100% Call Center Adherence Isn’t The Goal – Here’s What Is

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There are people out there who strive to hit the 100% mark in everything they do, from school papers to personal fitness and customer satisfaction. When it comes to call center adherence, however, there are better targets to shoot for.

Call center adherence is a metric that tracks the percentage of time an agent spends handling calls according to their scheduled hours. It includes talk time, hold time, and the time spent on wrap-up tasks immediately following a call. 

At first glance, pushing this metric to 100% might seem advantageous because it means that agents are always on the line and maxing out their time spent with customer interactions—but this doesn’t account for critical factors like agent job satisfaction and a healthy work environment. 

For instance, asking agents to spend all of their time taking calls would mean they’d have no time for breaks, lunch, or post-call work. It would also mean that they’d have no time to cool down after dealing with a frustrating customer, and no time to themselves for any other personal reason. This grueling schedule would risk the well-being of your agents and, in turn, the experience of your customers. 

As a call center leader, you’d rather have a model of call center adherence that balances employee health with a high level of customer service. 

The Real Call Center Adherence Goal

In practical terms, an 80% call center adherence is more aligned with the mark of perfection, so that’s what we’d recommend setting as your personal or professional goal at your call center. 

Setting your call center adherence goal at around 80% is ideal because it balances productivity and agent well-being so that agents can provide a high level of customer service with a high degree of availability—but without overdoing it. 

To understand this in another way, consider that 80% adherence translates to about six hours and 25 minutes of handling calls per eight-hour shift. The remaining one hour and 35 minutes can be strategically distributed for breaks, lunch, after-call responsibilities, and occasionally decompressing from challenging calls. 

This structured approach does double duty by optimizing staff workload while respecting the human element of the job, which is essential for sustaining high performance and avoiding employee turnover. 

Importance of Breaks and Downtime

Regular breaks and a designated lunch period are essential for agents to decompress and recharge. This downtime can reduce stress and prevent burnout, which is common in high-intensity environments like call centers. Breaks also give agents opportunities to reflect on previous interactions and prepare for upcoming calls, which can increase the service quality they provide.

Role of After-Call Work

After-call work includes updating customer records, sending follow-up emails, and completing transaction logs. Allowing enough time for these activities is critical because it ensures that customer interactions are completed without leaving any loose ends untied. Thorough after-call work can also build trust and customer loyalty by treating all customer queries with care until they are fully resolved and documented.

Managing Stress

The structured downtime that is baked into an 80% adherence model is crucial in stress management. It lets agents step away from the constant demands of back-to-back calls. 

Remember, managing stress is not just about preventing adverse outcomes—it also gives agents more room to engage thoughtfully and empathetically with customers. A less-stressed agent is more likely to handle interactions calmly and effectively, leading to better outcomes and fewer escalated issues.

Maintaining Service Quality

By giving agents enough time to handle after-call work and take necessary breaks, they can stay fresher and provide high-quality customer service on a more consistent basis. When agents are not rushed into each call, they can be better prepared, more focused, and less likely to make errors due to fatigue or information overload. Meanwhile, as long as it doesn’t result in much longer wait times, this commitment to quality is also good for customers and reduces the likelihood of repeat calls about the same issues.

What to Do for Agents With a Call Center Adherence Rate Less Than 80%

Identifying and addressing why an agent’s adherence rate might be under 80% is critical to the agent’s and the organization’s success.

First, Figure Out Why

The first step in tackling low adherence rates in a call center is to identify and understand what’s contributing to this shortfall. There are many potential reasons and contributing factors, including:

  • Coming into work late. Tardiness can disrupt an entire shift, so if it’s a common issue, you need to determine its cause—such as traffic, personal responsibilities, or lack of motivation.
  • Extended durations in after-call work. While performing after-call work is critical for quality service, spending too much time on it can indicate an inefficient process or a lack of training.
  • Delays in returning from breaks or lunch. Coming back late from scheduled breaks on the regular can significantly impact adherence. This could be due to irresponsible time management or an unaddressed need for longer breaks in a demanding work environment.
  • Avoiding calls due to stress or burnout. Some agents might take longer breaks between calls or extend after-call work to avoid dealing with difficult interactions. This avoidance behavior is often a sign of deeper issues like job dissatisfaction, high-stress levels, and burnout.

