How Well Are Schedules Going? Graph Service Level

The following is excerpted from Brad Cleveland's recent book, Contact Center Management on Fast Forward (4th Edition), Chapter 8. For more information, see

Want to really know how well scheduling is going? Make a line graph of your service level as it was during a recent week. The following charts represent agent groups in three contact centers. Because these graphs display actual results by half hour (not results for a single day or averages for a week or month), they can expose recurring problem areas. (Note: the hours and days of operation are different for each, as are their service-level objectives, represented by the straight lines near the top of each chart. Each example represents a specific week.)


The first graph illustrates a fairly consistent service level that is centered on the organization's target of answering 85 percent of contacts in 30 seconds (minus a few short-lived problem areas). You are striving for a fairly consistent, on-target service level such as this. Yes, it looks a bit variable, but because service level is a high-level report, these graphs won't show stable, repeating patterns usually inherent to handling time or volume graphs.

The next graph illustrates a service level that ... um ... isn't so hot. You can see that service level is relatively consistent from day to day but well below the organization's objective of answering 75 percent of contacts in 20 seconds. It dips mid-morning, mid-afternoon, and around lunchtime, probably as the result of breaks and lunch.

The afternoons are ... let's put it this way ... consistently inconsistent. My hunch is that customer-related or other work is building up through the first part of the day and being squeezed into the afternoons, often at the expense of service level. Monday (likely the busiest day of the week) takes a beating. Service level also drops Thursday afternoon, possibly the result of meetings, training, or some other activity that occupies part of the team.

Based on these observations, you could investigate the following:

  • Can breaks and lunch be adjusted to provide better coverage during the mornings and afternoons? Can you move lunch to a later time for some agents? Granted, you have to be reasonable—few will want to take a break at 9 a.m. or eat lunch at 3 p.m. But even slight adjustments can yield significant results.
  • Is service level and response time work being forecasted and managed as well as possible? Do supervisors and agents know when to move from handling customer workload into other types of work? Do they have real-time information? Can some of the work that is not time-sensitive be shifted into the evening, when service level is higher?
  • Are there scheduling strategies available that would provide better coverage on Monday? Are there activities currently handled on Monday that can be moved to another day? Is there a way to provide better coverage Thursday afternoon? Is Thursday the best time for the event that is affecting service level?
  • Are there sufficient resources to achieve the service-level target, especially on Monday? Results such as these can indicate that, when all is said and done, the group might be doing about as well as it can. In that case, only additional staff or a reduction of workload (e.g., through self-service, contact prevention, or process improvements) is going to improve results.


The next figure reveals an erratic service level that is usually below the organization's objective of 80 percent answered in 20 seconds. This might be an indication that the resources to meet the objective are adequate, but that they aren't in the right places at the right times.

There are probably inconsistencies in how agents are handling the workload. Further, agents might not understand or have information on service level. Some of the issues to investigate include:

  • Is non-phone work being forecasted and managed as well as possible? Can some of the non-phone work be moved into the evening when service level is generally better?
  • Do supervisors and agents have real-time information on service level so they know when to sign off (or go into other work modes) rather than plug in and help handle the queue?
  • Do agents use work modes consistently? Do they know what constitutes after-call work, or are they mixing other activities into this mode?
  • Are there scheduling strategies available to provide better coverage on Mondays?
  • Assuming breaks, training, and non-phone work are being scheduled as appropriately as possible, is staffing adequate to achieve service-level options?

I encourage you to create service-level graphs by increment, using your own data. They can help reveal how well you're matching schedules to workloads and will expose recurring problem areas. Ultimately, they can be a good indication of how well you're getting the right people in right places at the right times.

Brad Cleveland is a customer experience consultant specializing in contact centers, support desks, and other customer-facing environments. He consults and speaks to a broad range of organizations and associations, and is author/editor of nine books including Contact Center Management on Fast Forward, recipient of an best-selling award ( Cleveland was founding partner of the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI), where he now serves as a senior advisor. His current research is focused on the future of customer experience; his blog can be followed at