What are the Ideal Service Desk Agent Utilization Rates?

A man smiling while wearing a headset

From a cost control standpoint, much of the success of service desk support operations depends on properly interpreting and reacting to call metrics to maximize your service desk’s resources. In order to deploy the appropriate staff levels as call volumes fluctuate, or determine the right number of personnel to bring on board or measure individual productivity, service desks have to have a keen grasp of their agents’ Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), particularly their utilization rates. Utilization rates typically indicate the percentage of time that service desk agents are productive including taking calls for support, documenting their work in a ticketing system, or researching and developing troubleshooting procedures for newly introduced technology issues.

When developing a scope of services for potential clients, agent utilization rates (based on contact flow throughout the day) are key metrics that the service desk considers when developing the best possible pricing structure.  Other areas of consideration include desired service levels (speed to answer, response times), contact length, level of expertise required to resolve issues (agent skill set and resolution rates), and solution model (shared versus dedicated (or hybrid), on-site versus remote, etc.). In a shared solution model, certified agents share their expertise among multiple clients, in the process maximizing their utilization rate (calculated as the percentage of time agents are handling contacts), per incident pricing tends to be somewhat lower than it would be in a dedicated staffing model, assuming the volume doesn’t grossly outpace the contracted monthly service levels.

That being said, the question becomes what is the ideal utilization rate? Service desk outsourcing industry best practices usually dictate the percentage should be somewhere between 50% and 60%. At ABS, the ideal threshold falls within the standard at 60%, taking into consideration those agents dedicated to fielding mostly emails and web submits or working after-hours shifts when call volume is at a comparatively lower level.  Although low utilization can be attributed to overstaffing and/or possibly call volume dips, it may also identify training deficiencies for agents who for whatever reason aren’t handling an appropriate number of contacts.   Their skill sets may limit the types of inbound calls routed to them in the queue and therefore minimize their overall utilization. Or if the group utilization rate is low, the root cause can often be ascribed to overstaffing.

On the other end of the spectrum, since service desk support is a people business and not robot powered, organizations should be wary of agent stress levels and attrition, not to mention the adverse impact on service quality.  When utilization rates are inordinately high, agents can rush calls, make more mistakes in documentation, omit crucial details in open tickets and, worst of all, prompt negative customer surveys due to abrupt conversations and inaccurately entered information. In the end, it is a three-legged stool where customer satisfaction, appropriate utilization rates, and retention of valued agents are all kept in balance.

So how does your service desk organization define utilization rates? And what is your ideal number?