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10 Contact Center Operations Management questions – how well do you do?

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International No Comments

In this post, I share 10 Contact Center Operations Management questions for Contact Center leaders who want to gauge their mastery of specific Contact Center know how required for successful operations management.

Because while passion and experience are helpful, Contact Center know how matters too.

A bit of background on the Contact Center Operations Management questions

Managing a Contact Center is a business discipline.  It requires very specific know-how. And when I teach Contact Center operations management I cover four modules:

  1. Managing Wait Time
  2. Creating Efficiency
  3. Forecasting the Workload
  4. Contact Center University

The questions presented below are in multiple choice format and are drawn from the Contact Center management workshop I’ve run around the world for over 20 years.

Read through each question and choose the answer that you think is correct – that’s either a, b, c or d.  There is only one correct answer for each question.



The 10 Contact Center Management Questions

1.  Which accessibility metric gives management the clearest indication of the wait time a typical caller experiences?

a) Average Speed of Answer

b) Service Level

c) Percent Abandoned

d) Percent Answered


2.  Which of the following is the industry standard Service Level?

a) 80% answered in 20 seconds

b) 90% answered in 30 seconds

c) Industry standards only exist by industry (finance, hospitality, healthcare, etc.)

d) There is no industry standard


3.  When managing the queue in real-time, which of the following real-time reports should you look at first?

a) Agent status

b) Longest current wait

c) Number of calls in queue

d) Average time to abandonment


4.  Which of the following statements is/are TRUE?

I. Occupancy is the percentage of time agents spend talking to customers or completing After Call Work.

II. Occupancy is a result of random call arrival.

III. When Service Level increases, Occupancy increases.

IV. When Occupancy is extremely high for extended periods of time, Agents tend to work harder to clear out the queue.


a) II only

b) I and II only

c) II and IV only

d) I, III and IV only


5.  Which one of the following statements is true about Adherence to Schedule?

a) Adherence to Schedule measures the actual login time of an Agent compared with the scheduled login time.

b) The percentage of time Agents spend waiting for calls to arrive is the inverse of Adherence to Schedule.

c) When Adherence to Schedule increases, Utilization increases as well.

d) Within the context of Adherence to Schedule, login time does not include time Agents spend in After Call Work.


6.  If an Agent arrives 30 minutes late to work at a Contact Center, which of the following actions would benefit the Center the most? Assume the Agent is unable to consult with his/her Team Leader on the most appropriate action.

a)Stay 30 minutes extra at the end of his/her shift.

b) Skip his/her morning and afternoon breaks, each of which is 15 minutes.

c) Come back from his/her hour lunch break 30 minutes early.

d) Take his/her breaks and lunch as normal and leave at his/her scheduled time.


7.  Which one of the following statements is FALSE?

a) Measuring the number of calls handled by Agent is a good productivity standard.

b) Adherence to Schedule is typically an important productivity measure for a Contact Centre Agent handling Service Level-based contacts.

c) When Adherence to Schedule improves Service Level improves as well.

d) Most of what drives the Average Handling Time lies outside the control of the Agent


8.  The best definition of Time Series forecasting is:

a) A method where the past is a good basis for predicting the future

b) A method which is only used in rare circumstances

c) A method that covers the qualitative side of forecasting

d) A method that does not require judgement


9.  Your Call Centre supports email and is expecting 200 email messages to arrive between 9:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. The Average Handling Time of email messages is 8 minutes.  Your promised response time is 4 hours.  Assuming the Agents can work uninterrupted on these email messages only, which of the following staffing scenarios would meet your response time objective for these email messages?

I. 4 Agents working from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

II. 9 Agents working from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

III. 14 Agents working from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.

IV. 40 Agents who each spend at least an hour working on email from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.


a) II only

b) III and IV only

c) II, III and IV only

d) I, II, III and IV


10.  Which of the following are ‘factors’ you need to incorporate in a monthly Agent labor budget?

I. Is my Agent in the building?

II. What is the monthly weighted average Occupancy rate?

III. Is my Agent on a break?

IV. Is my Agent on leave?


a) III only

b) I and II only

c) I, II and III only

d) I, II, III and IV


Would you like to know how you did?


If you’d like to know if your answers are correct I’m happy to help.

I’ve intentionally gone ‘low-tech’ here.  There’s no need to register anywhere, set-up an account or pay to access answers.  Your name won’t be added to a mailing list unless you give specific permission for it to be added.

Once you’ve answered all the questions just drop me an email to [email protected]

Let me know the question # and the answer that you chose (either a,b,c or d).  Remember there is only one correct answer for each question.

You can use the following format in your email to me:

  1. a
  2. d
  3. c
  4. c (and so on for all the questions)

I always do my best to answer quickly and let you know which ones you got right and what the right answers are for the one(s) you got wrong.

Of course taking a few specific know-how questions won’t fully reflect the experience and effort that have gone into your Contact Center management work.

But it helps to know that it takes more than passion and experience to succeed in the industry.

And it’s the folks who have that know how, combined with their passion & experience, who create great outcomes for their Center.  And that’s good for everyone.

Good luck with the questions!

Daniel Ord

[email protected]




What Conway Twitty taught me about Agent resilience

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International No Comments


In this short article I share how the popular country music Artist, Conway Twitty, taught me a life-long lesson about Agent resilience in the Contact Center.


What do I mean by Agent resilience?

Here’s a useful definition of resilience –

the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, toughness.

Because given what’s going on in the world now, Contact Center folks at the Frontline are going through a lot.  Changes in work environments, work from home protocols, stressed Customers, stressed Bosses.

So while the topic of resilience is always relevant, it has a special resonance right now.


The background

Early in my career in the 90s, I was Vice President of Call Centre & Distribution Operations for Heartland Music.  Based in Los Angeles, it was the job that got me into the Contact Center & Customer Experience industry.

