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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 workshops 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]




Getting a handle on Abandonment Rate in the Contact Centre

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International No Comments

Recently, a Call Centre benchmarking report made the rounds, stating that the industry standard  average abandonment rate was 12%.

It could have said 22%, 2% or even 82% and the report still wouldn’t have been that helpful.

But it was the long thread of comments that struck me.

The tone ranged from mild annoyance – “This just can’t be…The sample size is too small…How do they calculate…” – through to the kind of responses you’d expect from an extinction level event and return of the dinosaurs.

“They should all lose their jobs!…You have to be where your Customers are!…Off with their heads!”  (ok that last one was mine).

If your Centre generates revenue – you can stop reading now

Clearly, if you’re in the revenue generation business – abandonment rate matters – a lot.

We had a Client in the hospitality business that calculated that every 1% increase in abandonment rate represented a potential US$1,000,000 in lost hotel bookings worldwide.

So if you’re DHL, a major hotel chain or even McDonalds delivery – and your Customers still call you to place orders – you have to care.

But if you’re in Technical Support or Customer Care, the importance of Abandonment Rate on the overall performance dashboard is secondary at best.

You are invited to read on.

The best & primary metric to measure the Customer’s wait time experience?  Service Level

Mastery of interval based Service Level performance is where your control lies.

The process for planning and managing Frontline resources to ensure consistent wait time experiences for Customers is well understood and well documented.

Whether you’re 90/10, 80/30 or 70/160, having the right number of people in the right place at the right time is the objective.

That’s how organizations plan for and manage labor cost as well as deliver a consistent Customer experience for wait time.

Intervals matter

Most mid to larger Centres plan, staff and manage down to hourly, half-hourly and even 15 minute intervals.

If the Service Level goes down during any interval – let’s say from 10:00 – 10:30 in the example shown here – the Customer wait time during that interval increases.

And as Customer wait time increases – that’s likely to have an impact on the Abandonment Rate for that interval.

Makes sense doesn’t it.

If I don’t perform to my Service Level objectives then my Customer Wait time goes up, and my Abandonment Rate will likely go up too.

In this situation, you don’t have an Abandonment Rate issue – you have a Service Level issue.

When your Service Level life is good

Operations professionals know that when interval-based Service Level is well managed, there are significant positive impacts across Quality, Engagement and the Customer Experience.

And when your Service Level objectives are being met – interval after interval – then my inner operations guru reminds me that Abandonment Rate will be what it will be.  

Abandonment Rate flows from a combination of your Service Level performance – which is in your control – and your Customer behaviour – which is not.

Let’s make one point very clear.

An accurate discussion on Abandonment – whether yours or that of others – has to be predicated on the understanding that interval-based Service Level objectives are being met.

If they’re not being met, then you need to have an entirely different conversation.

I’m not sure that any of these ‘benchmarking’ studies makes that prerequisite clear.  And that limits their effectiveness.

Back to revenue generating Centres for a moment

If you’re in revenue generation you have to care.  Abandonment costs potential revenue.

But what the smart folks in revenue generation do is set very high Service Level objectives.

Then they work hard to meet them interval after interval.

95/5, 90/10, 100/15 – this level of Service Level objectives is typically associated with revenue generating Centres – or those that deal with life & death or mission critical issues.

Sure – more Staff will be required.

Through the use of ‘incremental revenue analysis’, the additional cost of labor is calculated and measured against revenue gained through the reduction in Abandonment Rate (via quicker answering times).

That was a mouthful.

Customers & Abandonment rate

For non-revenue generating Centres we need to consider – what are the drivers of Customers hanging up before reaching the Agent?

Here are some common drivers:

  • Degree of importance – how important is it for me to get this done ‘right now’?
  • Time available to waitam I calling from work where my time is limited?  Or am I calling from the comfort of my easy chair when I’m home?
  • What other options do I have?can I get what I want from the website?  Perhaps the mobile app?  Did you share an alternative method on your delay announcement?  
  • What kind of mood am I in?Relaxed? Impatient?  Calm? Anxious?
  • What are my expectations?  – Am I a VIP?  Is this a premiere line?  Do I hold some special status?

When I work with Contact Centre management in classes I ask – “Is Abandonment Rate a mathematical behavior?  Or is it a human behaviour?”

Invariably, they answer correctly.

Abandonment Rate is a human behaviour.

It lies in the hands of the Customer – what they want or need at that moment, their mood, their options, their expectations.

What I can control is how well I plan, staff and manage to meet my Service Level objective interval after interval.

What I can’t control is their mood, their unique expectations, what options we offer for digital self-care.

But you do have a viable option

If you are still unhappy about the ‘level’ or number of abandoned calls you receive – you can choose to raise your Service Level objective.

Go from 80/20 to 90/20.

Do the delay profile analysis against abandonment rate patterns to see how many abandons you can possibly do away with.

