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Workforce management terms: The complete A-Z glossary

Discover the key workforce management terms you need to know with our comprehensive glossary.

By Hannah Wren, Staff Writer

Last updated June 20, 2024

Effective workforce management (WFM) empowers you to boost productivity, enhance employee engagement, and grow your team’s skills. Navigate the path to success by familiarizing yourself with the terminology critical to implementing a winning strategy.

In this complete glossary, you’ll find a list of the 60+ most common acronyms and essential WFM terms you need to know.

Find a key term:

Abandon rate (ABN)

Abandon rate (ABN) measures the number of callers that hang up while waiting for customer support. Also known as call abandonment rate, ABN is a call center metric that can be found by dividing the difference between the number of calls received by the number of calls handled and multiplying by 100.

Abandon rate = ((# of calls received – # of calls handled) ÷ # of calls received) x 100

After-call work (ACW)

After-call work (AWC) refers to an agent’s tasks after interacting with a customer or prospect. These tasks increase efficiency, including follow-up emails, record updates, appointment scheduling, call documentation, etc.

Agent

In workforce management, an agent is an individual who handles customer service interactions through phone calls, live chat, email, and other channels. Agents are essential to customer service.

A CX statistic is next to an illustration of a person high-fiving a giant hand coming out of a cardboard box.

Agent engagement

Agent engagement is the level of commitment, voluntary involvement, and dedication an agent has toward their work and the company they work for.

Agent experience

Agent experience refers to an agent’s overall work experience, encapsulating their satisfaction levels, engagement, and opportunities for professional growth. Agent experience depends on training, tools, technology, management, coaching, workload, growth opportunities, and other factors.

Attrition

Attrition, also known as employee attrition, measures the loss of employees over a specified period. Employee departures can be voluntary or involuntary. This metric typically tracks how quickly (or slowly) your business fills vacancies.

Availability rate

Availability rate measures the amount of time an agent is prepared to handle customer inquiries but is not directly engaged in an interaction. Also known as idle time, you can find this metric by dividing the total time spent waiting for interactions by the total time worked.

Availability rate = (Total time spent waiting for interactions ÷ Total time worked) x 100

Average excess (AE)

Average excess (AE) refers to the amount of time contacts typically wait beyond the average wait time (AWT).

Average handle time (AHT)

Average handle time refers to the average amount of time a service interaction lasts. A good AHT is around six minutes.

Average handle time = (Total talk time + Total hold time + Follow-up time) ÷ Total # of calls

Average talk time (ATT)

Average talk time (ATT) measures how much time agents spend conversing with customers through calls, chats, emails, and other channels.

Average talk time = (Total handle time – Total hold time – Total wrap-up time) ÷ # of talk-based interactions handled

Average time to abandon (ATA)

Average time to abandon (ATA) measures the time a customer is willing to wait in a queue before hanging up. This is also referred to as the average patience of the customer.

Average wait time (AWT)

Average wait time (AWT), or the average speed of answer (ASA), is a customer service metric that refers to the time a customer typically waits in a queue or for a callback.

Average wait time = Total wait time for all interactions ÷ # of interactions

Back-office optimization (BOO)

Back-office optimization (BOO) involves automating and simplifying tasks and tracking productivity to create more efficient workflows. BOO also aligns back-office and front-office functions to improve customer experience (CX).

Blended agent

A blended agent is a representative who works in a contact center and handles customer interactions across various channels, including calls, emails, texts, chats, and social media messages.

Bot

A bot, also known as a chatbot, is a software application that can simulate human conversations, supporting customers in a friendly and familiar way. Highly intelligent bots like AI agents can resolve even the most complex requests autonomously.

Business process outsourcing (BPO)

Business process outsourcing (BPO) is when an organization utilizes a third party for secondary business processes like payroll, regulatory compliance, and marketing. Customer support organizations may invest in customer service BPO specifically for handling incoming and outgoing customer interactions.

Call center

A call center is a customer service team that answers inbound calls from a business’s prospects and customers. Call centers can also focus on sales activities, like increasing leads.

Channel

A channel is the method or the preferred platform on which a customer interacts with a business or contact center. Common customer service channels include phone calls, emails, chats, and social media messages.

