Call Center

The Incredible Shrinking Call Center

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

In retail, the term “shrinkage” euphemistically refers to stock which “disappears” before it can be sold. It is product that the retailer bought, but can’t sell because it is has been stolen or lost.

In the call center, the inventory is labor and shrinkage is agents who are being paid but not working. This occurs when agents are not at their stations, not logged in, not “in rotation,” or employ some trick to block calls. Three metrics help track, explain, and understand agent shrinkage:

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Adherence measures the time agents are scheduled compared to the time they actually work (logged in time divided by scheduled time). Since schedules are developed to match traffic projections, when the schedule is not fully followed, the result is understaffing.

Ideally, staff should adhere 100% to their schedules; in reality, this is not the case. Most call center managers are shocked to discover their adherence rates. It can represent a huge unnecessary cost, as well as contribute to lower service levels.

Several factors account for low adherence levels. The first is scheduled breaks, lunches, and training. This is the only acceptable contributor to adherence discrepancy. Depending on the length of breaks, the best resulting adherence will be around 90%.

The second consideration is absences, late arrivals, and early departures. The third area is unscheduled breaks or distractions that cause agents to leave their positions. It is not uncommon for call centers to have adherence rates around 75%, although well-run operations will be in the low 90s.

Availability measures how much of that time agents are ready, or “available,” to answer calls. It is calculated by dividing time available (also called “on time,” “in rotation,” or “ready”) by logged in time.

Agent availability is strictly within the control of agents, determined by their willingness to be ready to answer calls. Although the ideal goa lof 100% availability is achievable, 98% to 99% is more realistic.


Occupancy is the percentage of time agents spend talking to callers compared to the time they are turned on or available (talk-time plus wrap-up time divided by agent “on” time).

One hundred percent occupancy means agents are talking to callers the entire time they are logged in. To achieve this, calls must continuously be in queue.

The resulting efficiency is great, but caller wait time can be lengthy. Therefore, 100% occupancy does not produce quality service, plus leads to agent burnout and fatigue.

Interestingly, ideal occupancy rates vary greatly with the size of the call center. Smaller centers can only achieve a low occupancy rate (perhaps around 25%) while maintaining an acceptable service level. 

Conversely, large call centers can realize a much higher occupancy rate (90%and higher) and reach that same service level.

Call centers with poor adherence, availability, and occupancy rates can literally spend twice as much in labor to produce the same service level as a comparably sized well-run call center. Calculate your center’s adherence, availability, and occupancy numbers– and then take steps to improve them.

Don’t let agent shrinkage lead to profitability shrinkage!

Read more in Peter’s Sticky Series books: Sticky Leadership and Management, Sticky Sales and Marketing, and Sticky Customer Service featuring his compelling story-driven insights and tips.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry. Read his latest book, Healthcare Call Center Essentials.

By Peter Lyle DeHaan

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, publishes books about business, customer service, the call center industry, and business and writing.