February 4, 2021

Clearing up customer engagement measures: Occupancy vs. availability vs. utilization

With the transition to distributed work, scheduling and productivity measurement have become simultaneously more difficult and yet more important. You can no longer rely on popping your head up from your desk and looking around the room to get an idea of how the team’s doing. Productivity metrics—along with virtual communication—have become a vital line of sight into day-to-day operations.

Consistently monitoring and acting according to scheduling and productivity metrics means agents are available at the times customers need them, reducing the severity of overstaffing or volume surges. This can lead to a less volatile workload, increase operational efficiency, and ultimately lead to happier agents and customers.

Three measures in particular—occupancy, availability and utilization—give you a bird's eye view of your team’s work rate. To understand these measures, consider an individual agent:

  • An agent is occupied when actively working with customers.
  • An agent is available when they are actively ready for a customer contact, but not engaged.
  • An agent is utilized, therefore, when they are either occupied with a customer or available for a customer contact.
  • Finally, an agent’s total time at work consists of their utilized time plus their non-productive time (breaks, meetings, trainings, meals, etc.).

The visual below demonstrates how it all comes together on a typical day:

Occupancy rate

Occupancy measures the proportion of time that an agent is actively working with a customer contact, either directly engaged with a customer or completing any ancillary work associated with the contact. This includes after-call work, such as any follow-ups, data entry or transfers that came up during the contact. In other words, occupancy measures an individual agent's efficiency within their utilized time.

Occupancy can also be measured at the team level, where industry standard occupancy rates range from 70-85%. While this can always be improved, it's often recommended not to exceed 85% occupancy for any extended period of time to maintain a positive work environment and guard against agent burnout.

Availability rate

Availability measures the proportion of time that an agent is actively ready to work with customers but not engaged directly with a customer contact. In other words, this is the time spent between contacts or waiting for a customer contact. It is the complement of occupancy while an agent is utilized.

In many ways, the availability rate measures the site’s efficiency moreso than that of any individual since scheduling and software decisions contribute directly to how long an agent is waiting for a contact. All else equal, a schedule with underscheduled or overscheduled shifts will lead to lower or higher availability rates, respectively. Software, meanwhile, determines how contacts are queued and dispersed, the time between contacts, how after-call processes are handled and more.

Since availability is the complement of occupancy, industry standards range from 15-30%. Again though, common sense should prevail. While this varies, if agents are spending 50% of their time available, the site likely has an issue to rectify. Potential improvements range from smoothing scheduling to match incoming volume to automatic queuing.

Utilization rate

Utilization is the amount of time that an agent is either productive (i.e. occupied) or available to handle incoming contacts, as a proportion of their total paid hours. An agent’s total time therefore consists of their utilized time plus their time away from support (breaks, meetings, trainings, meals, etc.). Utilization measures an individual support agent’s efficacy, or how completely their time is spent in line with the customer-facing nature of the role.

It is a necessary piece of context when thinking about occupancy because it brings an agent's total time into the equation, as opposed to just their time spent with customers. For example, 80% occupancy with 50% utilization yields the same amount of customer engagement as 50% occupancy with 80% utilization. The former would make sense for someone splitting their time between multiple roles; the latter would be an issue to look into immediately.

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We recently discussed the difference between schedule conformance and schedule adherence. Fundamentally, these are all measures of a team’s scheduling efficiency and efficacy but with a key difference: adherence and conformance measure an agent’s ability to keep to their scheduled tasks throughout the day without regard to what those tasks are. The three measures in question—occupancy, availability and utilization—are customer-specific measures; they are only concerned with the degree to which agents are interacting with customers. That means that other work—such as project work or meetings—is not considered productive in this context even though it may help the team.

[Learn more about other essential workforce management terms and concepts in our Essential Workforce Management Glossary!]

Additional insight into these customer engagement measures give you a more complete understanding of how agents are interacting with customers throughout the day or week. There is no one-size-fits-all solution with these measures. To strike the proper balance between an employee's utilized time and their project work or a team's occupancy rate, modern support teams recognize they must take into account the circumstances and conditions specific to their team and company.

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