Addressing these issues requires a two-pronged approach:

Be data-driven

Reviewing your call center analytics is the first step because it helps you identify trends and anomalies in attendance and time management. In particular, your time card data can give you objective insights into patterns of lateness, extended after-call durations, and unusual break patterns. For instance, if data show that an agent consistently logs in late on specific days, it could point to a scheduling conflict that needs to be addressed.

Observe and communicate

While data tells part of the story, direct observation and communication can fill the gaps. If you monitor agent workflows and client interactions, this will tell you whether agents are struggling with technology, having trouble handling specific types of calls, or showing signs of emotional fatigue. 

Meet With Agents Not Hitting The 80% Goal

When you’ve got a good idea of the reasons for an agent’s low adherence rate, the next step is to have a constructive one-on-one meeting with them. 

It would be best to approach these discussions with empathy and a genuine intention to help the agent overcome their challenges. At the same time, you should clearly communicate how vital their adherence rate is—how it impacts the overall business operations and their professional performance. 

Do your best to make your meeting an open dialogue with the agent. These conversations can reveal personal challenges and workplace issues that data alone might not reveal. For example, an agent might share that they extend their after-call work to ensure higher quality because they feel the standard time allowed isn’t enough. Or they might reveal burnout or dissatisfaction that contributes to their lack of adherence. 

By actively listening, showing empathy, and being willing to make changes based on the agent’s feedback, you can re-motivate them to start hitting their adherence targets once again.

Set A Benchmark Goal for Call Center Adherence

Without any targets in place, your agents may not know what to shoot for. So, setting an intelligent benchmark goal for your call center adherence is critical. Just be sure it’s realistic.

Setting an achievable benchmark involves:

  • Assessing current agent performance
  • Using your learnings to set specific and achievable targets
  • Involving agents in goal-setting

For instance, if the standard adherence target is 80 percent, it might not be feasible for an agent with a 60% adherence rate to meet this expectation right away. This situation calls for setting incremental and achievable goals to reach the target over time. 

During your initial discussions with agents, it’s essential to establish a clear and mutual understanding of their current performance and the improvements required. If an agent’s adherence rate is significantly lower than the norm, setting an immediate goal modestly higher than their current rate—such as a 5% increase—can be more motivating and less daunting. This approach makes the goal seem more attainable and provides a clear path for continuous improvement.

With gradual improvements across your entire department, you can encourage steady progress and allow all of your agents a healthy chance at developing the skills and habits needed to reach an 80% adherence rate as a unit. 

A good practice to remember here is to recognize your agents’ efforts as they achieve their intermediate goals. You need to make sure they feel valued and that their hard work is paying off. This helps build confidence and allows you to adjust their targets to keep them motivated throughout their progression. Remember to be supportive and constructive along the way.

Establish a Schedule to Meet About Goal Progress

Establishing a regular schedule to monitor goal progress is essential for creating accountability and improving adherence rates. 

Instead of revisiting goals every six months—a practice that can lead to stagnation and lack of motivation—more frequent and structured check-ins can significantly increase your chances of success.

Start by setting biweekly (once every two weeks) progress update meetings. This frequency ensures that agents receive consistent feedback, which is crucial for reinforcing positive behaviors and promptly addressing any issues. Regular meetings also help keep goals top-of-mind, ensuring they remain a priority in the call center’s daily operations.

In addition to reviewing whether or not agents are meeting adherence targets, these meetings should also provide an opportunity for agents to discuss personal challenges and receive support in overcoming them. 

As agents begin to show consistent improvement and start hitting their benchmark goals regularly, you can adjust the frequency of these meetings to once a month or every six weeks. Reducing meetings in this way can serve as a reward for good performance and a sign of trust in the agent’s ability to maintain high standards independently. 

At the end of the day, it’s all about maintaining a good balance. While requiring fewer meetings can be a good way to acknowledge improvement, they can still be necessary to provide support and prevent any backsliding in performance.

Final Words

While 100% adherence might seem like the perfect number for maximizing your call center’s productivity, it doesn’t account for the human aspects of an agent’s job. Instead, an adherence rate of around 80% is a more sustainable target that ensures high productivity while fostering a healthy work environment. Remember that achieving a balanced adherence rate of 80% doesn’t just reduce strain on agents. It also impacts the overall quality of customer service. Agents who are less stressed and better rested are more likely to engage positively with customers, leading to better service outcomes and higher customer satisfaction.

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