Contact Center Trends

Selecting a call center service level objective

By Shauna Geraghty

0 min read

Consider this when determining your call center service level objective.

Many call center managers will reference the 80/20 rule when asked about their call center service level objective. The 80/20 rule, as applied to call center service level, states that 80% of calls should be answered in 20 seconds or less. This standard came from a 30 year old AT&T study that found that most callers would hang up after 20 seconds after trying to reach an agent. Although this study was important in paving the way for service level standards today, it was of course, conducted before interactive voice response (IVR) and automatic call distribution (ACD) systems, waiting queues and recorded greetings. Thus, the 80/20 rule is not an accurate industry standard.

In fact, there is no industry standard for service level. This is because call volume and service level fluctuate based on the company’s product stability, marketing efforts, team, budget and customers—no two companies are alike, even if they are within the same industry. To set their call center service level objective, companies should combine industry standards to the following factors:

Customer needs.

Your customer’s needs have a large impact on how long they are willing to wait in a queue before their call is answered. For instance, a customer who would like a quick answer to a simple question is more likely to abandon their call after a long wait than one that would like a more comprehensive and thorough answer to their more complex question. Acceptable hold times will vary based on your customer’s needs, thus service level objectives should be calculated with this in mind.

Customer expectations.

Your customer’s expectations when they call your company also have a large influence on how long they are willing to wait before their call is answered. In some industries, it is the norm to expect long hold times (i.e. airlines, credit card companies, etc.) and callers will typically wait longer to speak to a representative when calling these companies. Customer’s expectations are also influenced by their previous interactions with your company. So if their calls are typically answered quickly, they will maintain that expectation each time they call your company. When selecting a call center service level standard, it is important to analyze service levels within your industry as well as the business impact of failing to meet your customer’s expectations.

Customer priorities.

Analyzing your customer’s priorities is imperative when selecting a service level objective. Some customers are willing to sacrifice the quality of the interaction for more expedited service. Some are willing to wait for an agent who can better meet their needs. For example, customers who call a company are more likely to wait longer for a special promotion than when they call for information about the product they purchased. By understanding your customer’s priorities, you can more effectively select a service level objective based on this information.

Customer patience levels.

Taking customer patience into consideration is crucial to determining service levels. To do this, you should determine how long customers are willing to wait before service quality is affected and before they hang up. You should also consider whether or not these numbers are different for high value customers vs. lower value customer. This is a difficult domain to assess, as it can vary by person-specific factors such as personality, mood, age, employment status and amount of free time in their day as well as other factors such as the time of day, type of company, etc. To gain a better understanding of your customer patience levels, you should create customer profiles and analyze customer demographic data.

Customer satisfaction.

Customer satisfaction should be one of the main priorities of any inbound call center operation and thus should be taken into consideration when selecting a service level objective. To make sure customer satisfaction is accounted for when calculating service level, you should analyze how callers respond to longer wait times and how longer wait times affect customer satisfaction, loyalty, and brand image. You should also consider what the added lifetime value of customers is when call center service level is enhanced. By taking these factors into consideration when defining a service level objective, you can be sure that your service level metric is tied to customer satisfaction.

The Future Of Customer Loyalty


The future of customer loyalty

Alternative contact options.

Customers that interact with companies that offer support via chat, email, phone and in person are more likely to abandon calls in long wait queues (and thus seek an alternative method to contact your company) than customers that interact with companies that only offer phone support. Your service level objective should take this into consideration, especially when considering the impact of abandoned calls on your service level calculation.

Availability of the competition.

When customers have the option to hang up and call your competitor during long wait times, you should take this into consideration when calculating a service level objective. If your company is customer-centric and you would like to gain a competitive advantage in your industry, beating other major players on service level is a great start.

Employee workload.

Knowing what your workforce can tolerate will help you determine a more appropriate service level objective. You should consider how your service level objective and corresponding staffing strategy will affect employee workload, productivity and satisfaction.

Employee satisfaction and engagement.

Your employees’ satisfaction and engagement can make or break a call center operation. Thus, making sure that they are not experiencing the repercussions from angry callers who waited in long queues or overwhelmed from strict scheduling is essential when selecting your service level objective.

Business goals and objectives.

If your business goal is to reduce customer churn rates, increase customer satisfaction and increase the lifetime value of your company, than your service level objective should reflect these goals.

Core values of the company.

Customer-centric companies that aim to provide top-notch customer support should have higher service level standards than those that are not. Taking the core values of your company into consideration when selecting service level objectives is therefore extremely important.

Average call volume.

When selecting a service standard, it is imperative to take into consideration your average call volume. It is more common to impose a stricter standard for departments with lower call volumes that are fully capable of answering all calls that come in (i.e. that are staffed accordingly and are available to take the calls), than those with higher call volumes.

Value of the call.

Service level standards should be adjusted for the value of the call. For instance, sales calls are typically more valuable (as they have the potential to generate revenue) and thus sales teams may have a stricter service level standard than departments that field lower value calls (i.e. technical support departments).


One of the largest influencers on service level is budget. In general, more agents are required to meet a high call center service level objective. Additionally, investing in technology that is dedicated to providing more optimal service (i.e. better call center software) should be factored into your budget. Thus, taking your budget into consideration when calculating your service level objective is imperative.

Measuring call center service levels.

Service level objectives should be selected with all (or most) of the aforementioned factors in mind. When careful consideration is taken to define the service level that best suits your company’s needs, you can be confident that the metric you analyze is accurately measuring what you intend it to measure.

Relying on a strong software with analytical and reporting capabilities will ease the track and measure call center service levels or any other metrics.


Shauna Geraghty

As the first U.S. employee, Shauna helped to scale Talkdesk to over 1,000 employees in 7 offices globally. During her tenure, she has built Talkdesk's Marketing, Talent and HR functions from the ground up. Shauna has a doctorate in clinical psychology and has applied foundational knowledge from the field of psychology to help propel Talkdesk along its hyper-growth trajectory.