The Call Center Productivity Playbook: Tips & Metrics

The Call Center Productivity Playbook: Tips & Metrics

Call centers seem like something out of the 1980s. Giant rooms filled with headset-wearing workers answering calls from current and potential customers or making telemarketing pitches feel like an old-fashioned idea in our AI-affected world. However, although chatbots have taken some of the load off of customer support teams in recent years, the number of call centers in the US has increased by 6.8% per year since 2018.

Humans in call centers continue to handle the brunt of customer interactions, especially in the healthcare, banking, and retail industries. Working in a call center is challenging, as individuals handle a near-constant bombardment of incoming calls from often angry customers. That onslaught can lead to burnout, which decreases agent productivity and can lead to high employee turnover rates. Nonetheless, all organizations must strive to avoid negative customer experiences.

Here, we’ll explore how to measure call center productivity and offer tips for improving team performance and delivering excellent customer experiences.

How Call Center Productivity Affects Businesses

For most businesses today, call centers are just one aspect of a robust customer support apparatus. An organization may offer web-based self-serve customer support, such as an FAQ page or community forum, and digital support channels like live chat or email. 

However, McKinsey research in 2022 found that 60% of customer support leaders reported increased call volume. While more channels are available, customers continue to lean on human assistance, which is good for your business, provided your call center operates productively.

Benefits of High ProductivityConsequences of Low Productivity
Handling more calls reduces customer wait time.Long call wait times are a notorious cause for customer discontent.
More productive call centers solve problems quicker when customers get on the line.Slow resolution time or poor resolution success rate may lead customers to choose a competitor next time instead.
Resolving issues quickly allows customer support agents to upsell products or services.Low productivity forces customer service agents to only fix the existing problem rather than offer additional support.
Faster resolutions lead to happier customers who are more likely to purchase again.Low agent productivity leads to negative reviews from customers.
High productivity leads to less churn and burnout, resulting in employee turnover.Low productivity can lead to feelings of overwhelm and make employees want to leave.

Challenges in Achieving Call Center Productivity

A thriving contact center should function like a well-oiled machine, with well-trained staff quickly resolving problems and moving on to the next one. They should feel motivated and excited by the high volume of active waiting calls, not dread. Nonetheless, several challenges impact call center productivity.

Inadequate Staffing and Training

The easiest way to knock a call center off business goals or benchmarks is to have too few staff members who have received proper training. High turnover rates can make it challenging to meet staff requirements and give each agent extensive training before throwing them into the fire. 

As such, it’s crucial to hire professional, patient, and thoughtful people and give them the training and time necessary to do their jobs well. Likewise, continuous training is essential to customer service teams to ensure each agent remains on top of their game.

High Agent Turnover Rates

Inadequate agent training and high agent turnover rates create a negative feedback loop. When agents have poor training, they’re more likely to get overwhelmed and want to quit. When agents quit, the organization has to rush new, poorly-trained agents in to replace them. The two issues are related, so it’s crucial to recognize individual agent performance and incentivize well-trained agents to stay.

Lack of Performance and Productivity Tracking

A call center manager may be able to gauge high performers simply by walking the floor and listening to agents work, but that’s not a very scientific method. Performance and productivity tracking tools will tell you definitively who is resolving problems the most efficiently and who gets the best ratings from customers. These tracking solutions help you reward your best agents and implement incentive plans to motivate lower-performing agents.

Data Loss by Employees (Accidental or Intentional)

Contact center agents handle a lot of critical data. Any time a customer calls in, they likely must recite some personal information to authorize talking about their account with an agent. Agents have access to this valuable customer data and are often charged with safely handling it while resolving customer support issues.

Whether a disgruntled employee decides to harm the customer by intentionally leaking customer data or a negligent employee simply typos an email address to send personal information to the wrong person, call center staff to represent potential insider threats to the organization. Data mishandling can lead to forensic investigations, audits, or even legal liability that will derail productivity.

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Compliance Issues

That brings us to our last productivity challenge. Data compliance is paramount in all organizations, but especially in call centers. Customer support agents handle more customer data than the average employee and are, therefore, most at risk of compliance violations. Compliance issues can lead to fines or investigations that lose time and could even shut down a center. Agents absolutely must have proper data compliance training.

Key Metrics for Call Center Productivity

Call centers face many challenges in maximizing productivity, but removing those barriers doesn’t mean anything if you aren’t correctly measuring center performance metrics. These are the essential metrics you should use.

Average Handling Time (AHT)

Average Handling Time (AHT) measures agents’ average time for a customer support interaction. To calculate AHT for a call center, you must consider talk, hold, and follow-up calls to resolve an issue. ZenDesk describes a good AHT as six minutes.