Heartland ran TV commercials and mailed out catalogues to millions of Customers across the US.

TV commercials and catalogues that featured titles like ‘All the Elvis Presley’ hits you need to own or the ‘Top 100 Love Songs’ of all time.

Customers then called into our Contact Centers to place orders which we packaged and shipped from our own warehouses.  And of course we provided Customer Service as well – anything from suggestions on what titles we should stock to ‘where is my order ‘enquiries.

It was a big and growing business.


So how does Conway Twitty fit into Agent resilience (and who was he?)

Country music was a big part of our offerings.  And country music fans were generally sweet, loyal and supportive.

And though it sounds a bit macabre, whenever a popular Artist that we carried passed away, there would always be a marked and sudden upsurge in sales for their work.

That’s still the same case today – though it’s reflected these days by increases in streaming figures vs. how many ‘units’ were sold.

And an Artist passing way was an event that a Workforce Manager couldn’t really plan for.

We relied on our own internal back-up plans and a strong committed Agent workforce to get through most of our unexpected surges.

But Conway Twitty was the surge to end all surges.

An American country music singer, he also recorded rock and roll, R&B and pop music. And he received several Country Music Association awards for duets with Loretta Lynn – another beloved country music star.

I don’t remember which day of the week it was, but when I entered the office, our Operations Manager made a beeline straight for me.

‘Dan, Conway Twitty died.’

That’s all Frank had to say.  We’d both been around enough years to shorthand the conversation.

The volume of calls in the Center had already picked up and we knew we were only at the beginning.

CX lessons we can learn from the Contact Centre industry

Six weeks later

I’m not exactly sure why Conway Twitty was different.  But we were now six weeks into the surge and his sales were still going up.

Great for business but not so great for our Agents.

Occupancy was through the roof, hours got longer, and admittedly a few people started to get edgy.

And while we were dealing with normally sweet country music lovers, long wait times and out of stock situations put them on edge too.  Meaning even more frustration for our Agents to deal with.

It ended up being about a 3-month period overall.  Much longer than the normal two or three week ‘lift’ that we had seen before.


And here’s what I learned about Agent resilience

My Operations Manager said it to me first.

‘Dan, they’ll be ok. Do you know why?  Because they know there is light at the end of the tunnel. 

What to look for when you hire a new Contact Centre Manager

The light at the end of the tunnel

If you’ve been a fair boss,  you communicate honestly, and you have a management team that’s aligned to the purpose – it’s amazing what your people will give back to you.

And I’ve seen them give back for a year and even more (in some cases).

But the real caveat for Agent resilience is that there is light at the end of the tunnel.  You must be very open & honest about what you’re doing to bring things back to ‘normal’.

Even if what normal looks like coming out doesn’t look exactly like the way it did when going in.


Thank you for reading!


[email protected]

What to look for when you hire a new Contact Centre Manager

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International 1 Comment

In this article I share what to look for when you hire a new Contact Centre Manager.

Our scenario – you need to hire a new Contact Centre Manager

Let’s say you’re the new Chief Customer Officer and you need to hire a new inbound Contact Centre Manager for your existing 200 seat Centre.  You’ve been given a mandate to implement a CX strategy and you have a small CX Team at hand.

You don’t come from the Contact Centre industry yourself.  But as a CX professional you understand the value of the Contact Centre.

Your overall business is in good financial shape though the Centre has been somewhat neglected for the past few years.  And tech-wise the Centre has the basic building blocks though there’s room for improvement.

You’ve learned from past experience that the number of years of experience held by the Contact Centre Manager doesn’t correlate to mastery of the job role.  You need someone who ‘knows’ the Contact Centre – not just someone who has spent a lot of time in one.

So the essential question is this – what do you look for when you hire a new Contact Centre Manager?


The key domains of know-how required

The job of a Contact Centre Manager is a rich and full one.  And that’s because there’s a lot to know to succeed.

I recommend the following key domains of know-how when looking to hire a new Contact Centre Manager.  Or when you’re looking to upskill a current Manager or Management Team.

1.  Operations & Technology

Includes Centre design, forecasting the workload, calculating staff and resource requirements, selecting the right metrics and ways to measure those metrics, understanding the interrelationships between metrics, understanding the underlying dynamics of the Centre, channel management and the ability to articulate the impact of business decisions on the operation.

In this domain I’d include essential & evolving technology knowledge.  That’s because of the significant impact any technology choice has on the operation with cascading impact on Customers, Employees & the Organization itself.

When I’m asked which domain should come first in the hierarchy I always recommend Operations.  That’s because so much of what happens in a Centre, from how people are managed through to how Customers experience the Centre, flows from strong operations management practices.

How to use the True Calls per Hour Calculation in the Contact Centre

2.  People Management (or the broader ‘Employee Experience’ if you prefer)

This domain includes organizational design, strategic resource planning, hiring & selection, retention & attrition management, training & development, performance management, compensation & incentive strategies, coaching and employee engagement, satisfaction & motivation, career & skills pathing and succession planning.

In this domain, I’d specifically include the design and implementation of the monitoring & coaching process.

For organizations that are evolving into Employee Experience – a big topic today – I’d recommend adding those competencies to this domain.

3.  Leadership & Business Management

From a leadership perspective, this domain includes competencies around the vision, the mission, values (or principles) and development & execution of strategy in the Centre.  It also includes how to build healthy cross-functional relationships and put the Centre front and center on the organizational radar screen.

From a business management perspective, this domain includes the ability to make credible business cases, calculate Contact Centre budgets, calculate ROI and understand change management project management.  I’d add that it’s vital that the Contact Centre Management bring strong financial and analytical skills to the job role.

In my experience, very few Centre Managers have a strong grasp of how to correctly calculate a Contact Centre budget.

