Team Capacity Planning in Customer Service: Why and How

Team capacity planning is one of the foundations of providing great customer service.

If your customer service team has bad capacity planning, your agents will feel overworked and understaffed. Their output and quality of work will suffer over time. If your capacity planning is off, you also won’t have any buffer to manage any unexpected events that increase service demand, such as a product outage.

In short, it’s not a pretty picture.

Contrast that with a team that has a staffing capacity model that works. The team won’t regularly have a workload that exceeds what they’re able to handle. They’ll be able to invest a lot more energy into crafting the type of customer experience that your customers are looking for. You’ll have resources available to tackle tasks outside of the support queue—like improving your self-service options or collaborating with Product—because you’ve accounted for these in your capacity model.

The value of service capacity planning

Capacity planning is ultimately a way for your team to plan for the future.

As you work on capacity planning, you’ll gain a much deeper understanding of where your team’s time is spent. You’ll learn about the actual workload of the different tasks, channels, and projects your team is involved in.

This will enable you to manage your resources more efficiently. You’ll have clearer insight into everything going on, meaning you can allocate resources exactly where you need them the most. Another benefit is that budgeting for your team will be much more accurate, contributing to better planning across your whole company.

Bear in mind that hiring new team members, as well as training and onboarding them, is a process that always takes some amount of time.

Hiring more staff at the exact moment you need them usually leads to chasing your own tail. You’re always a bit behind the curve. This is especially likely to happen if your business is seasonal, because the workload can spike so quickly during busy seasons. While this can make planning harder, a solid plan will help eliminate these headaches.

Team capacity planning goes hand in hand with forecasting, so this is only the first step in figuring out the best possible staffing model for your team. Capacity planning is about understanding the work that your team can produce, whereas forecasting is when you start making projections for the future. Both of these are essential to developing a staffing capacity model that works for you.

How to do capacity planning

Your approach to capacity planning will depend on your specific goals and support channels. We’ll use email below as an example, but you can take these factors and apply them to phone, chat, or social media support as well.

In most circumstances there are three key variables that influence any capacity planning formula:

  • Average time spent in tickets per person
  • Average number of tickets resolved per person
  • Average handling time

Average time spent in tickets per person

No member of your support team will spend every hour of every day working on tickets. To build a truly accurate image of their capacity, you need to estimate how many hours per day are actually spent on tickets.

To get to this number, you’ll need to estimate the time your team spends in meetings, on breaks, and working on projects, or other tasks. The total might range from 60% of time spent on tickets to 90%, depending on your company’s priorities and the team’s structure.

Average number of tickets resolved per person

The average number of tickets worked in a period will vary from person-to-person. It’s often impacted by the channels your team supports. You can view this metric for any time period—day, week, month, and so on—but since it’s an average, using a longer timespan will help eliminate outliers. We’d suggest starting with a monthly metric as your baseline.

Average handling time

Once you know the two numbers above you should be able to estimate your average handling time.

For example, if you know that your team members spend an average of six hours per day working on tickets and each of them replies to 60 tickets in that time, your average handling time is about six minutes per ticket (360 minutes divided by 60 tickets). Treating average handling time as a unique variable is useful, because you’ll want to monitor whether this number increases or decreases over time.

These three factors should enable you to know what your service capacity is. You can always add in more complexity if needed, but this gives you a basic approach to understanding your team’s capacity.

Let’s look at how you put it all together:

Say your team can handle 10 tickets per hour per agent. You can then use this as the basis of any future forecasting and resource allocation. If your projections show that you expect 3000 incoming tickets for a specific week, you know that you need 300 hours spent working on tickets during that week. Assuming that each agent spends six hours per day or 30 hours per week working on tickets, you would need 10 agents to cover that workload for that week.

Best practices to measure capacity

Team capacity planning can actually be quite simple. The above approach is an easy way to get a grasp on your team’s capacity. For the best success, you should also keep a few best practices in mind when making future decisions.

Account for vacation and sick time

Always account for holidays and sickness when you calculate your team’s capacity.

It might be difficult to accurately predict sick time, but you can start by looking at historical averages across your team. If your company provides a specific number of vacation days, you can also subtract those from your total expected work days per year. This is a huge factor that dramatically changes how accurate your capacity planning is in practice.

Calibrate regularly

One of the most important things to do when you start capacity planning is double-check your assumed capacity against your team’s actual capacity throughout the year.

When you’ve done capacity planning once, it’s easy to assume that these factors remain constant over time. That’s a false assumption. New processes, technology changes, or product releases can all impact the amount of time your team spends working on tickets or how long each ticket takes. Team capacity is always in flux.

Keep an eye on these numbers and recalculate them regularly to create the most accurate model possible.

Create buffer

It’s usually smart to build in some type of buffer to your capacity planning and forecasting.

Rather than planning to use 100% of your team’s capacity in a period of time, you should add in a little extra breathing room. What that buffer looks like is hugely dependent on your own circumstances, such as the likelihood of unexpected events or the impact that these events tend to have. Team capacity planning is something that often takes a few rounds to get right though, so giving yourself breathing room will usually help.

Additional factors to consider

Depending on your specific needs and circumstances, you may need to figure out how to measure capacity across multiple other factors as well. Some examples are:

  • If you provide support across multiple time zones, you’ll need to take coverage into account. If incoming volume varies significantly during different times of day, your capacity will also need to change accordingly.
  • If you support multiple channels—like chat and email at the same time—you’ll need to calculate those separately and understand how they impact each other.
  • Any multilingual support should also be treated separately.

Any of the above factors will make team capacity planning more complex. But the more complex your team structure is, the more essential accurate capacity planning becomes!

If you’re looking for a way to scale your team easily and efficiently, working with an outsourcing partner like Peak Support can be a great option. You’ll get support agents who directly help your customers, but you’ll also get help with capacity planning, training, and more.

Contact us today if you’re interested in learning more!

Written By:

Peak Support