An Erlang calculator is one of the most useful tools in the call centre toolkit.
An Erlang Calculator is a mathematical calculation that allows you to calculate the number of staff that you need for a given number of calls, to meet a given service level.
It is based on the Erlang C formula (a derivative of the Poisson distribution) that was designed by the Danish Mathematician A.K. Erlang around 100 years ago. The formula is quite involved, but is relatively easy to follow if you studied maths to a reasonable level at school. See this article for a worked example of the Erlang C formula.
You simply enter in the number of phone calls that you receive in a period of time (say per half hour), along with the average duration of the calls and also the service level that you are looking for.
- Number of phone calls
- Time period (e.g. per half hour)
- Average Call Duration (Average Handling Time)
- Service Level (Percentage of calls answered within a period of time, e.g. 80% of calls in 20 seconds)
- Some Erlang calculators also include a shrinkage input.
- Number of agents (advisors) needed to meet the service level target
Formats of Erlang C Calculators
There are two main formats for Erlang calculators.
1. Excel-based Erlang Calculators
This Excel-based worksheet uses macros, automated input sequences or add-ins, to perform the calculations due to the complexity of the mathematics.
Whilst there are some examples where people have been able to perform the function without using macros (using the Poisson function), these tend to need multiple rows or columns to obtain the required results.
For more information on the Poisson Distribution, read our article: How Is Average Handling Time Distributed? It is not how you think!
- Easy to build a mini workforce management system.
- Flexible – easy to perform what-if type functions and compare whole days or weeks of calls.
- Requires macros to be enabled.
- Many do not take account of shrinkage.
- Typically only work up to around 200 agents (700 agents tends to be the absolute limit for double precision floating point numbers).
- Many handmade spreadsheets often contain between 20% and 40% errors – see this article for more details: http://panko.shidler.hawaii.edu/SSR/Mypapers/whatknow.htm
Follow the link for our: Free Erlang C Calculator Excel – Including Shrinkage
Work out the total number of agents (FTE) required for a call volume (including shrinkage)
This uses the Excel Formula:
=AgentsFTE(Calls, Reporting_period, Average_Call_duration, Service_level_percent, Service_level_time, Shrinkage)
For example =AgentsFTE(B30,C30,D30,E30,F30,G30)
This formula is more accurate as it includes shrinkage (holidays, training, meetings, etc.) and therefore gives a more realistic staffing requirement.
For a full explanation of shrinkage, read our article: How to Calculate Shrinkage
2. Online Erlang Calculators
A new generation of Erlang calculators has emerged that are available online.
- These are freely available online and are easy to test.
- Great for what-if type calculations.
- Some can perform calculations in excess of 700 agents.
- Do not require any software download or potentially harmful macros to be installed on your PC.
- Most calculators do not take account of shrinkage.
- Limited quality checking.
- Errors over 700 agents. Many online Erlang calculators produce wrong results for large number of agents (see below for how to check this).
Follow the link for our: Call Centre Erlang Staffing Calculator – including Shrinkage
The number of agents needed is 86 agents including 35% shrinkage (56 agents before shrinkage)
This would give a Service Level of 82.3% answered in 20 seconds
The Average Speed of Answer (ASA) would be 12.2 seconds
How to spot if your Erlang calculator is giving the wrong results
STEP 1: Enter the following details into an Erlang calculator
14,200 calls per hour, 180-second call duration, 80% of calls handled in 20 seconds (with no shrinkage if the calculator provides it).
STEP 2: Check that the number of agents equals 721
The correct answer should be 721 agents. Many calculators will confidently predict 711 advisors (often with a Service Level Prediction of nan [not a number]).
STEP 3: Put in 100 fewer calls
So, enter: 14,100 calls per hour, 180-second call duration, 80% of calls handled in 20 seconds (with no shrinkage if the calculator provides it).
Every calculator will then give the right answer of 716 advisors.
This tells you that despite putting in a lower call volume, and keeping all of the other variables the same, the number of advisors has actually increased from 711 to 716, so something must be wrong.
Find some other examples that will enable you to check your Erlang Calculator below.
Do you use an Erlang calculator to work out how many advisors you need in the contact centre? If so, what have been your experiences with it?
Please leave your thoughts and responses in the comments section below.