If I were conducting a hiring exercise for a Contact Centre Manager I’d ask the candidate to walk me through how they budget for a Centre.  You’ll learn a lot about how much they know (or don’t know) about a Contact Centre operation.

4.  Service Management 

Service Management is the art & science of delivering value to Customers through any channel or combination of channels.  Often times the Contact Centre is at the heart of the Service Management function.

Service Management includes know-how around developing and implementing a Service Delivery Vision, the selection & definition of relevant Quality standards, Quality assurance practices, Customer research practices including service monitoring, Customer communication strategies and the nurturing of a service culture.

And of course it includes a strong & practical understanding of the specific service and relevant sales skills for each channel in use.

The skills for handling a Customer email are different than those for handling a Customer live chat for example.  Omnichannel service requires a different approach than multi-channel service.

And yes – your ever evolving mastery of what are commonly called ‘digital’ channels goes here as well.  That incorporates chat, messaging and to some degree even chatbots as there should be a solid bridge between chatbot-assisted and Agent-assisted service.

I think some folks confuse Service Management with Customer Experience Management.

Service Management very specifically relates to Customer interactions with the brand.  It’s a subset of the overall Customer Experience.

Customer Experience includes product, pricing and every single aspect of the organization from the way the bill looks to how fresh the chicken is in the restaurant.   It’s so much more than a call to the Contact Centre.

With that said, let’s look at the last domain of know-how – Customer Experience Management.

What I learned running 60 classes on CX values and Culture for one Client


5.  Customer Experience Management 

There is a ‘real’ Customer Experience Manager job role out there.

And the Contact Centre Manager role is not that role.

The Contact Centre Manager job role – by its very nature – only involves some subset of all Customers (never all Customers), at some point of time (not all points in time) in that specific Customer journey (not all Customer journeys).

If it was really true that the Contact Centre Manager job = the Customer Experience Manager job then why not rebrand every Customer Experience Manager as a Contact Centre Manager?

Because that’s what’s implied. It would have to work both ways to be true.

So you honour the Contact Centre profession when you keep the phrase Contact Centre in your job title. Not when you decide to jump on the rebranding of everything as CX bandwagon.

Sure – the Contact Centre has impact on those Customers who experience that touchpoint. But it’s not the same thing as the perception the Customer has of the entirety of their experience with your brand.

Once you get that – and master your understanding of and contribution to the overall CX – you become a better Contact Centre Manager.

So after that big build up, what does the Contact Centre Manager need to know about CX?  From my perspective, the more the better.

But we need to be careful here.

While having our Contact Centre Manager understand CX as a business discipline is important and helpful to our CX efforts, let’s remember the Contact Centre Manager already has a full-time job.

Just relook at domains of know-how we covered so far.

So it’s likely that much of the actual ‘work’ of CX will be done by the CX Team.

That’s because the CX Team is in the best position to handle activities like VOC research, developing the CX strategy, cross-functional journey mapping. implementing organizational accountability measures and the like.

The CX Team has a higher elevation across functions as well as a broader mandate.

I think that in real life, the Contact Centre Manager has a lot to learn from the Customer Experience Manager with regard to CX.

And I think that the Customer Experience Manager has a lot to learn from the Contact Centre Manager as well.  The Customer Experience Manager will benefit from the rich experience, know-how and Customer insight residing in the Contact Centre.

Ultimately, both roles will work closely together for the benefit of the Centre and the Organization.

CX lessons we can learn from the Contact Centre industry

You don’t have a CX Team?  I see that all the time.

Then it’s likely that you have a ‘Service Quality Team’ or variation.  As is implied in the name, a Service Quality Team tends to focus on service – including research and analytics, high level complaint management and targeted improvement efforts across the organization.

But again – avoid confusing a Service Quality Team with a Customer Experience Team.  The mandate and activities are different – as well as the scope of authority.

For Contact Centre Managers (or anyone) that wants to develop competency in Customer Experience – I recommend the CXPA 6 Competency Framework as a basis.

In that framework, the essential domains of knowledge for CX are CX Strategy, Voice of Customer, Experience Design, CX Metrics & Measurements, Governance and Customer-Centric Culture.

To those domains I add Maturity Analysis & Implementation Strategy as well because I think that’s important.

10 CCXP Exam Practice Questions for Customer Experience Strategy


Of course there’s more to consider

Of course when you’re selecting your Contact Centre Manager you will also look at their past track record of success and their ‘characteristics’.  Such as how well they seem to ‘fit’ your culture.

But know-how is an obvious and critical component in the selection process.  And it often takes a backseat to how much ‘experience’ the candidate has.  That’s definitely the wrong way to go.

The key to success will always be KNOW-HOW + EXPERIENCE with DEMONSTRABLE SUCCESS.


In closing

I hope this article has been helpful.  It’s a big nut to chew on for sure.  And each heading and domain could be an article or set of articles on its own.

But I hope the high level overview is useful for you.

Thank you for reading!


With one foot planted solidly in the Contact Centre industry (29 years!) and the other foot firmly planted in the CX industry I have the ability to connect the dots for people in the Contact Centre that want to understand CX and for folks in CX who want to understand the Contact Centre.

I’m one of 6 Trainers in the world designated as a Recognized Training Provider by the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA) and I help people learn more about CX and prepare for their CCXP Exam.

[email protected]









Do your Agents really talk too much?

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International No Comments

In this short article I talk about Agent KPIs in the Contact Centre.

“But Dan…if we don’t have an Average Handling Time target the Agents will talk too much.”

That’s what so many Team Leaders tell me in classrooms.

But I’ve never yet met an Agent who says, “Dan…I go to work and make sure I talk a long time to everyone.”

So where’s the disconnect?