The formula to calculate AHT is:

AHT = (talk + hold + follow-up times) / total number of calls

Occupancy Rate

Occupancy rate measures the percentage of an agent’s logged-in time helping customers. This includes talk time, hold time, and after-call work (ACW).

The formula to calculate occupancy rate is: 

Occupancy rate = (total talk time + total hold time + total after-call work, i.e., ACW) / hours logged in (and ready to take contacts)

Idle Time

Idle time is simply when an agent is not engaging with customers on a call. Some organizations define it as the interval between closing one interaction and the moment they begin the next interaction. 

The formula to calculate idle time is:

Idle time = The time an agent spends engaged on calls – the time the agent spends between calls.

Transfer Rate

Transfer rate is the percentage of inbound calls agents transfer to another team member or department. It indicates how often agents can’t solve problems themselves, extending the organization’s overall AHT.

The formula to calculate transfer rate is:

Transfer rate = (total number of calls transferred / total number of calls handled) x 100.

Agent Efficiency

Agent efficiency is an overall metric of a call center agent’s performance and should reflect the key performance indicators (KPIs) your organization deems most important. Bank of America’s call center KPIs may differ from Walgreens’. You likely want to use several of the above productivity metrics to determine a high performer to create a complete employee profile.

A simple way to distill agent efficiency is with the following formula that inverts idle time:

Agent efficiency = (Total time spent achieving targets / Total time at work) x 100.

12 Strategies for Improving Call Center Productivity

Knowing the right center metrics for your organization is a good start. Next, it’s time to implement strategies to ensure you’re meeting organizational goals and agents are hitting key performance metrics while lowering call abandonment rate.

1. Effective Training Programs for Call Center Agents

Nobody should be expected to answer their first call and simply know how to resolve a problem. Even an agent with an extensive history in call centers must learn specific company protocols, security best practices, data handling compliance regulations, and the company’s preferred approach to customer interactions. It’s an organization’s responsibility to provide new call center agents with continuous training and offer constructive feedback to ensure each agent is fully equipped to do their job well.

Customer support is a draining, demanding job, but it’s easier for agents who have been effectively trained on specific scenarios and know how they’re expected to respond.

2. Proper Staffing and Utilization

Every organization receives customer queries in different ways. Customers may prefer to use online self-service tools, and can do so effectively. Customers of others may require a more personal touch from a human agent in a call center. A company must figure out the right staffing balance to meet customer expectations. 

Too many agents on a shift may result in excess idle time and become a waste of company resources. There are too few, and customers will complain of long wait times while agents struggle through grueling, grinding hours that may make them want to leave.

3. Utilizing Technology and Tools

We’ve discussed how many organizations today use artificial intelligence tools like chatbots to resolve common issues without burdening a call center. While this technology application is likely not managed by the call center, it will significantly impact its success. 

Chatbots, self-service options like FAQ pages, community forums, and email support reduce call volume in call centers, allowing agents to handle more complex problems that customers couldn’t resolve on their own or with a bot. Likewise, customer service software will help agents provide better customer experiences.

Moreover, you’ve probably been stuck in an irritating loop of finite choices delivered by a robotic voice when calling a customer support line before. Many customers will call in to get answers to common questions like how to change a password or to get shipping information. 

Improving the interactive voice response that customers must navigate before they get to a human will help resolve several simple issues before they take up a human agent’s time and increase overall call center performance.

4. Implementing Knowledge Management Systems

Call center agents need extensive access to company resources to resolve customer issues. A knowledge management system breaks down data silos to collect an organization’s knowledge and information into a centralized, easily navigable system. 

A further extension of technology’s importance in call centers, knowledge management gives customer support teams the kind of universal knowledge base access that other employees may not have so that they may best leverage company knowledge to resolve customer inquiries.

5. Monitor Employee Productivity to Find Areas of Improvement

Employee monitoring software is another powerful tool for employee motivation. Call centers benefit from software like this to track productivity, efficiency, and help optimize customer service. For example, monitoring the screens of your call center employees can help you track what they’re doing and if they need to optimize their setup. 

Management can track a variety of chosen call center KPIs across individual employees, allowing you to recognize high and low performers, identify active & idle time, and understand the issues that most commonly lead to transfers and bloated AHTs. With automated tracking and analytics, you’ll have the insights to optimize staffing, help agents improve resolution rates, and increase customer satisfaction.

