Here’s the truth: call center service levels tell you almost nothing about your team’s performance. They focus on how fast calls are answered, not why customers leave.

The outdated 80/20 rule, which says that 80% of calls should be answered in 20 seconds, falls short of actually evaluating agent performance. It mainly serves as a staffing guide for management rather than an accurate performance indicator.

Focusing on service levels should only be used by upper management to forecast call volumes and staff scheduling. That’s it.

If you want to use call center service levels to make data-driven improvements, you should also be using other key metrics and performance indicators to get a more comprehensive understanding of call center performance.

Call Service Levels Aren’t Good Performance Benchmarks

Service levels are a good starting point to check how responsive your call center is, but they shouldn’t be the only yardstick for judging agent performance.

Instead, you should consider a variety of metrics and elements that impact both your agents and your customers. This balanced approach gives you a clearer and fairer idea of how things are really going at your call center.

Let’s take a look at some of the downsides of using call service levels as performance indicators:

  • Pressure on Agents: The 80/20 rule can make agents feel rushed to answer calls quickly, sometimes at the expense of customer service quality. High occupancy levels mean agents are on calls almost non-stop. If it’s above 85%, agents might feel overwhelmed and less efficient, which means they have a higher likelihood of burning out.
  • Impact on Customer Service Quality: Agents hurrying to meet goals can mean they’re not actually solving your customers’ problems. Instead, they’re rushing to get off the phone so they can get to the next call.
  • Misalignment with Actual Operational Realities: Service-level goals can be rigid and might not account for things like call volume and flow, which agents can’t always control.
  • Overutilization of Agents: Pushing for high service levels can overwork agents, which again means they’re more likely to burn out.
  • Lack of Holistic Performance Assessment: Relying just on service levels misses other vital metrics like First Call Resolution (FCR), Customer Satisfaction (CSAT), and Average Handle Time (AHT), which give a more complete picture of performance.

Ditch the 80/20 Service Level

The 80/20 rule is a well-known standard in the call center world, indicating that 80% of calls should be answered within 20 seconds. Unfortunately, this dated advice isn’t a great agent performance indicator.

For starters, it seems to have been arbitrarily chosen back in the day without solid evidence to support its effectiveness. It’s essentially a one-size-fits-all approach that doesn’t always align with the unique needs of different businesses or industries.

It’s also rigid and lacks the flexibility to adapt to the natural ebbs and flows of call volume. Not to mention, sticking strictly to the 80/20 rule can mean neglecting a portion of your calls—what happens to the 20% of callers who wait longer than 20 seconds? These customers are often sidelined, compromising their satisfaction to hit a benchmark.

And probably the worst outcome of focusing on service levels is that the emphasis on speed can often overshadow the importance of actually solving customer problems. In the rush to meet the 80/20 standard, agents might skimp on quality, leaving customers with superficial solutions and an unsatisfying experience.

Here’s What Call Center Service Levels Tell You

Call center service levels tell you only two things:

  • How Fast Calls Are Answered: This is pretty straightforward. Call center service levels tell you the speed at which calls are answered. The benefit here is that it can help you ensure that your customers aren’t left hanging on the line for too long.
  • If Your Staffing is Efficient: Keeping an eye on your service levels can help you figure out if you’ve got too many or too few agents during those unpredictable swings in call volume. This is key for fine-tuning your staffing plans—you want to make sure you’re not short-staffed when it’s busy or wasting money on extra labor when things are quiet.

Here’s What Call Center Service Levels Don’t Tell You

While call center service levels are handy for figuring out your staffing needs, they fall short of giving you the complete picture of what truly matters. They’re great for scheduling, but don’t count on them for insights into customer satisfaction or agent performance.

Let’s dive into some key metrics and aspects that call service levels don’t reveal:

  • Call Quality: Service levels help with scheduling but don’t tell you much about the quality of your customer chats. If you’re looking for the real scoop on customer happiness, metrics like CSAT scores are your go-to.
  • First-Call Resolution: Just because calls get picked up quickly doesn’t mean issues get resolved in one go. FCR is your magic number for knowing if your agents are solving problems on the first try.
  • Customer Satisfaction: Picking up the phone quickly is one thing, but are your customers actually happy after the call? CSAT scores are what you need to gauge the mood on the other end of the line.
  • Average Handling Time: Quick answers are great, but how long does it take to really sort out a customer’s issue? That’s where AHT comes in.
  • Different Types of Customer Inquiries: Not all customer questions are created equal. Some need quick answers, while others require more time and expertise. Service levels don’t help you sort that out.
  • Abandoned Calls and Callbacks: What about those calls that get dropped or the customers who have to ring up again? Service levels aren’t tracking these, but metrics like Abandon Rate and Callback Rate can.
  • Upsell Opportunities: When agents are rushing to meet service level goals, they might be missing out on chances to upsell customers.
  • Agent Skill Matching: Service levels won’t tell you if customers are getting matched with the best agents to help them, which could make or break customer satisfaction.

The Old Way to Calculate Call Center Service Levels

The traditional way of calculating call center service levels involves several steps. First, you choose a time interval within which calls should be answered. Then, you set a target percentage for calls answered within that time. The basic formula often used is:

Service Level = (Number of calls answered within the threshold / Total number of calls offered) x 100

This approach also leaves room for considering abandoned calls—those disconnected by customers before speaking to an agent. For a more nuanced view, you can expand the formula to include them:

Service Level = (Number of calls answered within the threshold / (Total calls answered + Abandoned calls)) x 100

You can break down your data by the hour, day, or week to spot trends and figure out where you can do better. But remember, these basic steps are just the starting point. To really get the full picture of how well your team is doing and how happy your customers are, you’ll want to bring other metrics into the mix.

Focus On Your Call Center KPIs

To manage a call center effectively, you need to take a multi-faceted approach to Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

First, start by segmenting customers. You want to prioritize customers who have a higher propensity to buy or offer a greater lifetime value. This means you’re keeping your most valuable customers happy.

Keep tabs on how long high-priority customers take to abandon calls and the cost implications of these hang-ups. Use metrics like Average Call Abandonment to gauge staffing and operational efficiency.

Pay close attention to Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) scores and Net Promoter Score (NPS) for a more comprehensive view of customer sentiment. CSAT can be particularly impacted by call abandonment rates, while NPS offers insight into long-term loyalty.

First-Contact Resolution (FCR) rate is another key metric that you can calculate by dividing resolved first-call issues by the day’s total calls. This helps you assess both agent effectiveness and customer satisfaction in one go.

Finally, go beyond service levels for a complete performance picture. Integrate them with Average Speed of Answer (ASA) and Average Handle Time (AHT). For instance, AHT can highlight efficiency gaps when viewed alongside other metrics like CSAT.

In short, a diverse set of KPIs gives you a deeper and more well-rounded understanding of call center performance. You can then use the data from these performance indicators to make improvements that will actually benefit your business.