How to Optimize Contact Center Agent Utilization: A Complete Guide

TechSee's guide to using visual tools to improve call center agent utilization

Call center agent utilization rates matters as much to the customer experience as it does to your business metrics. People who call into your organization with questions, concerns, or comments need prompt attention and issue resolution in a manner that is both courteous and informative. While conversations about agent scripts, technical knowledge, and assistance options matter, agent utilization and productivity is the foundational metric to track and improve when it comes to getting the job done right.

A report by HDI shows that when call center agent utilization rates approach 60–70%, the contact center will experience high attrition because they are pushing agents too hard. Managers therefore need to seek creative solutions to increase productivity without overworking their employees.

Once you understand the definition and scope of this term, it becomes clear that agent utilization indicates everything from workplace efficiency to customer engagement. Learning how to improve this metric will translate into improvements across the board. First, understand what agent utilization is and how it differs from agent occupancy.

Call Center Agent Utilization vs. Agent Occupancy

The difference between utilization and occupancy involves, at its most basic, business vs. work capacity.

Call Center Utilization

Call center agent utilization measures the percentage of an agent’s productive time out of their total time available work hours. If your firm uses field service agents, technician utilization is another metric that works the same way. The total work hours may include things like meetings, coaching, and even non-scheduled breaks.

Call Center Occupancy

Agent occupancy, on the other hand, includes only the time spent on customer service calls and while performing any call-related duties. These may include logging information in account databases, reviewing other types of communications such as emails or messages, and managing support tickets – depending on their specific job descriptions. Occupancy is shown as a percentage of active work time vs. idle time or non-call-related activities.

Call Center Utilization Rate Formula

The mathematical agent utilization rate formula is the percentage of utilization for a single agent divided by the total time spent on calls with their total work hours. For example, assume that each customer service call takes five minutes, and an agent is conducting 60 calls over the course of their working day. Therefore:

Call Center Agent Utilization Rate

Note: a certain amount of non-utilization times is critical, as agents need break time, development time etc. Furthermore, running a call center at peak service capacity will inevitably result in poor customer experience as demand fluctuates. Optimizing towards peak productivity and while delivering the optimal CX is always a balancing act.

Many organizations assume a base of 7 or 7.25 rather than 8 working hours better reflect their expected productive capacity. For the sake of simplicity, we left this as a base of 8 hours.

The agent utilization rate for this individual is 62.5%. Once we better understand this metric, we will appreciate how to improve it and why it is so critical.

The Significance of Agent Utilization Metric

The productive efficiency of call center agents contributes to everything from a high ROI to brand reputation. Since customers and clients value quick and efficient answers and assistance, a high agent utilization rate should be one of your team’s top priorities. This information not only shows the time per customer, but also the cost per customer for quality service.

It is important to temper increased expectations from call center agents with reality and healthy workplace practices. These may backfire and decrease efficiency instead. You do not want to improve your reputation as a fast and efficient customer service provider while decreasing brand trust due to labor complaints. More than any other time in history, consumers and business contacts are focused on a myriad of operational choices rather than their own personal benefit. Therefore, tweaking agent utilization rates higher only works to a point. 

Call Center Utilization Rate Benchmarks per Industry

Understand the industry-specific benchmarks to define your targets when making changes. Across all industries and niches, averages for single call times hover around six minutes. Average global levels hover around 50%. Of course, this differs greatly depending on whether your agents offer technical assistance, have complex processes they help customers through, or primarily answer quick questions about product orders or service scheduling. Furthermore, many call centers have found that smarter visual engagement, such as collecting images or videos of the issue before transferring to an agent, as well as offering live video support can substantially reduce average call handling times, especially in these more complex scenarios. 

What is Currently Hurting Your Agent Utilization Rate?

Low or diminishing the call center agent utilization occurs for a wide variety of reasons. These include technical issues with the equipment, telecommunications services, and online access, visual engagement tools such as those mentioned in the previous section, skill and ability issues with the agents themselves, and personal issues including pressure from excessive expectations. You can improve all of these to increase your agent utilization rates in a healthy, productive, and service-focused manner.

Technical Issues

If your systems, utilities, or databases operate slowly or have frequent errors, it will be impossible for even the best agent to increase their speed. These delays lead to poor customer satisfaction overall. Financial investments in better infrastructure and equipment may help. Often, investment in digitizing and improving infrastructure results in better visibility into other performance issues, opening the door for far wider optimization. 

Communication Deficiencies

Deficiencies in communication or lack of procedural understanding also reduces an agent’s ability to help callers quickly. First, ensure that all agents understand and speak clearly in the target language. Next, re-work scripts if applicable and cut out unnecessary fluff that only wastes time. Provide agents with the tools to communicate visually through live video and augmented reality overlays to allow them to more effectively understand issues and guide customers. Finally, provide additional training for off-script capabilities. Call center agents frequently come up against unexpected situations, and they need to know how to handle them immediately if you want a higher agent utilization percentage.

Inefficient Knowledge or Understanding

No matter how robust phone or chat services are on their own, the people on opposite ends of the conversation still lack the ability for absolute clarity. For example, field agents and in-office help have different repositories of knowledge. Different experience levels affect mutual understanding, and diverse employment practices like outsourcing require different training strategies. The common problem with other agent service options is that there is no visual element. As the easiest and most effective way to share information, adding a visual element to these and other interactions bridges the gap. Furthermore, adding a computer vision or artificial intelligence solution on top of this visual engagement platform can guide agents to the optimal resources, allowing them to better support customers. 

