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Five Factors Affecting Your Help Desk’s Ability to Handle More Calls

Posted by Global Help Desk Services Inc. on 11/8/18 2:00 PM

Help Desk TeamHelp desk managers want to know how many calls agents should be able to handle and what factors are impacting that throughput.  There are specific factors that directly affect a help desk’s ability to handle more calls.

First, let’s discuss a help desk agent’s theoretical throughput on a daily basis.  This is important to understand because you have to know what your agents can do theoretically and then we can discuss the five factors affecting their ability to reach that theoretical limit.

Using simple math think about this: if the average call length is 5 minutes and, theoretically, an agent can handle 12 calls per hour x 8 hours per day, then that agent is making 96 calls per day. On the other hand, if the average call length is 10 minutes then that agent can only handle ½ the number of calls per day (6 calls per hour x 8 hours per day equals 48 calls per day).

Next, let’s consider the five factors that affect your agents’ ability to reach this theoretical throughput:

  1. 1. Longer Average Call 

As we have already pointed out, if the average call is longer, then the number of calls per day that an agent can take is reduced.  Using the example above, you can’t expect your agents to handle 96 calls per day if their average talk time is 10 minutes and you think it’s only 5 minutes.

2. Call Arrival
It would be a great day at the help desk if just enough calls arrived, at just the right time, lasting just the right length of time, to let each of your agents meet their theoretical limit.  But it’s not that simple.  It’s not always one call perfectly aligned and arriving at the help desk right when the agent completes his or her call. There are peaks and valleys in call arrival volume during the day. You need to understand your own help desk’s arrival pattern.  If you have a good phone system and ACD, extracting the reports to show your arrival pattern in one-quarter hour increments should be easy.

In general, we see a bell curve with a peak in the middle of the morning, dropping off some near lunch, peaking a little right after lunch, and then waning as the afternoon goes on.  In other words, you need more agents in the morning than in the afternoon, but since we all typically hire agents for an 8-hour shift, they are going to have some busy periods and some periods where they are idle and not on the phone.  This means if they aren’t taking back to back calls they are not going to meet their theoretical throughput. 

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3. Outbound Calls
Agents will need to make outbound calls. It might be nice to wait until the afternoon, during your slow period, to have agents make the necessary outbound calls, but this isn’t reality.  Some calls have to be made right away.  There will be times when they will have to make their outbound calls during peak call volume periods.  While they are making these calls they are obviously unavailable to answer calls, thereby, reducing their theoretical throughput for the day.

  1. 4. Coverage

If you have extended coverage beyond a simple 8-hour day then most likely the extended coverage hours will not deliver enough call volume to even come close to the theoretical throughput for an agent. To cover extended hours, you will have to create at least two shifts to cover those hours. It then becomes more about covering the hours than expecting agents on those extended hours to be able to meet their theoretical throughput.  Now, if you then extend hours into third shift overnight and weekends you have more hours to cover with a reduced call volume.  This drastically affects these agents’ ability to meet their theoretical throughput.

  1. 5. Breaks

Some help desks provide breaks other than lunch, but at a minimum we all give our agents a break for lunch.  Breaks will affect your team’s ability to reach their theoretical throughput because they are once again not on the phone.  When you offer breaks (including lunch) you can look at historical arrival patterns to find the lowest arrival patterns and set your breaks during those times to minimize impact.  However, there will be days in which these patterns won’t hold, you’ll have people at lunch or on break, and calls will come flooding in because of an outage or some other reason.  This will affect your team’s productivity if you don’t have enough staff available and will affect individual agent’s ability to reach their theoretical throughput.

Finally, the obvious question, given these five factors, is “What can you expect for throughput for your agents on a daily basis?” The practical answer is 25 to 70 calls per day “depending” on these factors. Suffice it to say that the more channels you offer people to contact the help desk, the more likely you will be pulling agents off the phones to handle one of the other channels.  Multiple channels will certainly bring more complexity to your juggling of agents’ time.


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