Tips for benchmarking call center metrics

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Where can I find industry standards for call center metrics to benchmark our center against others?

Measuring and understanding metrics is a major challenge for call center managers, and many are looking for industry standards or benchmarks to track their success. Unfortunately, according to call center expert Lori Bocklund, there are no agreed-upon industry standards for call center metrics. However, experts agree on some of the most important metrics that call center managers should be monitoring, and there are valuable guidelines and best practices to follow for each metric.

While there are no standards for call center benchmarking, Prosci's study of call center operations or Benchmark Portal's resources can be helpful guidelines.

Read about some of the most important call center metrics below and find tips and guidelines for your call center metrics strategy.

Industry standards for average hold time (AHT)

Average hold time is considered the average speed of answer for a call or time in the queue before being answered. To reduce average hold time, experts recommend the following options: staff up to meet demand, offer more or better self service, or reduce handle times through improved processes, training, system enhancements, or other changes.

While there is no specific industry benchmark for average hold times, Prosci's report can be useful for this metric and others.

Industry standards for call blocking rate

While blocking calls is typically something to avoid in the call center, there are some circumstances where it is unavoidable and even acceptable. The easiest example is extreme peaks, such as when tickets go on sale for a popular concert. In these cases, callers don't expect that they will get through every time, and it would be very difficult and expensive for the call center to have staff to meet that peak demand. Call centers can also communicate with callers about peak call times, which can help flatten call peaks.

To determine if you should use blocking to even out peaks, you will need to evaluate your callers and their expectations, as well as your business strategy and your competitors, your other performance metrics and other factors about your products and services, in order to make the best decision.

Industry standards for cost per call or cost per contact

Unfortunately there is no industry average for cost per outbound call. Call center managers must consider many factors when it comes to calculating cost per call – wage rates and call handling times are considered the most important, but things like overhead costs, technology, telecom/network costs, etc., also play into the cost per call. 

Cost per call (CPC) is certainly a measurement of efficiency, but can reflect other things as well. You need to consider it in the context of your business goals, and your initiatives based on those goals. There is no single "right" way to calculate cost per call, but it should be calculated consistently using the same factors in order to make an accurate comparison about cost per call over a given time period.

Industry standards for customer satisfaction (CSAT)

Customer satisfaction is an important measure of call center and overall business success, and it is a vital method of feedback for process and product improvement. There are some key things to keep in mind when measuring customer satisfaction scores. First, a customer satisfaction survey should be focused on the call center/customer interaction (not overall products/services) and is tied to a call center contact. CSAT is often measured by an in-house or third-party survey, which can allow for more impartial results.

There is no specific set of questions to ask in a customer satisfaction survey, because it varies for different kinds of retailers and businesses. By narrowing the list to a few questions, call center managers are much more likely to get lots of customers to answer those very few questions than you are to get lots of customers to answer lots of questions.

Industry standards for forecasted calls vs. actual calls

Accurately forecasting call volume is critically important for call centers, because it helps determine the appropriate amount of resources required. Forecast accuracy is crucial and it can directly drive the cost of labor and impact the customer experience (proper forecast leads to proper staffing and good performance).

In order to calculate forecasted calls vs. actual calls, telephone distribution systems (ACDs) and workforce management (WFM) systems can work in conjunction to provide comparisons of actual call and contact volumes received and staff required with what was forecasted and projected. This metric is usually monitored and measured at multiple levels – interval, day, week, month.

Industry standards for forecasted average handle time (AHT) vs. actual AHT

Accurately forecasting the length of calls (average handle time) is another critical component for determining the appropriate amount of resources required.

In order to calculate forecasted AHT vs. actual AHTs, take the anticipated handle time multiplied by the "amount of calls that need to be handled” to determine the staff you will need to meet call volume. Many ACD systems track and report ATT, ACW and total AHT.

Some call centers need to adjust handle times based on seasonality, or even by day and time. The best way to assess this is to look at historical data and see how it changes. Call center forecasting should take into account historical data and patterns.

