There are a plethora of problems that cause call centre shrinkage, from unexplained absences to ad hoc supervisor meetings. Within individual call centres, the biggest causes of shrinkage will vary hugely, influenced by the company’s culture, processes and employees.

Whilst it would be possible to come up with a laundry list of potential causes of shrinkage, and diagnose a dozen ways to improve the problem, reducing total shrinkage is actually far simpler. In almost all call centres, there’s a single problem at the heart of shrinkage: oversight.

The Problem of Oversight

All managers, planners and team leaders will understand the basic principle of shrinkage, and in most call centres, efforts are made to manage obvious forms of shrinkage, like days off and training.

Crucially though, shrinkage is anything which negatively impacts available customer service time – and it’s still entirely possible to neglect less obvious forms of day-to-day shrinkage.

Impromptu meetings, late break times and overrunning training sessions will all negatively impact the time available to serve customers. It’s this type of shrinkage that often causes the biggest problem – and goes most easily unnoticed.

Metrics like call volumes and average handling times are easy to account for and manage, and in many call centres, managers and team leaders will fixate solely on these KPIs. With limited time and resources to monitor and improve performance, it becomes easy to develop a blinkered view of shrinkage, monitoring only the most obvious causes.

As long as scheduled absences are accounted for, other critical forms of shrinkage, like unscheduled breaks, or agents turning up late and going home early, are typically overlooked.

Scheduled vs. Unscheduled Shrinkage

Crucially, unscheduled shrinkage can swallow up a huge amount of capacity. I’ve seen estimations that suggest that, on any given day, unscheduled shrinkage can account for as much as 15% of total call centre capacity.

It’s the management of this type of shrinkage that is often neglected – and assuming we allow for a 10% scheduled shrinkage allowance, losing an extra 15% of capacity each day is going to have a hugely detrimental effect on performance.

In other instances, the company culture will be such that shrinkage is actually over allocated. We’ve seen examples of call centres that felt it appropriate to dedicate 20% of total capacity to agent training meetings.

Managers and team leaders schedule apparently essential meetings left, right and centre, and fail to realise that 20% scheduled shrinkage is the equivalent to losing a whole working day of capacity, each and every week.

Setting Reasonable Shrinkage Targets

As a rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to allocate about 10% of staff time to breaks, and 2-3% to meetings and training.

These are two of the biggest areas of shrinkage, and by tightly mandating and monitoring adherence to these goals, there’s a good chance your call centre can hugely reduce its shrinkage.

If we translate that into day-to-day operation, a standard 9-hour working day would contain 54 minutes of break time. If we round that up to an hour, your agents get a half-hour for lunch, and two 15-minute coffee breaks – all whilst sticking to the 10% guideline.

This leaves agents with about 8 hours of customer service time per day. Given a fairly standard occupancy level of 85%, these shrinkage targets mean that agents spend 68% of their total time talking to customers.

Similarly, if we look at a 170-hour month, a 2-3% meeting/training shrinkage target translates into about 5 hours of training per month. For an agent, whose primary role is customer service, this is often a suitable target to aim for.

Whilst these are only example targets, they serve to demonstrate the value of monitoring and managing day-to-day shrinkage. By aiming for these targets, managers and planners will find themselves with a bit of extra leeway to accommodate sick agents and impromptu meetings, and give extra break time to agents working particularly gruelling shifts.

Whilst reducing shrinkage isn’t an end in its own right, managing shrinkage in this way can create happier staff, and happier customers – and that’s always a goal worth striving for.

How Intraday Automation Can Help Your Call Centre