For a lot of Team Leaders it comes down to justifying the KPIs set by management. Because if the big bosses say we have to keep Agents from talking too much there must be some truth to the belief that Agents will talk too much if you give them the chance.

Usually when you dig a little deeper with the Team Leader you find that it’s one person that’s ‘talking too much’.

Not everyone.

So that instance can be analyzed and fixed.

When you set KPIs across a majority population just to catch a few outliers you end up creating barriers to great performance.

Folks in the Centre talk more about what not to do vs. the important work of what to do.

If you really want to know how important Customer Experience is to a Contact Centre – don’t just listen to what the Centre management says. Look at the KPIs they ask their Team Leaders to ‘bring out’ in their Agents.

That’s where the real story lies.

Why are you still talking about Average Handling Time?



Image by Suju at Pixabay.


How to use the True Calls per Hour Calculation in the Contact Centre

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International No Comments

In this article I share how to use the True Calls per Hour calculation in the Contact Centre.

We get into a bit of advanced operations here.  But it’s something that Contact Centre leaders should know and be able to use.


When you hear folks talk about Contact Centre productivity they’re usually talking about the Agents

Usually when we hear people talk about productivity they have their finger pointed firmly at their Agents.

“How can we get our Agents to be more productive?” they ask.

When we ask “What do you mean by productivity?” the most common answer is –

“How can we get the Agents to handle more calls or live chats per hour (day/week)?”

But Quantity Handled per Agent is and always has been a problematic measure

Productivity in a Contact Centre is not about how many calls or chats are handled.

This measure – when directed at Service Level based contacts – has always been problematic.

There are very real mathematical realities at work that put the number of calls or chats handled outside the direct control of the Agent.

When you stop and look at it, the key factors that drive contact quantity up or down per Agent include:

  • The Service Level set and its resulting Occupancy rate
  • The health of the Forecasting, Staffing, Scheduling & Real Time Management process at the interval level
  • The size of the Queue at any given time (known as the Pooling Principle)
  • The undeniable mathematics of random contact arrival (which is why we have Erlang C)

What you need to know about the Pooling Principle in Contact Centers

For Centres that have sorted this out and no longer target Agents on quantity handled – congratulations.

You’re well on the way to enhancing Agent and Customer Experience.

But let’s pause a moment.

Ok Dan (you might say).  Got it.  We don’t (or won’t) target Agents on Quantity Handled for Service level based contacts.  

But for planning, comparative and high level management purposes is there some way we can analyze the quantity handled across different shifts, cities and even countries?

Well I’m glad you asked.

Let me show you how.


The True Calls per Hour calculation

When I teach this in workshops, I like to use the example of making pizzas in a Pizza outlet.

See if you can answer the question posed in the picture below for our fictional Pizza Palace company.


What makes this difficult to answer is that our Delhi outlet is busier than our Chennai outlet.

Perhaps our Delhi outlet is located on the ground level of a busy mall while our Chennai outlet is off the beaten track in a low traffic area.

But we can’t possibly hold Prachi or Sangeetha accountable for how busy (or not) their outlets were – they’re not in the Sales & Marketing Team.

They were hired to make pizzas.

Got your answer?

Ok – let me show you how we normalize the figures so that we can compare them fairly.


In order to correctly compare both Prachi and Sangeetha, you take what they actually ‘did’ (in this case how many pizzas they made) and divide that by the Occupancy rate they experienced during that time.

Once you normalize the data as you see above, we can calculate the ‘rate’ at which both of these people are working.

The use of the word rate is important.

Prachi is working at the rate/speed of 25.3 pizzas per hour.  In other words if her Occupancy rate had been 100% this is how many she would have made.

Sangeetha is working at the rate/speed of 28.3 pizzas per hour. In other words if her Occupancy rate had been 100% this is how many she would have made.

So we can now compare both of our pizza chefs on the same basis because we have factored out the impact of the different Occupancy rates.

That’s how the True Calls per Hour calculation works.

Just substitue calls for pizzas.


But could we have a problem?


Typically at this point in the discussion the topic of Quality comes into the picture.  How good (or not) the pizza looks & tastes.

What we don’t know (or haven’t figured out) yet

What we don’t know in this exercise (at least so far) is the appropriate or best rate at which we should be making pizzas.

Because we want Customers to come back again. And if we don’t give Quality – then what we’re doing is pointless.  We’ll never run a sustainable pizza business.

Studies must be done

Fast food companies are well known for conducting very scientific time & motion studies on how many can be ‘done’ and still deliver the required level of quality.

Contact Centres could learn from their example.

It is very likely that Pizza Palace has conducted in depth time and motion studies.

For purposes of this article let’s assume that they discovered that a pizza chef operating at the rate of 22 – 25 pizzas per hour was ideal.

The required quality standards were achieved without any obvious pick up or loss in productivity.

Now that we have a viable quality range to look at, we can draw some conclusions about the pizza chefs in this story.

Prachi is probably ‘doing fine’.  She’s operating at the upper end of the range and is within range.  But we should still taste her pizza now and then for quality assurance purposes.

On the other hand, Sangeetha is operating outside of the range – and on the high side.  We’d better go taste her pizza to ensure quality hasn’t been compromised.

Of course, if someone looks like they’re operating outside the range and on the high side it could be either:

a) they are in fact working too fast (and thus Quality falls – such as the taste of the pizza)

b) they’ve discovered some kind of process or quality innovation that should be studied and replicated across our other chefs

The best Contact Centres

The best Contact Centres don’t target Agents individually on the quantity of contacts handled (for Service Level based contacts – that caveat must always be there).

But when they want to conduct comparative quantity analyses they use the same normalization technique we used in this story for pizzas.

