How to Manage Contact Center Agent Idle Time

Written by KOVA Corp

It’s not always easy to find the perfect balance between affirming agents’ rights to take breaks and recharge and ensuring optimal productivity for the whole center.  The challenge comes into sharp focus when considering what to do with agent idle times.  According to research done by the Aberdeen Group, 25% of an agent’s time is spent idle.  What is the best use of this time when an agent is not helping customers or being coached?  There’s no denying that some idle time is essential for employees to ward off burn out and ironically, be capable of giving more; however, if idle time is too high, it may just be a waste of resources, not to mention money.

To begin to address how to better manage idle time, a contact center must address how to better manage staffing in general.  Pay attention to the rhythms of your organization.  What are peak times?  When are more agents needed?  What are the scheduling blocks which are overstaffed?  Can you find the sweet spot between having enough agents to meet customer needs but not so many that there is not enough work to go around?  Fortunately, there are some great workforce management tools on the market, such as KOVA’s Verint Media Recorder.  Your company can also look into whether a callback system would be a good fit to streamline the interaction between agent response and customer satisfaction.

It may not be immediately obvious how, or rather when, idle time is accruing.  A survey by Knowlagent reported that most idle time takes place in less than three minute parcels.  If you’d like to reclaim this time, it will have to be through assignments that can be broken down and attended to in short bursts.  These assignments can be varied, ranging from anything from dealing with traffic from other channels, such as email, to reviewing training material.  Agents’ efforts can be redirected to reaching out to new customers or collecting feedback from old ones.  If the latter is done methodically, through a survey, it has the possibility of gathering some incredibly insightful glimpses into customers’ experience.  Another option is to use the idle time to run a quiz circuit within the center, in which agents test one another on company history and innovations.  This can be made especially fun with small incentive prizes, like KitKat bars or gift certificates to local restaurants.  The spirit of wholesome competition can also be captured by sharing an excellent phone call or troubleshooting session with the entire team so that it can collectively learn and grow.

If these tasks can be made attractive to agents or somehow bolster the contact center culture, so much the better.  The activity you design for idle time does not even have to be directly related to the work being done.  It can also be an opportunity to practice working towards a shared goal.  Contact centers jobs are often highly sedentary and at the same time, can be hard on the neck and shoulders.  If your contact center culture wants to have healthy living and wellness as values, then perhaps the short breaks can be used to engage some gentle stretching or mindful breathing.  If company values are centered around gratitude and self-reflection, maybe some of the idle time is used to journal or write a note of appreciation to someone else in the center.

Whatever you decide to implement, don’t be afraid to garner feedback from your agents.  You may find that they themselves are feeling bored or would prefer to have some other activity.  Including them in the conversation not only opens the gates for some unexpected inspiration, it recruits their commitment to the center’s success.

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