Cost per contact

Cost per contact is the cost necessary for handling one call. Find this metric by dividing the total sum of running a contact center by the total number of interactions handled.

Cost per contact = Sum of running a contact center ÷ # of interactions handled

Customer service AI

AI in customer service refers to using intelligent technology to create fast, efficient, and personalized support experiences. AI-powered customer service tools can automate and streamline experiences and workflows, saving organizations time and money while providing 24/7 support to agents and customers.

A purple ring with three transparent circles neighbors a statistic about AI and the customer experience.

Dynamic scheduling

Dynamic scheduling is a strategy that uses automation and intelligent technology to analyze historical schedules, consider staff availability, account for customer expectations, optimize lull and peak periods, and schedule the right people for the right times.

Erlang formulas

Erlang formulas are safety staffing models that help businesses visualize the relationship between staffing, contact volume, and response time. The Erlang-C formula accounts for arrivals and handling time, while the Erlang-X formula accounts for abandonments and retrials.

Escalation

Escalation occurs when a customer interaction is redirected to a new agent with more experience or necessary skills. This typically happens when a customer presents a complex inquiry.

First come, first served (FCFS)

First come, first served (FCFS) refers to the order in which agents respond to queued interactions. This order is determined by when a customer enters the queue.

First contact resolution (FCR)

First contact resolution (FCR), also referred to as first call or first touch resolution, measures the number of contacts resolved on the first attempt.

Gross workforce

In workforce management, the gross workforce refers to the sum of the net workforce and shrinkage.

Gross workload

Gross workload is the total amount of work assigned to an individual or a team within a specific time frame.

Handling time

Handling time refers to the time it takes to handle a single service request and is the sum of other contact center metrics, including talk time, hold time, after-call work, transfer time, and wrap-up time.

Interval

In workforce management, an interval is a specific period where forecasting and staffing are calculated and accounted for independently.

Intraday management

Intraday management is a WFM technique where teams monitor and manage contact volumes and staffing trends. Also known as real-time management, this technique allows managers to adjust staffing as needed due to unexpected changes.

Key performance indicator (KPI)

A key performance indicator (KPI) is a quantifiable metric that demonstrates how effectively a company or individual is meeting critical business objectives or goals.

A person in a teal wheelchair sits at a desk while high-fiving a hand coming from a green laptop, next to a list of common WFM KPIs.

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Load balancing

Load balancing in customer service WFM is the act of distributing the workload between agents based on their skills and expertise. Organizations can use intelligent call routing and forecasting to disperse the workload equitably.

Longest idle agent (LIA)

The longest idle agent (LIA) refers to the agent who has had the longest time since their last contact. Typically, the LIA will handle the next customer interaction.

Metrics

Workforce management metrics are quantifiable measurements of team performance, employee engagement, and productivity that businesses can use to analyze and optimize operations.

Mobile workforce management

Mobile workforce management (MWM) refers to the processes, tools, and software used to manage, schedule, track, and analyze the workload and performance of remote employees.

Multi-skilling

Multi-skilling refers to the process of training employees in various skills. Multi-skilling typically focuses on teaching non-traditional or trade-specific skills, which helps prepare employees for more responsibilities.

Needs assessment

In reference to WFM, a needs assessment is a systemized process for recognizing the gap between a business or employee’s current level of performance and their desired state.

Net Promoter Score® (NPS)

Net Promoter Score® (NPS) is a measure of a customer’s likelihood of promoting or recommending a business, service, or product.

Net Promoter Score® = (Number of promoters ÷ Total number of respondents) – (Number of detractors ÷ Total number of respondents)

Learn more about Net Promoter Score® by reading our NPS guide.

The three NPS categories, including detractors, passives, and promoters, and their likelihood of recommending a business.

Net workload

Net workload typically refers to the remaining workload after accounting for completed tasks or assignments, representing the tasks or workload that still need to be addressed or completed within a given timeframe.

Occupancy rate

The occupancy rate measures how much of an agent’s paid time is spent on support-related activities versus non-support activities.