Some of the conclusions I’ve seen Clients come up with using this technqiue include:

  • For Ireland/Germany/Singapore (name your market or city) we know that on a Saturday afternoon shift the right rate of call handling that delivers on quality is about 12 – 15 calls per hour
  • Our night shift Team calls per hour achievement will always be lower than our day shift Team calls per hour achievement
  • The true calls per hour rate for Japan will always be lower than our calls per hour rate for IndiaWe know that if we see variations in the rate we need to explore the underlying reasons (conduct root cause analysis) and not just blame Agents or push them to go faster

Notice that none of these learnings had to do with targeting individual Agent calls handled.


Why are you still talking about Average Handling Time?

In conclusion for True Calls per Hour

If you seek to compare the rate of contact handling for different times of day, for different shifts, for different cities or countries or across a time period – an educated implementation and use of True Calls per Hour calculation can help.

It’s an advanced operations technique – for advanced Centres – but very powerful.

Thanks for reading!


[email protected]

Public Programs

How to help your Contact Centre Team Leaders do better

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International No Comments

In this article I share some ideas on how to help your Contact Centre Team Leaders do better.

Common barriers to Team Leader success

The Contact Centre Team Leader has arguably the most important job in a Contact Centre.  Their actions or inactions directly impact productivity, quality & culture.

But the cards tend to be stacked against their success.


As with any Pareto scenario, I think a few reasons account for most of the challenge:

  1. Senior Leadership sets or pursues the wrong KPIs
  2. Team Leaders are always busy but don’t know how to allocate their time to achieve results
  3. What made someone a great Agent doesn’t readily translate to making them a great Team Leader
  4. The job role requires endless conversations – but they don’t happen often enough or well enough
  5. There’s a fundamental lack of structured know-how for the Team Leader to draw on to make decisions

The mix and relative impact of these barriers varies from Centre to Centre.

So let’s look at each barrier along with some related suggestions.


1. Senior leadership sets or pursues the wrong KPIs

I see this challenge all over the world.  A lack of essential Operations know-how.

Chasing incorrect KPIs or KPIs that actually compete with each other.

The only way to close this gap is to ensure that the senior leadership in charge of the Centre has expressly mastered Contact Centre operations.  That most often happens through participation in formal external workshops or certification programs.

Don’t count on experience alone.  I hear that all the time as in “She’s an experienced Contact Centre Manager.”

Experience matters.  But success requires experience + know-how.

One Client I worked with globally established an in-house ‘certification program’ after adopting the various principles and practices learned via external training.  Their in-house certification ensures that what they learned about operations gets codified into their business practices across dozens of Centres.

Delivering on Productivity, Quality & Culture is the big part of the Team Leader job.

So it’s important that Centre leadership be clued in to how Centres ‘work’ and how to define and set appropriate Productivity and Quality measures for Frontliners & Team Leaders.

That’s not always the case.

How to help your Contact Centre Agents improve their Performance


2.  Team Leaders are always busy – but busy doing what?

I remember in my VP Operations days I had a Team Leader come into my office.

“Dan, I’m so busy…”  so I asked “OK, busy doing what?”

We then set about finding out the answer to this question – busy doing what?

To this day one of my favorite exercises in a room of Team Leaders is to conduct a time & motion study – across a typical week – of where their time goes.

The 5 Categories of the Team Leader job role

When I conduct a formal Team Leader time & motion study, I use 5 different categories to categorize and then analyze where their time goes.

  • Developing their staff
  • Supporting their staff
  • Doing administrative & management work
  • Developing themselves
  • Other roles such as taking on the role of committee head

I ask each Team Leader to consider everything they do, estimate a weekly time spent on each activity and then slot each activity into one of the 5 categories.

Then we sum up the time for each category and share the results on a whiteboard for everyone to see.

When you talk to Team Leaders (and their Managers) they all say that they spend a lot of time developing their staff – coaching, performance appraisals, developmental conversations.

But when the numbers are laid out – Team Leader by Team Leader in black and white – that’s not usually how it plays out.

What the results tell us

I’ve had time & motion sessions where we learned that nearly 50% of Team Leader time spent was spent on administrative & management work.   Is all this admin work really valuable?  Could some it be redesigned, reassigned or even eliminated?  I worry about turning Team Leaders into admins.

When it comes to personal development I tend to see 0% of Team Leader time spent in a typical week.  You can shout lifelong learning from the rooftops all day – but check out how many hours in a typical week your Team Leaders really learn something.   It’s an eye opener.

Another common opportunity that pops up is to help Team Leaders figure out if they’re offering too much Staff support. 

My definition of Staff support is helping the Frontliners to do their job.

Handling too many escalations or fielding the same questions over and over means the Team Leader is doing the Agent job for them.  And that takes away the Team Leader’s time for Staff development.

Sure – Staff support will always be intrinsic to the job.

But time invested in Staff support – over and above a tolerable minimum – isn’t going to move the Team forward.

Another interesting trend has popped out during these time & motion sessions.

Sometimes, when Staff development hours look low, we uncover that Team Leaders avoid having developmental conversations with their staff.

Not because they don’t see them as important.  But because they lack the self-confidence to coach or have those important people management discussions.

That can be addressed.

When you coach you’re either helping or keeping score

3.  Great performance as an Agent doesn’t readily translate into great performance as a Team Leader

It’s an irony of the Contact Centre ecosystem that the knowledge, skills & attitudes of a great Agent don’t readily translate into the knowledge, skills & attitudes required of a great Team Leader.

If you consider that the job of a former great Agent is to replicate their personal success across other people you can see what they need to know and be able to do is quite different than before.  Their job role becomes about ‘them’ – not about ‘me’ anymore.

There’s also a bit of psychology at play here as well.

We all like to do what we’re good at.

So sometimes the new Team Leader spends an inordinate amount of time handling escalations and engaging in Staff support – because that’s where their formery mastery lay.

