Abandonment Rate: Actual or Not?

Posted By: Elizabeth Woodcock Industry,

The abandonment rate has long been considered a key performance indicator for contact centers, if not the most important one. The rate is simple - the volume of abandoned calls as a proportion of the total calls offered. However, the operative term in the definition is "abandoned." It may come as a surprise that there is no industry standard for what defines an abandoned call. Intuition would reveal that an abandoned call is one whereby the call has been initiated, but the caller disconnects before an agent handles the call. Indeed, managers may identify the difference between the volume of inbound calls offered and the calls handled to measure abandoned calls.

What if the caller waits 45 seconds before the call is handled before finally hanging up? Did the caller realize they had misdialed the call, or were they annoyed that no one picked up the phone? Is that call "abandoned?" Who decides when the disconnection emanates from the caller's error – or their frustration? There are no easy answers, as one cannot determine the intention behind every offered call.

For "short abandons," telecom experts offer the rationalization that callers may have dialed the wrong number or extension so that these calls should not detract from the performance of the contact center. Explaining how to filter out "short abandons" from "true abandons," a contact center vendor refers to "those calls that did not stay in the system long enough to be considered events." Another vendor notes the difference between "mistaken calls and calls with true intent," denoting this issue is important to measure performance accurately while recognizing that there is no accepted definition of a short abandon.

Research by the Patient Access Collaborative (PAC) demonstrates that not all non-handled calls are considered in the abandonment rate. If the caller disconnects after the call has been offered, but before a pre-set period (measured in seconds), the call is not counted as abandoned. In the contact center field, these are dubbed "short abandons." This year, we asked our members to report the threshold to be considered a true abandoned call. For the health systems* reporting this metric, 31% considered all calls that disconnected after offered as abandoned (i.e., at 0 seconds). The remaining 69% reported that calls under a certain threshold were not counted as abandoned calls. The timeframes for these non-abandoned calls ranged from 2 to 31 seconds.

Perhaps what is equally striking is that 23% of PAC health system members did not know if their system had established a threshold. (During the quality assurance process for the survey, these members were asked to confirm the setting - or acknowledge that they did not know what it was. Many respondents replied that they were unaware of this setting - and could not find anyone at their contact center who was.)

Consider the implications of this short abandon threshold (including ignorance of its existence)- let's say a health system is reporting a 5% abandonment rate in its contact center (which matches the 2023 goal for PAC members on a median and mean basis). The threshold is set at 10 seconds; however, 35% of all disconnected calls hang up before the 10-second mark (and therefore are not considered abandoned). For a call center with 1 million inbound calls offered, the actual abandonment rate when factoring in the abandoned calls before 10 seconds is 7.69% (50,000 counted abandoned calls + 26,924 previous uncounted abandoned calls before the 10-second threshold).

This is not to imply that the 7.69% rate is right – or that the 5% (or the threshold of 10 seconds) is wrong, but it is to raise awareness about the dangers of failing to understand the inputs of a vital metric used to manage a core operation. Of course, this also results in challenges to measuring this rate against an industry benchmark where the settings vary significantly. The good news is that most telecommunications systems can report the rate with and without the short abandons (and reveal the threshold for a short abandon).

Recognizing this system setting - and identifying the reporting around it - is important for PAC members engaged in managing the contact center.

A special thanks to PAC's Senior Director of Research, Chris Profeta, for his contributions to this article.

*PAC member health systems include health systems serving adults and children's hospitals.