately meet incoming demand and avoid customers hanging up.

Let’s take a look at a few quick tips for how to do just that, starting with forecasting:

  • Experiment with numerous forecasting models, using old data to do so. This will provide an indication as to how well the model is suited to the contact centre environment.
  • Analyse the outliers that are being removed to improve future forecasts. By doing so, the contact centre can be sure that it’s really an outlier and that it’s not becoming a business-as-usual pattern.
  • Reforecast a day in the contact centre a couple of days before it is worked. This ensures that staffing plans are as accurate as when they were first made.

Here’re a few more tips for improving scheduling practices:

  • Measure schedule inflexibility regularly. Acting as a buffer, this helps to ensure that schedules can be better created to meet incoming demand.
  • Understand when calls are likely to flood in, whether that’s just after the hour mark or just before. In doing so, contact centres can better plan breaks, coaching sessions and meetings.
  • Share the difficulties of creating schedules with advisors, so they know what to expect before shifts are published. This will help them to appreciate the hard work that goes into schedules, making advisors more likely to stick to them.

Discover lots more top tips for forecasting and scheduling in our article: 50 Expert Tips to Improve Contact Centre WFM

Bolster On-Hold Messaging

Present on-hold messages in order of importance to the customer. The more important the message, the more it will keep the customer engaged.

Not-so-important messages will include those that involve cross-selling. Doug Casterton warns that these might be frustrating customers, making them more likely to hang up.

“Many contact centres will try cross-selling in the queue, which I’m really not a fan of – especially when that message repeats itself,” says Doug.

“You might get away with one or two messages, if it’s particularly interesting to the customer. But be careful. Even an apology can become irritating if it is repeated over time.”

A good tip here is to research after which message customers tend to abandon. Other tips for creating better on-hold messages include:

  • Analyse the most effective music-to-message ratio.
  • Include messages that tell customers how long they have left to queue.
  • Revisit old messages to check for accuracy.

Offer a Choice of Hold Music

Understanding the demographic of customers and choosing hold music that’s suited to them will likely encourage customers to stay on the line longer.

“Generally, melodic non-heavy music helps,” says John Casey. “However, there is research that suggests that giving customers a choice of music to listen to encourages them to wait longer.”

Now, if customers are only waiting 20 seconds, this may not be the best course of action, as it increases customer effort. But for longer queues, this could help to reduce call abandons.

Grab a few more pearls of wisdom on this topic by reading our article: What Customers Really Think of Music on Hold

Streamline the IVR

“If a contact centre has an IVR with multiple layers, the customer might spend ten minutes trying to navigate the system. Ten minutes in the IVR plus ten minutes in the call queue is effectively 20 minutes of waiting,” says Doug.

So, if you simplify the IVR, customers will likely have more patience when they enter the queue. This will stop them from abandoning early and also greatly reduce frustration.

Check Advisors’ Internet Speeds

Dropped calls are often a result of network connectivity problems. When working in a remote contact centre environment, dropped calls are more common.

So, run internet speed checks with work-from-home (WFM) advisors. Also, offer them Wi-Fi boosters to increase speeds, and build a requirement for good internet into the contact centre’s homeworking policy.

Callbacks – But Be Careful!

Callback technology reserves the customer’s place in the call queue. This can drastically reduce abandon rates, but it comes with a warning label.

“If you have a very clear spike in traffic, callback technology is fine, but if you’re experiencing a long-term increase in demand that wasn’t forecasted, it doesn’t work so well,” says John.

“In my current contact centre, Tuesday is the busiest day. After Bank Holiday Monday, I know it’s going to be especially busy. There won’t be a lull, so I need a proper WFM solution, not callbacks.”

The reason why callbacks don’t work in such a scenario is that advisors have to physically phone them back, making the queue – virtual though it may be – longer than it was previously.

More Top Tips for Dealing With Lost Calls

Monitoring lost calls can uncover key contact centre improvement areas. Let’s take a look at a few best practices to help contact centres do just that.

Report Short Abandons Separately

Some contact centres will remove short calls from their measurement of abandon rate, which can help to make abandon rates look better, but does have its downsides.

A headshot of James Barnes

James Barnes

“Short abandon calls are an indication of technical problems,” James Barnes, Director of Consulting at Destructive Digital.

“Of course, sometimes customers may be interrupted by something within their life or have realized they’ve joined the wrong IVR queue and abandon quickly. But it’s good to at least track short abandons separately.”

If there is then a trend in short abandoned calls, that might indicate an increase in dropped calls due to technical error. By looking into this, contact centres can potentially spot and put an end to a problem before it snowballs.

Use Abandon Rates to Inform Service Levels

By plotting abandon rates against time in queue, contact centres can create call abandon curves. These results will enable the contact centre to set service levels against customer patience.

Here’s an example of one customer abandon curve:

An example of a call abandon curve

Using such a graph, the contact centre can set an “abandon ceiling”. This will stipulate the maximum percentage of abandons deemed acceptable, which will likely be between 2 and 10%. The percentage chosen will then guide the service level.

From this, contact centres may set different cost-effective service levels for different query types. Yet, as James Barnes tells us, it just depends on what customers do.

James says: “It’s important to assess your environment and consider at what point do customers look somewhere else? Or at what point do they open up a new channel, we can’t cope and it costs us more to serve?”

For more on the relationship between these two metrics, read our article: How to Predict Call Abandon Rates Based on Service Level

Reconsider Opening Hours

“If abandon rates are high early in the day, would opening half an hour earlier help? This is worth considering, as  for a certain percentage of these calls the customer will have tried to call before the contact centre opened,” says John.

On the other hand, if abandon rates peak in the middle of the day, rethink lunch breaks and consider offering more part-time shifts to cover peaks.

When abandon rates are high throughout the day, that indicates a problem within staffing calculations or advisor behaviours.

Final Tip

Look at the IVR. Consider: are we forcing the customer into queues for which we are lacking skills or staff altogether?

In Summary

A lost call is any type of call that reaches the queue and is not answered by an advisor. Abandoned, missed and dropped calls are therefore all types of lost calls.

Abandoned calls are deliberately terminated by the customer, whereas a missed call is deliberately terminated by the contact centre.

Dropped calls are when the call is unintentionally terminated. Network errors are a common cause of this.

Abandoned are the most common. Contact centres exert a lot of energy dealing with these, ensuring that 95–98% of customers get through to an advisor. There is a full report in the ACD system dedicated to gathering insights into call abandons. Insights into missed and dropped calls can also be taken from the ACD.

Uncover more expert advice on managing abandoned calls in our articles:

Author: Robyn Coppell
Reviewed by: Megan Jones

Published On: 15th Dec 2021 - Last modified: 12th Jun 2024
Read more about - Call Centre Questions, , , , , ,

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