Defusing angry Customers and using their product, systems and organizational know-how.

But as we covered earlier, Staff support – though an intrinsic part of the job role – doesn’t move the performance dial forward.

So evaluate your Team Leader hiring criteria on what it takes to be a great Team Leader.  Not on the fact that this candidate was a great Agent.

When I’m hiring for Team Leaders I always ask myself these questions:

1.  What are the specific competencies across knowledge, skills & attitudes I need from a new Team Leader hire?  And what are the minimum existing levels of each competency to be considered for hiring?  I have to be realistic here because – at hiring – nearly no one will come with all the competencies expected nor at the levels expected for a professional Team Leader.

2.  What is my defined developmental roadmap to raise my Team Leader competency levels  – across the identified competencies – to expectation within the next 6 months or year? 

I think a lot of Contact Centres struggle with this.

There seems to be an assumption that the Team Leader can just somehow pick this all up on the job.

Or perhaps it’s inertia – doing nothing is just easier than doing something.  Hope as a strategy.  I’ve been guilty of that one.

One common scenario involves corporate learning & development departments.

Contact Centres are unique and specialized environments.  Trying to graft generic service or people management or leadership training onto the Contact Centre delivers mixed results at best.  Because it’s not specific enough to the environment in which these Team Leaders operate.

More on competencies soon.

Funny things Contact Centre Managers ask their Agents to do


4.  Team Leaders need to have lots of great conversations

If the Agent job role is to have great conversations with Customers, then the Team Leader job role is about having great conversations with the folks that they lead.

What kinds of conversations?  Wow – there are a lot – but they can be learned.

I like to cover them in people management & coaching courses.

Here is a list conversations that are specific to the Contact Centre environment and which are most often conducted by Team Leaders:

  • Praise
  • Gratitude
  • Something ‘good’
  • Something ‘not so good’
  • It’s not getting any better
  • Transaction coaching
  • Performance appraisal
  • Team reviews
  • One on one reviews
  • Boss as Leader
  • Boss as Person
  • Boss as Manager
  • Things you don’t talk about (the un-conversation)

Each of these conversations is triggered by an event or is pre-planned into a calendar.  For example Team & One on one reviews and many coaching sessions tend to be pre-scheduled while Praise or Something Good conversations happen when the Team Leader either observes something or learns about something.

As you might have figured out – most of these conversations fall into the Staff development category we covered earlier in this article.

But when Team Leaders are ‘too busy’ – the first category that gets ‘cut’ is Staff development.  Exactly the category which typically needs more time spent – not less.

How Team Leaders can talk like Leaders


5. Team Leader know-how

The Contact Centre environment is complex.

I think that’s why folks like me – who fall into it by accident –  end up making the Contact Centre and Customer Experience, a life’s passion.  There’s only ever more to learn and it’s super interesting stuff.

It’s not easy.  But Tom Hanks says that it’s ‘the hard that makes it great’.

If you want to equip your Team Leaders to succeed you need to consider equipping them with know-how across these domains:

  • Contact Centre Operations – there’s simply no excuse not to equip Team Leaders with operations mastery
  • Monitoring & Coaching – this process is key to driving Quality, FCR, Employee Engagement, Customer Satisfaction and CX strategies
  • Leadership & Engagement – what does leadership look like as a Team Leader?  How can a Team Leader use proven engagement models in their Centre?
  • People Management – for me this is about having those great conversations with the people who work for you at the right times and in the right way
  • Customer Experience – if your Centre promotes itself as fulfilling the ‘Customer Experience’ your folks deserve training on what it is (and it’s not Customer Service)
  • Self-Management – stress management, personal fulfillment, working through change – these are life skills

When your Team Leader is able to bring out the best Productivity, Quality & Qttitudes of the folks that work for them that translates into better results all the way around for you.

Thank you for reading!

Contact Centre KPIs & The Green Jaguar












Implementing appropriate Contact Centre Wait Time Metrics

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International No Comments

In this short article I talk about implementing appropriate Contact Centre Wait Time Metrics and strategies.

It’s not about the know-how – it’s about implementing that know-how

I’ve been teaching advanced Contact Centre operations for nearly 20 years.  And there’s a lot of knowledge to pick up.

So I thought it might be helpful to share some implementation tips to help Contact Centres take their know-how and bring it to life.  Because at the end of the day it’s not the know-how – it’s the implementation.

In this short article I’ll address Contact Centre Wait Time metrics and strategies.

In future articles I’ll address other aspects of operational implementation including KPI selection, forecasting and quality.  I can envision a mini-series here.

One other note – this article is written for those who’ve been through a rigorous operations course.  So I’m speaking directly to those equipped with the know-how.  If you’ve not been through a rigorous operations course I hope you find this article helpful to some degree.

And if you find yourself saying you don’t agree, or you don’t understand – that’s usually because of a lack of know-how, not a lack of intelligence, passion or desire.

In this industry we simply don’t know what we don’t know if we don’t make a concerted effort to fill the gaps in our know-how.

Now on we go.

Wait Time Metrics

For Customer contacts that you’ll handle in 60 minutes or less you’ll use Service Level.

For Customer contacts that you’ll handle after 60 minutes you’ll use Response Time.

Because of the confusion around Service Level and related Wait Time metrics let’s hold off on Response Time measurements for a future article.

As operations experts know – the way you define, measure and plan for performance between Service Level & Response Time contacts is completely different and it doesn’t do either justice to ‘mix them together’.


Service Level

1. Ok first things first – set your Service Level

You’ve got to set a Service Level for your Centre.  No Service Level?  Then it’s time to set one.  Because you can’t plan and staff to a moving or non-existent target.

If you’re using an ACD you’ve got to be using Service Level – it’s that simple.

Remember there is not an industry standard for Service Level.

