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Dimensioning Large Call Centers

Sem Borst, Avi Mandelbaum and Martin I. Reiman
Operations Research
Vol. 52, No. 1 (Jan. - Feb., 2004), pp. 17-34
Published by: INFORMS
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/30036558
Page Count: 18
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Dimensioning Large Call Centers
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Abstract

We develop a framework for asymptotic optimization of a queueing system. The motivation is the staffing problem of large call centers, which we have modeled as M/M/N queues with N, the number of agents, being large. Within our framework, we determine the asymptotically optimal staffing level N* that trades off agents' costs with service quality: the higher the latter, the more expensive is the former. As an alternative to this optimization, we also develop a constraint satisfaction approach where one chooses the least N* that adheres to a given constraint on waiting cost. Either way, the analysis gives rise to three regimes of operation: quality-driven, where the focus is on service quality; efficiency-driven, which emphasizes agents' costs; and a rationalized regime that balances, and in fact unifies, the other two. Numerical experiments reveal remarkable accuracy of our asymptotic approximations: over a wide range of parameters, from the very small to the extremely large, N* is exactly optimal, or it is accurate to within a single agent. We demonstrate the utility of our approach by revisiting the square-root safety staffing principle, which is a long-existing rule of thumb for staffing the M/M/N queue. In its simplest form, our rule is as follows: if c is the hourly cost of an agent, and a is the hourly cost of customers' delay, then N* = R + y*(a/c)\sqrt{R}$, where R is the offered load, and $y^{*}(\cdot)$ is a function that is easily computable.

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