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Contact Center Staffing: A Brief Overview

Contact Center Staffing: A Brief Overview

In any contact center, staffing is a critical factor that directly impacts customer satisfaction. Customers need to be able, and sometimes even feel, that your organization is there: present and reachable. But how do we make sure that our organization is accessible enough? For a long time, a key performance indicator known as service level has become the measurement standard. Typically, it’s defined as the percentage of total contacts responded to within 20 seconds (called Acceptable Waiting Time).

However, depending on the strategy, some companies extend the AWT window or employ creative modifications in the SL calculation. Despite variations, one aspect remains consistent across all companies: maintaining an optimal number of staff at the correct times to achieve their service level objectives. A fundamental part of this process is understanding how to calculate staffing requirements based on the expected volume (and type) of interactions, average handling time, service level goals, and Shrinkage.

Disclaimer here: the ultimate goal of your business is to have happy customers and not to (only) maximize service level. A high Service Level means calls are answered quickly, but it doesn’t necessarily mean customers are happy with the service they receive. Customer satisfaction includes quality of service, resolution of the issues, attitude of the staff, and the overall experience. SL is a means and not an end  😉


The correct data for Volume and AHT

Before we delve into the calculation process, we must understand what volumes and AHT mean. Volumes refer to the number of calls, emails, chats, or any other type of customer “intended” interactions that a business expects to receive within a specific period. AHT, on the other hand, represents the average time an agent spends handling a customer interaction, including talk time, hold time and after-call work.

What is the appropriate data to consider for call volumes? It’s a common mistake to mix up incoming traffic with handled traffic. Handled traffic is influenced by the number of staff available, not by the actual number of incoming calls that need to be addressed. If future staffing is planned based on the volume of calls handled, there’s a risk of understaffing. This risk is especially high if the company has previously experienced low service levels.

Another common error is confusing the total number of incoming calls with the number of unique customer inquiries. Consider Sophia’s situation as an example. She calls her internet provider during her lunch break but hangs up after waiting without getting through. Later, she calls again and, this time, connects with an agent. In the company’s records, this appears as two separate calls. However, in reality, Sophia only had one issue that needed addressing, and the agents only worked on her problem once. Technically, this scenario involves one abandoned call and one redial. For planning purposes, it is correct to count this as a single call.

And what about AHTs? Is that easy to get? In our experience, companies generally get that right for calls, although sometimes they forget to count “after-call work”. Emails or tickets are a bit more challenging to get. Surprisingly, for some, relatively rough estimations often work better than software and data-driven ones in asynchronous contacts. For instance, agents sometimes have a counter-active when an email is in front of them active on their screen. But being in front of the screen doesn’t necessarily translate into actively working on that case. Perhaps multiple cases are open simultaneously. It’s good practice that any output from cutting-edge technology should be tested against a “rougher” calculation.

Without considering Shrinkage, how many agents’ hours were active that day? 100. And how many tickets did the agents handle? 200. Then 100/200 = 0.5 hour. The “rough AHT” is then 30 minutes. If there’s a significant discrepancy between this basic calculation and the figures from the counter, something might be off.


5 Steps to Calculate Contact Center Staffing Requirements


1. Forecast Volume

The first step in calculating staffing requirements is to predict the future volume of intended customer interactions. This is known to be very challenging as many factors need to be considered: seasonality, special events, change in routing, etc. Tools like CCforecast can be highly beneficial.

2. Estimate AHT

The next step is to estimate the AHT for the projected volumes. Again, this can be done by analyzing historical data. The estimation should also consider the company goal. Are you actively taking measures to reduce the AHT per contact? When is that AHT goal realistically going to be reached? Will seasonal patterns still add variability to that ideal AHT? Advanced tooling can also help you here.

3. Calculate Net workload

This represents the pure workload derived from customer contacts before considering factors like breaks, training, and other forms of non-productive time.
Once you have the forecasted volume and AHT, you can easily calculate this number by multiplying the volume by the AHT. Daily forecast of 100 calls and AHT of 5 minutes. 100 x 5 minutes = 500 minutes = 8.3 hours.

4. Calculating Gross Workload

This is the net workload plus safety. Safety is a strategic provision designed to handle ‘unexpected but expected’ fluctuations in incoming contacts. By including safety, the contact center ensures it has the flexibility and capacity to manage higher-than-anticipated call volumes without compromising service level and to handle periods when the volume is lower than expected.

Its calculation is complex and depends on the type of contact. The most straightforward approach is to increase the net workload by a certain percentage. However, this method can be imprecise, as the appropriate percentage varies widely – from as low as 2% to as high as 100%, depending on the volume size and the presence of multi-skilled agents. Advanced systems can be employed for greater accuracy, ranging from the basic Erlang C algorithm to more sophisticated options like Erlang X or a tool like OmniSim, an advanced simulation-based algorithm. OmniSim is particularly effective in multi-skilled environments. Accurately executing this phase is crucial for developing a precise staffing plan.

5. Add Shrinkage to get Staffing Requirements

Shrinkage is the fraction of paid time an agent is unavailable to take calls because of holidays, (paid) breaks, etc. When planning for an entire year, the calculation is relatively simple. You might typically use a fixed shrinkage number—many European service industries factor in a rate of around 40%. But remember, it’s not just a simple matter of gross workload times 1.4. We often explain this in our training.

For closer-range plans, say around three months in advance, it’s advisable to consider the shrinkage curve. Factors like holidays play a significant role in Shrinkage, necessitating a higher rate for holidays like summer and end-of-year.

When it comes to the actual scheduling of agents, you need to be more precise, considering various elements like training, breaks, and meetings. Manual calculations are complex and prone to errors, especially if you’re using Excel. Hence, more sophisticated tools, like CCschedule, might be required.

Final remarks

Understanding how to calculate staffing needs, especially by analyzing each step of the WFM process, is essential for contact centers. The chosen approach significantly impacts customer satisfaction and the organization’s overall success.

This overview is not comprehensive. For a deeper dive into content center staffing and management, we encourage you to explore our other blog posts, participate in our webinars, and attend our training sessions. These resources offer knowledge and insights to help you navigate the complexities of contact center operations.

Additionally, tools like CCforecast, CCschedule, and Omnisim can be incredibly helpful for those looking to refine their workforce management strategies and achieve these goals. To learn more about these tools and how they can benefit your organization, feel free to fill out our contact form.

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