What works for Organization A is not going to work for Organization B.

Even within a single organization you may find up to a dozen different Service Level objectives depending on the nature of that Customer queue and the types of Contacts handled.

Because Service Level is a major driver of your labor budget, it is typically reviewed annually – at the normal annual budget cycle.  Avoid changing your Service Level frequently – that will make life difficult for everyone.

Annual reviews – with the right mix of senior Participants – works well.


2. Ok – now decide what interval you’re going to use for measurement

Service Level performance is always measured on an interval basis.

Typically at 30 minute intervals but if your contacts are long then at the 60 minute interval basis.

If you have a very small Centre or Queue – with just a few Agents – an hourly or even shift basis may be enough for you.

But if you have a larger Centre or Queue  you should be measuring to the 30 minute interval. Very large Centres and those that pursue a significant cost efficient strategy measure down to the 15 minute interval.

If you’re only reporting a daily or weekly average – for example to give to the bosses – you’re going to have to add an additional set of internal measurements & reporting around intervals.

Because the Customer Wait Time experience, the Agent Occupancy experience and your best bet for cost efficiency live within interval management – not with daily or weekly (or heaven forbid) monthly averages.

Some Centres use a green/amber/red system to indicate interval performance across a day.

For example, you have run a 24 hour operation and you measure down to the half hourly interval you have 48 intervals to ‘get right’.

So define what a green interval looks like.  For example Service Level performance of 90% or above = green.  And carry on that logic for amber and red intervals.

Imagine how easy it is to look at a color coded representation of your Service Level performance that day by interval.  How many greens?  Ambers?  Reds?  Where do patterns emerge?  Because you can only fix what you can find.

And use cool graphical representations of Service Level performance to share with everybody in the Centre. It takes everyone in the boat, rowing in the same direction, to achieve Service Level.

It shouldn’t be a secret – it should be displayed everywhere.


3.  Choose a Service Level calculation formula

A lot of folks don’t realize that there are at least 4 different formulas out there to calculate your actual Service Level performance.

And that this formula has been input into your ACD.

So the question is always this.  Do you know what your formula is?  Are you happy with it?  Is it consistent across the organization to allow for some level of apples to apples comparison?

It’s an important decision.

Average Speed of Answer

Are you using Average Speed of Answer?  If so, why?

If you have an ACD, Service Level is the best and key metric to measure the Customer Wait Time experience.

Leading Centres don’t use ASA because it is an outcome of Service Level performance.  If Service Level goes down where does ASA go?  It goes up!

Learn to chase drivers – not outcomes.  Fix a driver and you automatically fix an outcome.

Where does ASA come into play?

Well it’s in the Erlang B calculation to calculate how many trunk lines you need for your Centre.  But that’s automatic.

And admittedly it’s easier to graph using ASA vs. Service Level.  Simply run Erlang C for your desired Service Level, identify the outcome ASA figure (let’s say 12.7 seconds) and use that for graphing.  It’s ‘equivalent’.

But if you have an ACD and you’re using ASA as a target or important metric stop, pause and ask yourself why.

It’s very ‘Jurassic Park’ and was in use in the days before ACDs were commonly installed.


Longest Wait Time

One Customer is going to experience a ‘Longest Wait Time’ even when you’re achieving your interval based Service Level.

Firstly – everyone should know what that is.  Because even if you’re achieving your 80/20 or 90/10 or 50/40 someone is going to wait a long time.

There are often widely different wait time experiences for Customers within a single half hour interval.  It’s good to be aware of that.  Particularly if you survey Customers on their wait time experience.

Lastly – and perhaps most importantly – whoever is reading your Readerboard and making decisions based on that data MUST know the Longest Wait Time for that interval.

The Longest Wait Time is an important piece of data for interpreting your Readerboard and making smart Service Level recovery decisions.

Fortunately Erlang C helps us calculate that piece of data for each and every interval.

And just like ASA, Longest Wait Time is an outcome of Service Level.  If your Service Level goes down your Longest Wait Time goes up.

But as I mentioned before – don’t chase outcomes, find and fix the driver(s) – in this case Service Level.


Abandonment Rate

There’s a lot of confusion around this metric.

Clearly, Centres that generate revenue – such as food orders or hotel reservations – care a lot their Abandonment Rate.  But they address that ‘care’ by setting very high Service Level objectives.  That means that Customers get answered so quickly they hardly have time to abandon – though of course an Abandonment Rate still exists.

For non-revenue generating Centres – and that’s most of them – Abandonment Rate is an outcome.  An outcome of Service Level.

If Service Level goes down, it is likely (though not assured) that Abandonment Rate will go up.  Or when Service Level goes up, it is likely (though not assured) that Abandonment Rate will go down.

Smart Centres see Abandonment Rate as an outcome.

So rather than targeting it they examine it.  When do most people abandon?  What intervals experience higher or lower Abandonment Rate?  When do we play our delay announcements?  Should we move our announcements around?

Because Abandonment Rate is a human behaviour – not a mathematical behaviour.  It lies in the hands of the Customer.

We’re in control of (drum roll please) Service Level.  When we’re achieving Service Level by interval we’re accomplishing our mission. We’re delivering a consistent Customer Wait Time, Agent Occupancy and Organizational promise experience.

Trying to chase abandoned calls is like trying to catch a greased pig at the county fair.

Getting a handle on Abandonment Rate in the Contact Centre


Service Level (again)

I like to say that Service Level has a Driving License and the other metrics are all passengers in the car.

So if Service Level turns left – they all turn left.  If Service Level turns right – they all turn right.

You get the idea.

And if it helps remember that there are only 3 drivers of Service Level for any interval.  They are:

  • Contact Volume
  • Average Handling Time
  • Agent Capacity

If you’re struggling to achieve Service Level for any interval or set of intervals your root cause lies within one of more of these 3 variables.