Personnel Challenges

Personal worker issues specifically related to the job minimize efficiency due to excess stress and worry. Expecting an 80% utilization rate, for example, puts the focus on speed rather than service. Any part of business operations put under too much pressure will not work optimally. Of course, this includes the people you employ or outsource to.

Call Center Agent Downtime

Aside from necessary breaks, employees spend a significant amount of time on activities other than handling calls, such as: team meetings, training, assisting other agents or departments.

Agents must also spend time on after-call work (ACW), which includes tasks such as, logging the call’s purpose and outcome, writing notes on actions taken, scheduling follow-up activities, updating the company’s internal knowledge base.

Often referred to as shrinkage, these activities are vital to the overall operation, but take agents away from their primary task of handling calls. Finding ways to reduce after-call work in a call center is an obvious way to free up more time for agents to handle calls but should be managed prudently as most of these activities are vital to a company’s long-term success.

Best Ways to Optimize Agent Utilization in 2022

Sufficient infrastructure, technical tools such as visual engagement solutions, appropriate training, and a supportive atmosphere all lead to improved agent utilization rates while providing a wider set of benefits to the team overall. However, to make this actionable, your leadership will need you to be very specific in the changes or improvements you want to make. In 2022, the most effective ways to improve call center metrics include offering more and better types of communications, improving self-service options, and offering visual assistance.

Visual Assistance

Visual assistance not only allows for face-to-face communication between the caller and the agent, it also uses augmented reality to show the customer the solution to their problem. Similarly, integrated computer AI solutions can guide agents towards the right assets and knowledge, so they can better support the customer. This greatly increases understanding and minimizes confusion, especially when handling complex or technical issues where customers may have a limited vocabulary or familiarity. Here are several ways in which visual assistance improves call center agent utilization:

Call Center Metrics

This technology is positively impacting efficiency KPIs as well as customer and employee satisfaction rates.

Call centers using Visual Assistance have seen double-digit improvements in First Contact Resolution (FCR) rates, Average Handle Time (AHT), agent engagement and satisfaction (ESAT), as well as in customer satisfaction metrics such as NPS, CES and CSAT.

Download this eBook to discover our KPI data findings from Techsee’s client network 

Knowledge Sharing

A knowledge base is one of a call center’s most valuable assets, yet most are plagued with poor usability. In fact, over 70% of employees say that they have difficulty finding and accessing the information they need to do their jobs effectively.

Visual Assistance provides a much needed boost to the knowledge base, creating a comprehensive visual resource for customer service reps, enabling them to quickly find an effective resolution using an image provided by the customer. The Visual Assistance provider begins by converting the company’s existing data into a visual format and uses Deep Learning AI to constantly expand and optimize the knowledge base.

Agents play a vital role in contributing to the visual knowledge base during their ACW. If an agent determines that a device replacement is required, instead of writing up a lengthy report explaining the decision, they can simply save an image of the broken or defective device to the system. Often, agents may deprioritize ACW in order to meet their time-based metrics, but with Visual Assistance, ACW becomes quick, easy and rewarding, bringing down AHT.

Training

Employee training is one of the most time-consuming “shrinkage” activities that takes agents away from customers. Reducing training time, on the other hand, will lead to poorly trained agents who could wreak havoc on customer satisfaction and overall productivity.

Visual Assistance provides an excellent solution to the training dilemma. During the initial training process, agents can see live issues in real environments, enabling them to grasp concepts more quickly. Since training is always an ongoing process with new call center training technologies constantly being released, the visual database allows agents to effectively learn on the job, reducing shrinkage and improving productivity at the same time.

Collaboration

A collaborative work environment allows agents to draw on shared knowledge and resolve customer issues more efficiently. But constant team meetings can be a serious time drain, significantly reducing call center agent utilization.

Collaboration through Visual Assistance reduces the need for traditional time-consuming meetings. Agents are constantly contributing to the visual knowledge base and even communicating with each other in real time, once again performing a shrinkage activity at the same time as the productive work of handling calls.

In cases where the issue cannot be resolved over the phone, agents must usually dispatch a technician to make an on-site visit. However, miscommunication can leave technicians inadequately prepared for the visit. With Visual Assistance, the agent provides an image of the issue, ensuring that the technician brings all the right equipment and parts, and alerting them to any access problems or potential dangers. This visual solution allows departments to communicate with each other in a language that everyone can understand.

Self-Service Options

While phone calls remain one of the most popular customer service access methods, text messages, online chat bots, and interactive voice response (IVR) phone systems provide additional options for busy consumers. These solutions often use AI systems to assist and gather information later used by the call center agents more efficiently. The creation of a bespoke digital interaction process through both self-service and “hands-on help” creates a seamless flow that increases both customer satisfaction and agent utilization rates. In 2022, we are seeing a number of innovators expanding their self-service to include AI powered, automated, visual guidance, either as a standalone flow or as part of a chat bot of knowledge base interaction.

Boosting Call Center Utilization While Optimizing Occupancy

Contact center managers, like customers, demand value for money and therefore aim for high levels of agent productivity. However, pushing agents too hard leads to burnout and employee turnover.

The emergence of visual assistance and self service technologies accelerate digital transformation and adoption to drive call center productivity while avoiding employee burnout. These technologies are not just restoring balance to the complex call center environment in a way that satisfies managers, agents and customers alike, but also enhance operational metrics and brand loyalty.

Jon Burg, Head of Strategy
For the last 15+ years, Jon Burg has led the product, product marketing and strategy teams at a number of enterprise technology leaders, including Bringg, AppsFlyer, Wibiya and Conduit. Jon currently serves as the Head of Strategy within the Marketing Team at TechSee.

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