See also: Utilization

Omnichannel

Omnichannel is a CX strategy that integrates communication channels and customer data across the customer journey for faster and more personalized experiences.

Predictive staffing

Predictive staffing is a process where managers use AI and machine learning to analyze historical data and predict future staffing needs to reduce overtime, minimize staffing gaps, and automatically schedule employees.

Quality assurance (QA)

Quality assurance (QA) involves reviewing support interactions to ensure products and services consistently meet pre-determined quality standards.

A large thumbs-up is in the background of a laptop, phone, and lamp, next to a list of customer service QA benefits.

Quality management

Quality management refers to the process of overseeing and evaluating all customer interactions. Automated quality management uses AI to automate reviews, which can help teams identify gaps and improve CX.

Quality monitoring

Quality monitoring is when businesses review customer service interactions to assess conversations. The data obtained from quality monitoring helps teams optimize interactions and reduce churn rate.

Queue

A queue is a virtual waiting line. The queue typically includes customers on hold, inquiries awaiting assignment or first contact, and paused interactions.

Required staffing

Required staffing refers to the optimal number of employees or agents needed to adequately handle the workload or demand within a specific period, ensuring that service levels and customer expectations are met efficiently.

Routing

Routing directs customer requests to the most qualified parties based on factors like agent skill, capacity, status, conversation priority, sentiment, intent, and language.

Safety staffing

Safety staffing refers to the number of agents a business needs to meet specific service expectations. It is typically calculated using Erlang formulas.

Service level agreement (SLA)

A service level agreement (SLA) is a customer service guarantee typically incorporated within a broader contract. Written customer service SLAs define the customer support standards and compliance requirements for quality, availability, timeliness, and other factors.

Shrinkage

Shrinkage measures the paid time agents are unavailable to handle customer interactions. This percentage accounts for breaks, meetings, training sessions, after-call work, time off, and other tasks.

Turnover

Employee turnover is the number of employees that leave a workplace in a specific time frame. Turnover accounts for voluntary and involuntary exits but does not include internal transfers or promotions.

Upskilling

Upskilling entails providing employees with training programs or other development opportunities to expand abilities and knowledge to close skills gaps.

Utilization

Utilization refers to how much of an agent’s total working time gets spent on support-related versus non-work activities to measure their total productive time.

See also: Occupancy rate

Volume

In customer service, volume measures the number of inquiries and support tickets received within a specified period. Also known as contact volume, it is typically measured per quarter-hour, hour, or day.

Workforce

A workforce refers to the people and teams at a company. A workforce manager helps hire, schedule, and train the workforce of individual businesses.

Workforce engagement management (WEM)

Workforce engagement management (WEM) is the set of tools used to optimize support operations. WEM uses WFM and QA solutions to improve efficiency, boost performance, and reduce customer churn.

A comparison of workforce management and quality assurance.

Workforce forecasting

Workforce forecasting is a strategic WFM practice that helps teams anticipate scheduling needs by predicting staffing volumes based on historical data.

Workforce management (WFM)

Customer service workforce management refers to processes and tools that help CX managers ensure appropriate staffing levels across channels, improve productivity, and measure performance. Call center workforce management focuses on the WFM processes useful in call and contact centers.

Workforce optimization

Workforce optimization (WFO) is a strategy for maximizing operational efficiency. WFO combines WFM and QA principles by intertwining performance data, intelligent staff forecasting, and actionable coaching.

Workforce scheduling

Workforce scheduling in customer service refers to optimizing agent schedules to meet customer expectations and organizational demand.

Workload analysis

Workload analysis involves evaluating and distributing assignments to team members to achieve a balanced workload that enhances efficiency, quality, and satisfaction.

End team inefficiencies with Zendesk WFM

While workforce management terms may seem complex, they all work together to help teams understand WFM, optimize service efficiency, and enhance agent and customer experiences. Dive into the building blocks of staff management with Zendesk AI-powered WFM, where automated scheduling, workforce forecasting, and activity tracking enable organizations to improve agent productivity and efficiency, control costs, and empower teams to thrive.

Net Promoter, Net Promoter Score, and NPS are trademarks of NICE Satmetrix, Inc., Bain & Company, Inc., and Fred Reichheld.

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