More articles on Operations soon and thank you for reading!










Contact Centre KPIs & The Green Jaguar

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International No Comments

In this short article I share the true story of my former boss, her green Jaguar automobile and how they taught me lessons about Contact Centre KPIs.

The background

Back in the early 90s I landed my first VP Operations role running Call Centre & Warehouse operations for an American entertainment company.

I had not come up through the ranks.

I was the VP Finance and I was offered the VP Operations job after the existing VP Operations resigned.

So I went straight from numbers, financials & analyses to operations.

At that time we didn’t have easy access to reliable Call Centre training – especially in operations domain.

The entire management team, including my boss the Executive VP, had to figure out how to run a large and growing Call Centre without any formal education or background in the industry.

Call Centres are very unique environments and cannot be understood purely from an intuitive or gut level.

There are some very real and complex mathematical realities which need to be mastered to perform well.

But I didn’t know those lessons and my boss at the time most certainly did not either.

We built our Los Angeles-based Call Centre from the ground 

One of the milestones of my career was watching a brand new Call Centre being built from the ground up.

Engineers were consulted, building crews were brought in, technology folks began to install, people began to be hired and it was all very exciting.

The Centre was located in a small beach town about 20 miles from the company’s chic and shiny Santa Monica based headquarters.

That gave our pioneer team a sense of independence and also some welcome distance from corporate ‘politics’.

My boss – the Executive VP

My direct boss was a life-long record company executive.

She stood about 6’1” (186 cm), wore big statement jewellery and could do multiple currency calculations in her head.

I loved her but feared her just ‘enough’ – others feared her more.

Every year she also got a new company car – and in the year our Centre went live it was a shiny green Jaguar sedan.  Gosh I loved that car.

Our new Centre was a single story building with glass windows all around.  That allowed us to see cars pulling in and out of the driveway.

And soon you will see how important this was to this story.

When the Centre opened

Our formal launch day was set.

And about 3 days beforehand my boss called me and asked if she could drop by on opening day to see the live operations.

She wanted to see people taking calls and experience what she and the Board had ‘gotten’ after spending so much money.

My answer was of course – yes, come on over.

Was there really a choice?

This is when things got a bit messy

One of the lessons I share now in my training is never let your boss walk unescorted through your Call Centre.

It’s too easy to draw incorrect conclusions based on what you see – a lot of what goes in a Centre is actually invisible!

But I let her go unaccompanied out into the Centre and here is what happened.

Armed with a little notebook, she walked around and observed each and every one of the 60 or so Agents we had in place at launch.

If the Agent was talking on their headsets or typing on their keyboards she was pleased and walked on by.   If they weren’t doing anything she wrote down their name on the notebook.

When her 6+ foot frame appeared in my doorway, she wasn’t very happy.

“Daaaaan” she drawled in her Southern accent, “You’ve got a big problem.

“You’ve got a lot of lazy people out there not doing anything.  So your interviewing skills must not be all that great.  And I’d say you’re also overstaffed.

“If you don’t fix this we are going to have a serious problem – do you really think we’re made of money?”

With that, she turned, went out, got into her car and drove back to Santa Monica.

A surprise visit

A week later, at about 10:00AM, the Receptionist ran into my office and blurted out “She’s here, she’s here!”

She had spotted the green Jaguar pulling into the front drive through the windows.

So I did what any fast thinking VP Operations would do.

I ran out to the floor, grabbed the first 3 Agents I could reach and said “You, you and you, sign off and go hide in the pantry!”

As they ran around the corner in walks my boss.

She looked at me for a moment and then strode right into the Call Centre floor.

And what did she see?

Here’s what she saw

As any good Call Centre person knows, when I pulled through 3 folks off the phone, the Occupancy rate for all the remaining folks immediately shot up.

Welcome to the Power of One.  Everyone was either talking or typing.

She wandered around the Centre for about 20 minutes in total and this time I made sure I went with her.

As she headed back to the front lobby she turned to me and said “Good”.  She then walked out, got into the car and drove off.

Here’s what was really happening 

You need to know more than just the individual definition and purpose of each KPI.

The most interesting part about Contact Centre KPIs is how they interrelate and interact with each other.

Contact Centre KPIs aren’t just dials on a dashboard to be monitored and tracked in isolation.

Why are you still talking about Average Handling Time?

So I came up with what I call ‘The Chicken Dance’ – based directly on the story of my boss and her green Jaguar.

And this has always been one of my favourite teaching moments.

To do the Chicken Dance, you start by raising your arms up so that they are parallel to the floor.

Ok here goes –

When I pulled the 3 folks off the phone – the Service level went down (flap down).

That means the Occupancy went up (flap up).

– Quality potentially began going down as the call queue grew (flap down).

– Abandonment rate likely went up as the call queue grew (flap up).

– Available time for the Agents went down (flap down).

– In the short run AHT might go down but as time goes by AHT goes up (flap up).

– Customer Satisfaction with wait time goes down (flap down).

-and # of Calls Handled per Agent went up (flap up) – but not because they were more productive!  Because we were understaffed at that time.

I dedicate The Chicken Dance to my former boss in Los Angeles

Since I introduced the Chicken Dance in my classes way back in 2003, thousands of people have sat in a training room or hotel conference room and watched me perform the dance.

I think that this has been a fun and useful way to convey the complexity inherent in Call Centre operations.

Operations training doesn’t need to be dry and boring.

It should be interesting and useful and be easily linked to the Employee experience and the Customer experience as well.

People should be able to ‘speak’ its unique language with ease.

So in closing, I dedicate the Chicken Dance to my boss with the green Jaguar.

And I thank her for the wonderful 8 years I had working with her and gaining such wonderful experience that I share with students to this day.

Thank you for reading!