Call Abandonment Basics

Western Electric 202Phone systems (also called IVRs or PBXes) usually measure something referred to as a call abandonment rate. How exactly the call abandonment rate is defined varies from company to company and from phone system to phone system, but in general, the inbound call abandonment rate tracks the number of people who hang up before they start talking to an employee. (There are call abandonment rates for outbound calls that telemarketing companies track, but that’s a different thing entirely.)

Some companies actually strive for high call abandonment rates (a higher proportion of people who hang up). These companies generally don’t place a huge emphasis on phone-based customer service and want to reduce the cost of the customer service they provide. Fewer callers getting through to employees means fewer are employees are needed and more money saved, so companies design extremely complicated phone systems that are designed to help customers automatically (self-service) and have messages pushing customers to other support mediums (e. g. email, web, etc.).

More customer-centric organizations tend to favor lower call abandonment rates (fewer people hang up, more people talk to employees). They work to have simple phone menus that don’t do anything more than they have to (route the call to the right person/place) and these companies go out of their way to ensure that customers are having an easy time getting to talk to their employees and getting the help they need. They have hold music that isn’t annoying and that says “We’ll be with you shortly. Thanks for your patience” instead of hold music that says “You can get your answers online at” It is a different way of thinking and a way I’d encourage companies in any sort of competitive industry to think.

Some call abandonment rates factor in things like a 10 or 20 second delay before counting it as an actual abandoned call or require that someone push a button and actually wait on hold and then hang up before counting it as actually abandoned. There are then a number of math/proportion nuances that a lot of companies use when calculating abandonment rate. I generally advise including a 10 or 15 second delay in the numbers and counting all hang ups that meet that criteria. As long as the methodology is consistent, how exactly you go about calculating your call abandonment rate doesn’t matter as much.

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4 Responses to “Call Abandonment Basics”

  1. Justin said:

    Oct 22, 09 at 8:42 am

    I agree that abandonment can be a very tricky, yet valuable metric. The only other thing that I would add, is that in my experience abandonment is almost always tied directly to queue time. I wouldn’t go as far to say that there is a direct correlation between the two, because as you mention there can be a number of reasons the caller hangs up, but typically the longer the hold times, the higher the abandonment rate. A support organization that is efficiently staffed, can usually decrease their abandonment rates quite drastically.

    I would also separate IVR disconnects from abandonment rate. If a caller disconnects while listening to a recorded message/IVR options, they are most likely gaining some sort of value and information. Only if they take the time to work their way through the IVR, and begin their hold time, does this count towards abandonment rate. But as you mention, every organization has their own math associated with this metric, and most others, so it’s up to them.

    Would you say there is a target abandonment rate that support organizations should shoot for?

  2. Service Untitled said:

    Oct 24, 09 at 5:00 pm


    Thanks for your comment and your good points. I think target abandonment rate varies on the industry and the type of service the company wants to provide. 3% and 10% are numbers I hear pretty often, but a lot of it depends on the math. A company with a really aggressive calculation method might see a high abandonment rate, whereas a company with a very relaxed methodology might see a really low one.

  3. Larry Streeter - VP Customer Support said:

    Oct 26, 09 at 8:09 am

    Great article on what is, next to customer satisfactions scores, the most effective measurement of your call center performance!

    I would place our company in that category of “customer -centricity” as we offer a very quick average speed of answer and therefore, low abanondon rate (4.2% for October as I write this!).

    The one caveat I would offer is to not be afraid to promote alternative channels on your hold messages. Changing demographics have shown that some generations prefer these channels (live chat, knowledge bases access) over the the traditional phone channel but may not know your company offers such. We regularly promote that our live chat channel is also available on our phone hold messages so that customers can make intelligent choices as to how they would like to interact with us. As a result, we’ve seen slow, steady growth in these alternative channels with customer satisfaction scores that rival, and even at times exceed those of our phone channel!

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    Jul 04, 10 at 1:21 pm

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