6. Promoting Agent Motivation and Engagement

Call center agents should feel like they’re part of a team. The entire team should feel motivated by friendly competition and encouraged to work together to solve issues. Offering cash incentives or other prizes to those with the highest KPIs for a day or week is a great way to motivate agents and get them excited about their work. 

Get creative with your incentives, modulating for efficiency or customer satisfaction ratings to keep your staff working towards different achievable goals and honing different skills to improve the call center’s success.

Likewise, building a team culture is important. Newer members should feel comfortable asking more veteran members for help, and you should provide opportunities for agents to get to know each other, such as through team-building activities and parties. People are more excited to come into work when they’re going to be seeing friends.

7. Measuring and Monitoring Call Center Productivity

There are many strategies to help improve call center productivity, but all are moot if you’re not properly measuring and monitoring the success of those strategies. Any innovation or implementation should be accompanied by thorough tracking and regular assessment to gauge success. Call center monitoring is a must if you want to improve productivity.

8. Real-Time Dashboards and Reporting

The average call center receives 4,400 calls per month, about 150 calls per day. Some hours are likely busier than others leading to longer wait times at different times of day. 

This is just one of the reasons why real-time dashboards and reporting are essential. Tracking productivity levels and call center traffic in real-time will help you identify the peak times you need more staffing and when you can reduce staff and track when your staff is at its most and least efficient.

9. Productivity Analysis

Analyzing metrics like AHT, transfer rate, occupancy rate, and idle time will give you a complete picture of your call center’s productivity. Real-time dashboards will help with real-time productivity analysis. Still, you should also visit these numbers daily, weekly, and monthly to draw insights and notice patterns in productivity loss or improvement.

10. KPIs for Call Center Operations

Each company has different company support values and, therefore, will have different KPIs for call center success. Companies with extensive call volume may prioritize low AHTs and efficiency metrics. 

Companies with more complex customer problems may focus on customer satisfaction ratings and reducing transfer rates. Your organization should determine what KPIs are most important to your call center and optimize contact center operations to meet those KPIs.

11. Customer Satisfaction and Feedback

Many call centers offer customers the opportunity to stay on the line to answer a customer survey or provide feedback. This is an excellent way to gather qualitative and quantitative customer feedback. Customers’ immediate reviews of their experience will give you greater insight into what your call center is doing well, what may cause customer frustration, and who your call center stars are.

In addition to inviting customers to stay on the line to leave feedback, follow up by email with a customer satisfaction survey to gain a customer satisfaction score (CSAT) of how customers rate your call center.

12. Customer Experience Metrics

While CSAT is the most common customer experience metric, several others are worth tracking, too. Gathering data on metrics like customer effort score (CES), customer retention rate, first response time (FRT), and customer lifetime value (LTV) is all good ways to understand how your call center is impacting customer loyalty and their overall experience with the company.

A low CES means that a satisfied customer didn’t have to work hard to resolve their issue. A high retention rate and LTV demonstrate that customers who called in were satisfied enough with their experience to remain customers and purchase from your company again. A low FRT indicates that your call center is reducing wait times and at least beginning the contact resolution process quickly. 


What is call center productivity?

Call center productivity refers to the effectiveness and efficiency of a call center in managing customer calls and resolving issues. It is measured by key performance indicators (KPIs) such as average handle time, customer satisfaction, and call resolution rate.

What is the formula for productivity in a call center?

The formula for call center productivity is typically calculated by dividing the total number of successfully resolved calls by the total number of calls received. However, it’s important to note that call center productivity can be measured using KPIs such as average handle time and call resolution rate.

How can agent productivity in call centers be improved?

To improve agent productivity in call centers, focus on effective training programs to enhance their skills and knowledge, implement efficient call routing systems to minimize idle time, and regularly monitor performance metrics to identify areas for improvement. Regular feedback and incentives can motivate agents to perform at their best.

What is utilization and productivity in call centers?

Call center utilization refers to the time agents spend actively handling customer calls compared to their total available working time. Productivity, on the other hand, measures the efficiency and effectiveness of agents in resolving customer issues. Call centers can improve their overall performance and customer satisfaction by optimizing utilization and productivity.

Why is productivity important in call centers?

High productivity in call centers is crucial because it ensures that customer issues are efficiently resolved, resulting in increased customer satisfaction. It also leads to cost savings for the company by minimizing the time spent on each call and increasing the number of issues resolved per agent.

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Call centers remain crucial components of many companies’ customer support apparatus to create more loyal customers. Despite innovations in digital customer support channels, many customers still prefer to call a company support line to resolve problems. Running an effective, productive call center should be a priority for any organization that utilizes customer support phone lines. This guide will help you optimize your call center productivity.