Why Should Your Occupancy Rate NOT Exceed 85%?


Allowing occupancy rates to go above 85% is a big mistake that many contact centres still make. But why can it be such a big problem?

Let’s answer this question once we’ve briefly established the correct definition for occupancy and how it is measured.

What Is Occupancy?

Occupancy is the percentage of time that an advisor handles contacts over the course of their shift, versus sitting in the idle state waiting for a call.

“Handling contacts” includes wrap-time as well as talk time.

We can therefore calculate occupancy by using the following equation:

\(\text{Occupancy (%) = } \, \large\frac{\text{Total Contact Handling Time }}{\text{Total Logged Time}}\normalsize\times100 \)

If you use a different formula, you are likely confusing occupancy with utilization – another common contact centre mistake.

While occupancy only considers time logged in, utilization considers total time at work. This includes lunch breaks, team meetings and one-to-one coaching.

So, now we all understand this distinction and the true definition of occupancy, we can all better understand why occupancy shouldn’t go above 85%.

For more on this distinction, read our article: What Is the Difference Between Occupancy and Utilization?

What Happens When Occupancy Goes Above 85%?

While we want advisors to be busy, as we are after all paying them to handle contacts, we don’t want them to be so busy that they face call after call after call with no respite in between. This is what will happen if occupancy goes above 85%.

If your occupancy rates go above 85%, people may pull together at first, but soon morale and quality standards fall and advisor burnout becomes a big problem.

A headshot of Omri Hayner

Omri Hayner

“In this situation, employees don’t always do the right things for customers, because they either rush through calls or sometimes prolong an existing call to take a breather from the rush,” says Omri Hayner, a general manager at NICE.

When advisors “take a breather”, they may talk longer to a nice, friendly person – so they don’t have to take another call – or they will most likely stay in after-call work (ACW) longer than is needed.

So, when occupancy goes too high, they will do whatever it takes to get an extra break, damaging advisor engagement and the service they provide to customers.

Find out other tricks that advisors use to get out of handling calls by reading our article: 7 Tricks That Call Centre Employees Play

High Occupancy Rates Can Be Linked to High Attrition Rates

As high occupancy leads to low morale and advisor burnout, it is no surprise that many contact centre professionals see a clear link between high occupancy and high attrition rates.

There is plenty of evidence of high occupancy driving higher churn in headcount.

“There is plenty of evidence of high occupancy driving higher churn in headcount,” says Giles, a contact centre operations manager.

In addition, our readers have also reported to us that high occupancy has had the following impacts in their contact centre:

  • Small CSAT drop-offs
  • Dips in internal quality scores
  • Low engagement scores

Big contact centres are particularly at risk from suffering from these issues if they do not manage occupancy properly.

Why? Because in smaller contact centres, the work is more random. This means that occupancy will generally be lower in a contact centre that is staffing for the same level of service as a larger one.

With this in mind, it’s even more important for big contact centres to know how to use occupancy rates in the most appropriate way…

What Should You Be Using Occupancy For?

To avoid all of the negative consequences that come with high occupancy, we need to manage it. This means incorporating the measure into our staffing plans.

To do this, we need to set a target for both service level and occupancy and apply them to our staffing calculations.

Let’s look at the table below as an example of staffing calculations:

Workload Number of Staff Occupancy Rate Average Speed of Answer (ASA) Service Level (SLA)
26 Erlangs 28 Staff 93% 55 secs 56% in 30 secs
26 Erlangs 29 Staff 90% 28 secs 72% in 30 secs
26 Erlangs 30 Staff 87% 16 secs 82% in 30 secs
26 Erlangs 31 Staff 84% 9 secs 88% in 30 secs

Let’s say we are trying to hit a target of answering 80% of calls in 30 seconds. We would first think to schedule 30 staff.

But if we were to set a target of 85% occupancy, we will have to go to 31 advisors because, if you look at the table, the occupancy for 30 staff would be 87%.

While this extra 3% may not seem to be a big deal, let’s just say that two members of the team are absent and we now only have 28 advisors in place. All of a sudden occupancy is at 93%. A jump from 84% to 93% will halve the amount of idle time advisors have.

A headshot of Penny Reynolds

Penny Reynolds

This is the best way to approach occupancy, according to Penny Reynolds, Founding Partner at The Call Center School, who says: “You don’t want to think about occupancy as how busy you are, but instead as what happened to my team’s idle time?”

Also, we can see that when occupancy and service level go above target, Average Speed of Answer (ASA) increases greatly. This, over the course of the day, can have a serious negative impact on cost.

High occupancy is a consequence of the power of one rule. To find out more about this, read our article: The Power of One

Why Do So Many Contact Centres Apply Occupancy in the Wrong Way?

In our recent survey, a number of contact centres told us that they use occupancy as a measure of advisor productivity. However, this is a bad thing to do.

Occupancy figures are a measure of how successful your staffing calculations have been. In no way are they an indicator of how well advisors are working.

Occupancy figures are a measure of how successful your staffing calculations have been. In no way are they an indicator of how well advisors are working.

If you suspect an advisor to be rushing through calls in order to get more break time, trace reports from your ACD system will give you a much better idea of what’s going on.

But these bad practices of targeting advisors on metrics like occupancy, Average Handling Time (AHT) or number of contacts handled are synonymous of managers that don’t understand the industry. Contact centres don’t work as factories.

A thumbnail photo of Martin Hill Wilson

Martin Hill-Wilson

This is a point that Martin Hill-Wilson, Founder of Brainfood Extra, makes when saying: “Expecting people to reflect the productivity patterns of machinery is crazy if we also expect them to be creative, present and engaged.”

So, we want to move away from targeting high occupancy rates and towards targeting high engagement levels. We need to “loosen up” on what we recognize as “productivity” and think about how we can support that.

Find a better way to measure advisor productivity in our article: How to Calculate Productivity in the Contact Centre

Final Thoughts

Occupancy should not be used as a measure for agent productivity, it should not be excluded from your staffing calculations and, most importantly, it should not be allowed to go above 85% for any significant amount of time.

If you are still unconvinced, Matthias, a contact centre operations manager, sets you a challenge below.

Matthias says: “I would like to invite any person that put occupancy goals above 85% to do it themselves day-in, day-out and see how long they will last, let alone with a smile.”

“It’s like running a car at max revs; you know it will not last long. Either you will very quickly run out of fuel or you will break the engine.”

For more important advice regarding crucial contact centre planning metrics, read our articles:

Published On: 6th Jul 2020
Read more about - Call Centre Management, , ,


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