I’ve even seen Centres proactively raise their Service Level objective for certain intervals across the day.

You just have to ask yourself a classic trade-off question.

Is the increased cost of my labor pool justified by the reduction in Abandonment Rate? 

Or more generically:  Does the benefit exceed the cost?

Not a simple question to answer – but absolutely the right question to ask.

Let’s get formal about it

There are a lot of metrics in a Centre – and some great ways to look at how to classify them and understand their inter-relationships.

Formally, Abandonment Rate is best classified as a secondary measure of Wait Time.

Wait Time:  Because along with metrics like Service Level, Response Time, Longest Wait Time and Average Speed of Answer, Abandonment Rate reflects wait time.

Secondary:  Some metrics are drivers, some metrics are outcomes.   Abandonment Rate is an outcome of the ‘driver’ of Service Level.

You can’t achieve a Service Level objective and an Abandonment Rate objective at the same time – simply because one is a driver and the other is an outcome.

You tell me you can?  That you are?   That you have been for some time?

Then you’re just lucky.

The targets set just happened to work out.  There’s nothing scientific going on here.

What interests me more

The most mature organizations – again in Customer Care & Technical Support – look at Abandonment Rate this way.

They say things like:

  • Wee don’t target Abandonment Rate – but we study it.
  • We look for and find patterns to Abandonment Rate – we know which intervals across the day tend to experience higher or lower rates of abandonment when achieving Service Level.
  • We don’t just study how many abandons we get, nor even the percentage – we like to study the distribution.  Do most hang up in the first 15 seconds or so?  What percentage of abandonment comes after 3 minutes (for example) vs. less than 3 minutes?
  • We’re experimenting with our messaging to understand if our messages contribute to abandonment (which can be good!) or if we need to change the timing or positioning of such messages to try and influence abandonment.

Agents & Abandonment rate

No – your Agents don’t control Abandonment rate – sorry but that’s just silly.

When you use accepted practices to calculate and schedule the number of Agent you need in place to achieve a predetermined Service Level and those Agents are actually there, logged in and part of Capacity – they’re contributing to Service Level performance. 

I met a Client some years back, that intentionally managed their Centre based on Abandonment Rate as a primary metric – not Service Level.

But focus groups with Middle Management and the Frontline revealed the level of extreme stress these folks experienced.

Because you can’t plan and staff to Abandonment Rate – it’s driven by Customer/human behavior.  And that behaviour that fluctuates from interval to interval, day to day.

So they operated like a fire-fighting outfit – chasing constant flare-ups in abandoned calls.

How stressful.  And ultimately not the right way to achieve Customer Experience.

In closing

One of the most important tenets of Customer Experience is to deliver a consistent experience.

In the Contact Centre, Service Level (and Response Time) are the best measures of delivering a consistent wait time experience.

Smart operations folks know not to chase outcomes – but to work on the drivers.

Abandonment Rate is a secondary measure of Wait Time.  It flows from Service Level performance.

And when you’re meeting what you can control –  the Service Level performance – the abandoned calls you get are reflections of Customer/human behaviour.

They change from interval to interval, day to day, month to month and year to year.

If you’re not happy with the level of abandoned calls you receive, you can raise your Service Level completely – or just select certain interval where abandonment happens most often.

Not all abandoned calls are bad.

If a Customer chooses to hang up and use one of my self-care or digital options that can reflect success in my digital uptake strategy.

As long as I’m not ‘pushing’ the Customer to digital self-care by providing a poor Wait Time experience (Service Level).  That’s clearly not ok.

Lastly, the Frontline job is hard enough, and getting harder.  Don’t layer on an abandoned calls objective or target on your Frontline.

It’s not only inappropriate from an operations standpoint – it makes the job of human to human service unnecessarily more stressful.

Thank you for reading!


[email protected] / www.omnitouchinternational.com



















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

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International No Comments

This article is about understanding Contact Centre productivity and how the Pooling Principle impacts how ‘busy’ Agents are when they are signed in.

It’s Monday morning and the calls are pouring in.

But you planned well and you’ve got the right Agent capacity in place.

For the morning interval of 9:00AM to 9:30AM, here’s what your stats look like using a simple Erlang C calculator:

Erlang C Example

Your Service Level objective is 80/30.

Based on a Talk Time of 4 minutes, an After Call Work time of 2 minutes and a volume of 1,000 calls, you require 209 Agents to login and be part of capacity so that you can achieve your 80/30.

All good.

Now let’s look at the Occupancy stats for this interval

In this same scenario, you can see that the Occupancy Rate – which is an outcome or result – stands at 96%.

Simply put – that means during this 30 minute interval, your Agents are talking or doing their after call work for 29 minutes.

That means that they will experience only 1 minute of Available Time over the course of that half hour (not much).

What about calls handled per Agent?

Well – if we are receiving 1,000 calls distributed across 209 Agents that works out to an average of 4.8 calls per Agent for that interval (using simple math).