Industry standards for number of calls offered (and abandoned calls)

The number of calls offered to a queue is also an important metric to help determine the amount of staff needed in the call center at a given time. Some call centers will consider the total number of callers seeking service (before reaching an IVR or recorded message), while some will consider the total number of calls that were available to be answered by the queue (post-IVR selection and recording). It is important to differentiate exactly when an organization is counting a call as "offered."

More resources on call center metrics

Listen to a short podcast on average handle time (AHT) for the call center

Download this PDF for an at-a-glance view of the top 10 most important metrics

Read guidelines for designing a call center metrics strategy that works

There is no set industry standard on either the abandon rate time or whether to include it, however; this is a decision each center must make. Most call centers consider abandoned calls as negative, but most call centers have some level of abandoned calls because callers can hang up for a variety of reasons beyond being tired of waiting – for example, they realize they've dialed the wrong number, or are interrupted or get another call so decide to call back later. Abandon rate is a function of many factors, as Brad Cleveland's book Call Center Management on Fast Forward points out. While there are no industry standards, many companies operate in the 1-3% abandon rate very successfully.

Industry standards for occupancy/ utilization

Occupancy – or utilization – is the amount of time a call center agent spends on a call or completing post-call work, and it is a key factor to examine in workforce management. The workforce planner and managers should be accountable for occupancy. This is considered a "big picture" metric which provides a high-level snapshot of how resources are being used. An 85% occupancy rate means that 15% of the CSR time is available and waiting for a call. Occupancy will generally be lower for smaller groups and higher for larger groups.

Some things to keep in mind about measuring occupancy:

  • Occupancy is a group, queue or center measure, since individual call center agents cannot control their own occupancy levels. This metric is a function of forecasting and staffing, the workload offered by the calls and handle times.
  • Higher occupancy rates do not always correlate to increased productivity. Call center agents can generally handle short bursts of increased activity, but sustained high occupancy can lead to burnout and turnover.
  • Rather than considering this metric on its own, consider call center occupancy along with other factors such as overall productivity, error rates, quality scores and employee satisfaction.

Industry standards for quality monitoring scores

Quality monitoring scores can be expressed as a numerical grade or percentage value. They are most commonly used to determine individual customer service representative (CSR) performance, but this metric is also used in aggregated scoring at the team, center, and enterprise levels.

Best practices for quality monitoring include developing objective metrics and providing feedback to the agent as soon as possible following observation. According to call center expert Donna Fluss, there are a variety of reasons and regulations that drive call centers in a variety of industries, particularly financial services companies, to record their calls for quality management purposes.

Industry standards for scheduling adherence

Scheduling adherence is the total time a call center agent is available for call work, divided by the time they are scheduled expressed as a percentage. This is used to ensure that agents keep to their schedules. For some centers, adherence will include breaks and other time off the phone (often referred to as "compliance").

This metric is often used in a high volume or large call center where it is difficult to easily monitor agent activity. There are tools that can help with scheduling adherence, including workforce management (WFM) systems. Some centers will differentiate adherence (amount of time) with compliance (specific times), the latter being more detailed and rigorous time tracking.

Generally, absentee levels in the call center can run between 5% and 10%, with lower numbers in a more stable workplace. In today's workplace, probably 7-10% is a good mark. Some days, such as Mondays, easily run 15%. This can also vary depending on the company culture and policies, etc.

Industry standards for service level

Service level is a common method for measuring the service to a particular queue or call type, and it is an important measure of customer experience. It can also be used for performance and workforce planning.

There are no industry standards for service level, and each call center must determine its own target, considering factors like their business strategy, customer expectations, competition, cost and alternate contact channels, amongst other things. A typical target would be 80% of all calls answered within 20 seconds. Find out more about defining service levels in Brad Cleveland's book, Call Center Management on Fast Forward.

Note: This tip is a compilation of advice from various experts on our site.

View the next item in this Essential Guide: Designing a call center metrics strategy or view the full guide: A guide to call center metrics

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