old phone, off the hook
PHOTO: Alexander Andrews

Contact center operations are dynamic. Workloads randomly arrive in any center that handles customer-initiated contacts. This, coupled with the reality of how queues behave, means that agents who are helping manage the workload affect service level — in a good way — far more than they may realize.

Contact Center Staffing Levels and the Power of One

handling time

Service level is bad with 30 agents — just 24% answered in 20 seconds. With one additional agent, things improve dramatically: service level jumps to 45%, which still isn't great, but almost twice as good. Average speed of answer drops from 209 to 75 seconds. Occupancy goes down, from 97% to 94% (that might not sound like a big drop, but it feels a lot better).

Yes, one person makes that much of a difference for customers and the rest of the team. (This principle is referred to as "the power of one.") Adding one more person yields another big improvement. But as you can see in the table, there's an inflection point where adding agents doesn’t help much, because service is already good. That's when you get into the law of diminishing returns.

Related Article: Controlling Contact Center Costs the Right Way

How Contact Center Staffing Levels Impact Customers

customer delay

If you have 34 agents handling contacts, 65 customers are waiting five seconds or longer. Seven customers reach agents in the next 5 seconds, so 58 are still waiting 10 seconds or longer. Another six customers reach agents in the next 5 seconds, leaving 52 waiting 15 seconds or longer, and so forth. There’s still one customer waiting 180 seconds, and no customer waits more than four minutes.

It’s a very different story, however, if there are only 30 agents handling calls. Dozens of customers are waiting four minutes or longer. The results look far better when just one additional agent is added.

Just remember, when queues back up, every individual makes a big difference. Each person has a significant positive impact on customer wait times — which goes far beyond the customers they serve directly. Knowing about these dynamics helps agents understand why schedules are a big deal and why schedule adherence matters.

Related Article: What Happens When Customer Support Works From Home?

How Your Business Can Harness the Power of One

Experienced customer service employees will correctly point out that the power of one also has a qualitative aspect. Just consider the ripple effect of customer reviews or publicity (good or bad) that can come from any interaction. An American Express study found that consumers tell 21 others on average about a poor service experience. We’ve all seen videos of bad experiences that have made the social media rounds. And positive word of mouth builds powerful brands. When you give a good customer service experience, you’re creating a powerful marketing force for your company.

The power of one principle is as important as ever, given ever-expanding contact channels and heightened customer expectations for quick and easy service. My encouragement is to keep it front and center with your team.

Here are some of the steps organizations are taking to reinforce the power of one. Think through how you could approach them with your team.

  • Educate each person on how much impact he or she has on the queue — and incorporate these or similar scenarios into training.
  • Develop reasonable expectations for adherence to schedules, and explain the reasoning behind those expectations.
  • Educate everyone on the core steps involved in forecasting and resource planning, so that they know how schedules are produced and where they come from.
  • Provide real-time queue information to agents on readerboards, desktops or phones.
  • Develop appropriate priorities for the full range of tasks that your team handles and guidelines for how to respond to evolving conditions.