Occupancy is a high level of Contact Centre productivity – telling us how busy Agents were when they were signed in.

Same Contact Center – later that same day

In this Center, the workload drops significantly in the afternoon.

For the afternoon interval of 4:00PM to 4:30PM, here’s what your stats look like using a simple Erlang C calculator:

Erlang C Example

Read more

Why are you still talking about Average Handling Time?

by OmniTouch International OmniTouch International No Comments

It’s time to talk about that old favorite – Average Handling Time also known as AHT.

So put your feet up on the couch and tell the Dr. – for heaven’s sake, why are you still talking about Average Handling Time?


The more you talk about AHT, the less you talk about Quality

I have a theory that’s been proven out over the years.

The more a Centre and its inhabitants talk (or fret)  about AHT – the less they talk (or fret) about Quality.

Sure – Quality gets lip service (who’s going to bash Quality?) – but it’s AHT that reigns supreme.

And for some inexplicable reason, it’s almost always about the Agents.

Yeah – you know – those Agents who brush their teeth in the bathroom mirror every morning and plot how to sabotage AHT.

Hmmmm (they say to themselves) – how could I drag the calls today?” 

“A few more holds and a bit of nonsensical small talk and I’m sure I can knock AHT out of whack.”


Any Quality Assurance professional will tell you a simple truth

AHT flows from Quality.

It’s an output…a byproduct…an emission.

You know those Monitoring Forms with the checklists and standards that QA likes to hand out to let you know how you’re doing with regard to Quality?

Those Forms dictate your AHT.

Want Agents to use the Customer’s name 3x? Ok – that’ll be about 15 seconds.

Want Agents to say “Is there anything else I can do to help you today (and mean it)?” – that easily adds 7 more seconds.

Need Agents to conduct 2 levels of verification – yup – takes time.

Are you fearless enough to put First Contact Resolution on your Form? Well that’s gonna cost you too (in time that is).

If your Agent scores 100% quality on their call and you still have to talk to them about their AHT something’s wrong with the Form or something’s wrong with your Quality process.

As I like to say when I transition into ‘guru’ mode – when your Agent achieves Quality – and it just feels right – then AHT will be what it will be.

AHT flows from Quality.

But most assuredly Quality does not flow from AHT!

Did you ever order chocolate lava cake for dessert in a restaurant? It’s delicious.

But the menu often says “please order early, or just be aware it will take about 20 minutes for us to make you this delicious chocolate lava cake”.

I’ve never seen it happen that a Diner bangs the table and says – “Hey, Chef baby – make me one of those delicious chocolate lava cakes in 10 minutes – you hear? ”

So what’s the best way to correct AHT at the Agent level?

The best way has always been – and it will continue to be – conducting root cause analysis at the Agent level.

Watch the Agent at work, listen to calls, correct what needs to be corrected (sometimes it’s a piece of equipment, sometimes it’s knowledge or skill).

When you fix Agent Quality – you automatically fix AHT.  It’s an outcome – not a driver.

Of course having a guideline helps.

AHT lends itself beautifully to measurement as an ‘acceptable range’.

For example an ‘acceptable’ range for your Centre AHT in the mornings might range from a low of 3 minutes to a high of 6 minutes.

I’d set my ‘acceptable’ range based on my high performers in quality – if your call is great quality-wise – then by default the AHT is acceptable. (if it isn’t something is broken in how you measure quality).

Armed with a range, you can track performance across your Team Members and identify outliers – for example those who are consistently above or below the acceptable range for that time period.

This approach allows you to focus in on folks who may have some barrier in their way.

Do remember though –

Acceptable ranges are not consistent throughout the day – most Centres see longer AHT in the night hours as compared to the morning hours (for example).

You have to adjust your ranges based on your call mix, Customer mix and the like.

If you’re in WFM or Process AHT matters

Of course – if you are in WFM or you are in Process improvement and/or Customer journey mapping, AHT is super important.

And WFM folks tend to understand that the biggest improvements in AHT come from technology and process improvement.

When you look at all the factors that ‘drive’ AHT, Agents themselves have only minor control over AHT – namely applying their knowledge, skills & abilities as trained and coached.

Industry-wide AHT for voice calls is going up

As the world increasingly becomes digital, Customers reach out to voice channels when their issue is complex or they are confused or unhappy with something.

Coupled with the digitization of ‘simple’ inquiries the outcome is clear – while voice volumes may be ‘stabilizing’ in volume for some Centres, AHT continues to climb.

Feel better? I do

In an era of Customer experience, it won’t do you or your Team Members any good to have an artificial clock ticking in their ear while trying to listen, empathize and resolve a Customer call.

If you’re a Manager or Team Leader who still harps on individual Agent AHT it’s time to rethink your value.

It’s not 1973 anymore.

Thanks for reading!


[email protected] / www.omnitouchinternational.com