Staff to Supervisor Ratio
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Staff to Supervisor Ratio

While somewhere between 8 and 12 agents per supervisor makes sense in many centers, a 5:1 or 20:1 ratio may be equally justifiable.

In contact centers, the agent-to-supervisor ratio is an especially important consideration. Effective ratios are dependent on the tasks, standards and responsibilities of both agents and supervisors. Many centers today have between 8 and 12 staff per supervisor.

However, there are notable differences by industry. For example, financial and insurance companies tend to be on the low end of that spectrum (with more supervisors managing fewer agents), while online retailers and telecommunications providers tend to be on the high end. Further, there can be significant exceptions; e.g., some reservations centers have a relatively large span of control, approaching or exceeding 20 staff per supervisor. And technical support centers and other complex environments can have as few as five staff per supervisor. Even within an industry, there can be a wide variance.

Hours of operation can also be a significant factor. For example, many organizations maintain a minimum number of supervisors, even during off-hour shifts that require proportionally fewer agents.

In short, be careful about drawing quick conclusions based on these figures or industry benchmarks. There are no simple answers along the lines of, "If you are a such-and-such type of contact center, you ought to have X staff per supervisor."

Some of today's trends are working to drive the span of control up, including:

  • Budget constraints: As organizations go through restructurings and/or budget cutbacks, they often must reduce the relative number of supervisors (increase spans of control). Many managers admit that a downward adjustment of span of control would be ideal but insist that funds simply are not available for more supervisor/manager positions.
  • Growing workloads: In some sectors, contact center workloads have consistently increased. In those centers that struggle to keep up with growth, the span of control tends to increase.
  • Growth of teams: A positive development has been the growth of team-based environments, which has challenged the traditional role of supervisors. Contact centers have largely moved away from production-oriented operations toward organizations that are flatter and more team-oriented. In many cases, team leaders are assuming functions that traditionally have been in the domain of managers and supervisors.
  • Lower turnover: Another positive development is that a growing number of centers are directly and successfully reducing turnover. As the average experience level of agents moves upward, less supervision is generally required.

Other developments in today's environment tend to drive span of control down, including:

  • The growing complexity of contacts: As better-applied technologies offload routine contacts and as new contact channels proliferate, agents are handling interactions that require more human savvy and know-how. The growing complexity of the work tends to inherently require more coaching and feedback.
  • More monitoring and coaching, more extensively: Many contact centers are employing more robust monitoring approaches and taking larger samples for coaching and development than in the past. Monitoring, feedback and coaching take a significant amount of time.
  • More small contact centers: This may be the biggest reason that the average ratio across the industry has moved down — there are simply more small groups in the sample. For example, if a new contact center has only seven or eight agents, it will still likely have a supervisor even though that person will be able to supervise more people as the center grows.

There are potentially other factors that can confuse the issue of ratios. For example, the tasks of supervisors vary widely from one organization to the next. Some lean more toward lead agent responsibilities, in which they lead a team but also help to handle the workload, while others are much more involved in management responsibilities. Further, the time that supervisors spend monitoring and coaching (the most time-consuming activity beyond handling calls, in most centers) can vary by many multiples. And some organizations have set up internal help desks to field inquiries from agents who need help — a responsibility traditionally handled by supervisors.

Recommendations in general business literature range from the train ‘em and get out of the way school of thought to a more structured approach on the other. In their classic book, Executive Leadership, authors Elliot Jacques and Stephen D. Clement contend that “There is more nonsense centering around the topic of span of control than around nearly any other subject in the whole field of organization and management." They go on to criticize managers who search for easy-to-apply rules of thumb.

In contact centers, somewhere between 8 and 12 agents per supervisor makes sense in many centers. But a 5:1 or 20:1 ratio may be equally justifiable – there’s simply no alternative to understanding your own unique environment and making a decision that is right for you.



Topics: Workforce Management, Learning & Development, Site Operations, People Management

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Jeff Palzkill — 12:14PM on Jun 14, 2012

Brad,

I like to use a ratio that allows the supervisor to go over 3 quality monitors with their agents weekly. So if a supervisor has X hours available for weekly 1:1 meetings with their agents, and the average call length is Y, then I just use X/2Y (normalized to hours) as the heuristic for team size.

Example calls are 10 minutes in length, and supervisor has 10 hours available to meet with their team 1:1 weekly. Then 3*10 = 30 or Y = 0.5 hours and 2Y becomes 1 hour. 10 hours divided by 1 hour arrives at a team size of 10.

I came up with this a while ago because it gives the supervisor time to play the recording and discuss the good and bad pieces of the call as well as go over any administrative issues with the agent – hence the 2Y. And using a number like 10 hours per week for 1:1 with agents usually works out as it is about 25% of a “normal” week.

As you can see this calculation will create bigger teams in the transactional (e.g. credit cards, etc.) call centers – which is normal, and smaller teams in more complex call centers – I’m currently in Wells Fargo Home Preservation where the calls and documentation work run about 15 minutes so our team sizes are much smaller.

Currently the business leaders assign the team sizes but thought you’d like to know some of the thought process I’ve been using in previous positions.

Jeff Palzkill
Lead Call Center Planning Analyst
IEX-SPOC (Single Point of Contact)
Wells Fargo Home Mortgage | 800 Walnut Street | Des Moines IA
MAC N0003-08C
Tel 515/557-1796

Bob A — 8:54AM on Oct 23, 2012

Brad,

Is there a recommended formula/calculation that is used to determine the best fit ratio for a call center supervisor team? Something that allows the Sups to coach 1-on-1 each day, but also accounts for the time related to other key activities and tasks.

I feel we're running way to high right now at 18:1, but have now logical/structured approach to determine the proper ratio.

Thx.

Bob

Brad Cleveland — 12:23PM on Jun 14, 2012

Jeff - thanks for sharing, and I really like your approach. Makes much sense!

-- Brad Cleveland

Brad Cleveland — 3:33PM on Nov 3, 2012

Bob,

I concur, 18:1 is comparably high. I like the logic Jeff is describing here for coming to a ratio that makes sense. -- Brad

Dmitry Galkin — 5:44AM on Dec 1, 2014

Brad, Jeff

Heuristic which is offered above does not take into account the fact that Y (Average Talking Time) varies:
1) in different skill groups (at least, due to the differences in service scenarios)
2) When incoming and outgoing contacts
3) In different client’s access channels
You should note that even within the same skill-group, operators can have different qualifications just because they have a different experience. It is better to count harmonic average Y in such case. Call centers - is a real challenge for a perfectionist.

Dmitry Galkin — 5:44AM on Dec 1, 2014

Brad, Jeff

Heuristic which is offered above does not take into account the fact that Y (Average Talking Time) varies:
1) in different skill groups (at least, due to the differences in service scenarios)
2) When incoming and outgoing contacts
3) In different client’s access channels
You should note that even within the same skill-group, operators can have different qualifications just because they have a different experience. It is better to count harmonic average Y in such case. Call centers - is a real challenge for a perfectionist.

Brad Cleveland — 10:20PM on Dec 1, 2014

Points well made, Dmitry! Your last comment (on perfectionism) brought a smile and underscores up an important tradeoff. It takes good judgement to know how far to go in accounting for the many possible variables. I recall a consulting mentor who reminded me for many years to strive for success and not perfection. I would work so hard (and at great time expended) to reach that last ounce of accuracy... I'll let you decide where that tradeoff is in your environment.

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