SaaS Customer Service: What’s Your Agent-to-Supervisor Ratio?

This is a guest post by James Armijo, VP of Sales and Services, Kareo

The Agent-to-Supervisor ratio is a common topic of debate in customer service discussions.  Depending on the source, ratios from 8:1 to 15:1 are common.  While the nature of the work impacts the ratio significantly, I’ve found that the most important factor for fast growing SaaS companies is the experience of the agents.

This probably won’t come as a surprise.  Think of it this way: How many more questions does an agent fresh out of training have compared to an agent with six months of experience?  The answer in most organizations is that the inexperienced agent will have a lot more questions, and more questions means they need more time from their supervisor.

The effect of experience on Agent-to-Supervisor ratios in large call centers with a relatively stable headcount is minimal because experience doesn’t change (replacing attrition is constant).  However, in a company with revenue growing 5% or 10% per month and significant hiring, experience changes significantly over time.

The impact of insufficient supervision can be considerable:

  1. Churn and customer satisfaction: Morale will be lower because agents feel as though they don’t have the coaching they need to do their jobs effectively.
  2. Churn and customer satisfaction: Especially upset customers are further irritated by having to wait to speak with a supervisor, leading to higher churn and poor customer satisfaction.
  3. Inefficiency: Average call and hold times are generally higher because inexperienced agents have to put customers on hold while waiting for help with a question they can’t answer — which in turn requires that your support group increase staffing to satisfy customer demand (per DMG Consulting LLC, July 2007)

To help fast growing companies provide the management expertise their teams need to perform, let’s explore the concept of using the Agent Experience Index to determine the Actual Required Agent-to-Supervisor ratio.

The Agent Experience Index is a ratio that will tell you where your team is performing as a whole compared to an experienced agent.  An Index of 1 indicates that all agents are experienced.  The Index of fast growing companies with a large number of new staff members will be considerably less than 1.

The Actual Required Agent-to-Supervisor ratio is the ratio your support group should use based on the team’s Agent Experience Index and your estimated Agent-to-Supervisor ratio for experienced agents.

Examples of Agent-to-Supervisor Ratios

In the examples below, we compare two hypothetical support groups.  Both groups have the same Agent-to-Supervisor ratios by experience category, but you’ll see that rapid growth and hiring will affect the Actual Required Agent-to-Supervisor ratio.

The first group is a large support group with 5% quarter-over-quarter revenue and headcount growth.  You’ll see that in this group the Agent Experience Index is relatively unchanged over time.

The second group is a small support group with 20% year-over-year revenue and headcount growth in year one. In year two, headcount growth slows to 10% as the company becomes more efficient at deflecting calls.  You’ll see that in this group, the Agent Experience Index changes by about 21% over the two-year period.  If the group staffed using their experienced Agent-to-Supervisor ratio, they would have one less manager than the group truly needs during the entire period of their growth.  The impact is more dramatic when headcount growth is faster.

Step-by-Step Guide to Determining Your Actual Required Agent-to-Supervisor Ratio

Step 1: Define your criteria for the three key agent experience categories

  • New: Are not yet capable of answering the company’s most common questions from memory.
  • Intermediate: Can answer the company’s most common questions from memory, but struggle with troubleshooting when faced with a problem for which they don’t know the answer.
  • Experienced: Can confidently troubleshoot parts of the application with which they are unfamiliar

Step 2: Determine the Agent-to-Supervisor ratio for each of the agent experience categories by completing the exercise below, repeating for each experience category.

  1. Cases: Estimate the total number of cases each agent will require supervisor assistance with in a month.
  2. Help Time: Estimate the average time in minutes each case will take.
  3. Available Time: Estimate the total time in minutes a supervisor can dedicate to answering questions in a month (total working time, less time spent in staff meetings, training, agent development, etc.)
  4. Agent-to-Supervisor  ratio = Available Time / ( Cases * Help Time)

Step 3: Organize your current staff by experience category and calculate your Agent Experience Index.

  • Agent Experience Index = { [(A:SN / A:SE ) * HN ] + [(A:SI / A:SE ) * HI ] + HE } / HT

Definitions:

  • A:SN = Agent-to-Supervisor Ratio for New Agents
  • A:SI = Agent-to-Supervisor Ratio for Intermediate Agents
  • A:SE = Agent-to-Supervisor Ratio for Experienced Agents
  • HN = Number of New Agents
  • HI = Number of Intermediate Agents
  • HE = Number of Experienced Agents
  • HT = Total Number of Agents

Step 4: Multiply the Agent-to-Supervisor ratio for “Experienced” agents by the Agent Experience Index to determine your Actual Required Agent-to-Supervisor ratio.

Step 5: Create a forecast that includes future hiring and the progression that agents will make from one experience category to the next. Calculate the Agent Experience Index and Actual Required Agent-to-Supervisor ratio, and divide total agent headcount by the actual required Agent-to-Supervisor ratio to determine your required supervisor headcount.

James Armijo is Vice President of Sales and Services for Kareo, a leading provider of web-based medical billing software based in Irvine, CA.

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