Butts in Seats: Ways to Up Agent Adherence

Greg Levin

Agent adherence to schedule – also known simply as "adherence" or, in less evolved call centers, "get your butt in your seat NOW" – is a metric that measures how often your agents are logged in to take calls (when they are scheduled to be) as opposed to in the break room crying for their mother.

Adherence is not only an important productivity metric, it is one that agents typically accept and buy into, since it is within their direct control. Unlike with such common – yet often polarizing – productivity metrics as number of calls handled per hour/shift and average handle time, agents alone determine whether or not they meet their adherence objective. They know the impact they each have on service level (assuming they have been taught this in training, another best practice), and they know their schedule – what time they need to arrive in the morning, be back from breaks/lunch, and emerge from under their workstation after a panic attack.

If an agent is not in his or her seat when he or she is supposed to be, it is that agent and that agent alone who is accountable, with the exception of when a bullying coworker has duck-taped him to the bathroom wall for a laugh, or if the agent gets trapped under an ACD report.


It’s essential to set a feasible and fair adherence objective, one that meets the contact center’s and customer’s needs without forcing agents to pee in a jar at their workstations. As with virtually every other metric, there is no universal industry standard for adherence to schedule per se, though most leading contact centers shoot for the 85%-90% range. Meeting such an objective would require each agent to be available to handle contacts 51-54 minutes for each hour they are scheduled, thus leaving enough time for runs to the restroom, seeking assistance from supervisors, or searching the help wanted ads for a less demanding job.

It should be noted that scheduled time away from the phones – such as breaks, lunches, training and beatings – is not counted as time assigned to handle contacts, and thus should not be factored into adherence to schedule measurements.

Agents are human beings, at least in most contact centers, and thus need to be treated as such when it comes to measuring and "enforcing" adherence to schedule. Merely telling agents that they need to be in their seats at certain times "or else" will do little to foster agent buy-in and commitment, and a lot to foster agent graffiti and arson. Leading contact centers ensure that agents meet adherence objectives without the use of cattle prods or border collies. Some of the non-invasive and respectful tactics these centers utilize to keep agents in their seats include:

• Educating new-hires (and reminding existing agents) on the meaning and importance of adherence, and the impact that each agent’s adherence to schedule has on the customer experience and each other’s sanity.

• Doing a good job with workforce management to ensure that agents don’t have to frequently endure call deluges, which will cause burnout and spontaneous combustion, thus encouraging agents to take longer breaks, or not show up at all.

• Involving agents more in the scheduling process – e.g., enabling them to access schedules, request vacations and bid for/trade shifts right from their desktop – to ensure more buy-in from staff and trick them into thinking they have the slightest semblance of control over their lives.

• Basically, doing anything that helps make the job more enjoyable and decreases burnout. Examples include: Rewarding/recognizing agents for regularly meeting adherence objectives; providing agents with fun stress-reduction techniques they can do between calls; offering a work-at-home option; and, of, course, removing the steel bars and the seatbelts from their workstation.