Workforce Management Hints, Tips & Best Practices
Artificial Intelligence is not yet a reality. And if you saw Avengers: Age of Ultron, you know that may be a good thing.
Sometimes we get the feeling that the machines are taking over. They have already assumed many jobs that used to require people, and complete them more quickly and efficiently. This is true in the contact center as well, and has been since interactive voice response began routing calls to available agents.
But will they ever take over entirely? Will a contact center one day be comprised of a roomful of voice-activated machines taking calls, completing tasks and analyzing the data thereafter?
That this could happen is undeniable; the question is, should it happen? And the answer is no.
Regardless of how sophisticated technology becomes, there should always be a human element in some forms of customer communication. The goal for contact centers will be to find the right workforce optimization balance between sophisticated technology and professionally trained agents.
Anyone who has ever become trapped in a conversation with a virtual call recipient and their menu of pre-recorded options (press 1 if you are calling to place an order, press 2 if you would like to return a product, etc.) soon realizes that their business could be conducted more efficiently with a human being at the other end of the line.
And while there are now younger adults who have never known a world without smartphones, ATMs and self check-outs at the grocery store, some tasks simply cannot be handled by an automated response. This is especially true if a customer is angry or disappointed – when that happens you want someone who will listen to the problem, empathize with your situation, apologize for your inconvenience and try to provide a solution.
No matter how intriguing the idea of artificial intelligence (AI) agents may be, contact center technology that is not supported by living, breathing agents can never provide the same positive customer experience.
Everyone looks forward to a 3-day weekend – with the exception of those who have to work one or all of those days, and those that have to make sure resources are allocated at a contact center to meet consumer demand.
As Memorial Day weekend approaches, here are some of the ways that workforce management can help contact center managers anticipate and optimize for the three-day holiday.
- Gathering Data – historical reports from the ACD provide the best indicators of what to expect. Go back at least two years and analyze call volume and other important KPIs.
- Remove Variances – a holiday is a variance in itself so that will obviously be taken into account, but watch for other issues that might be responsible for lower or higher numbers.
- Follow the Pattern – what specifically happened last Memorial Day weekend? Perhaps call volume dropped on Friday, was almost nonexistent Sunday but picked up again on Monday. Will that pattern remain consistent? Or is there some reason it might change?
- Check with Marketing – Has the company announced a new Memorial Day sale or promotion? How will that factor into call volume?
Once you have this information, it will be much easier to calculate staff requirements to meet service goals.
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What do the experts predict when it comes to workforce management strategy? Here are five trends that are already having an impact.
1. Changing Laws
The Affordable Care Act and increases in the minimum wage were two of the more prominent business stories last year. But this is the year when the fallout from this legislation will be felt at many types of businesses including contact centers. Result? More compliance concerns, and perhaps changes in scheduling that will affect the hours available to part time agents.
2. Satisfied Employees = Satisfied Customers
Customers know immediately if they are speaking with an agent that is happy in his or her work, or one that is watching the clock and going through the motions. While many company cost-cutting efforts begin at the agent level, 2015 may see a renewed focus on investing in employees, making sure they are engaged in the customer service process and giving them the tools they need to succeed.
3. New Kids
The Baby Boom generation continues to retire in larger numbers every year, with many of their positions now being assumed by members of the Gen X and millennial generations. How will this affect workforce dynamics in the contact center? How will training methods need to adjust?
4. Workforce Management
Businesses collect data, but may not analyze it properly. Workforce management offers a way to unlock the key elements that expose where service is thriving and where it could use a little help. Decision-making will be determined on actionable insights based on hard evidence.
5. User-Friendly Technology
According to The Workforce Institute, workforce management software will evolve by integrating user-friendly features and functionality now found in consumer products, such as more responsive design and drag-and-drop touchscreens.
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This year looks to be a time of hiring at many contact centers, as the economy continues to steadily improve and business is picking up.
But more agents means more salaries, and even if company profits are headed in the right direction it is still imperative to budget wisely, cutting costs wherever possible while maintaining customer service levels.
Doing so is very difficult without a workforce management (WFM) solution. With the advanced functionality and the more accurate forecasting and scheduling made possible by WFM, as well as the data it delivers on agent performance, schedule adherence and KPIs, contact center managers can always be assured the contact center’s resources are being utilized in the most efficient and cost-effective manner.
What are some of the benefits WFM can provide that spreadsheets cannot?
Here are the most important:
- Real-time Adherence to schedule
One of a contact center manager’s most important tasks is keeping track of how the number and length of calls received by each agent matches the volume anticipated before the shift began. Tracking and schedule adherence are difficult, if not flat-out impossible, with just a spreadsheet. Spot-checks are fine as far as they go, but without the real-time tracking provided by WFM there is a higher risk of over/under staffing, shrinkage and missed service levels.
You know what types of calls your contact center receives, and you know which agents are adept at handling those particular calls. But the process of routing calls to the best recipients is more complex given the number of calls expected in any shift, and the number of agents available to handle them. Skill-based routing becomes less challenging with a WFM solution.
It’s not just about having a Spanish-speaking agent available for calls from Spanish customers – it’s having the right number of agents in place with the necessary skills to handle the influx of calls. It is forecasting in a way that meets service levels for every skill type, and taking into account which agents have multiple strengths and specialties. This is achieved through simulations that assess the effect that different skills assignments have on service levels, which can be reviewed, modified and re-run until the right mix is found.
- Multi-Location and Multi-Channel Coordination
Companies with multiple contact center locations require a means to coordinate personnel, resources and schedules at each facility so the service they provide is consistent. There may also be agents working from home that must be accounted for. WFM delivers these multi-site capabilities. At the same time, call centers have evolved into contact centers, and customers now use other means to communicate with businesses, from online chat to email. The same forecasting and scheduling principles can be applied to these other tasks with WFM, to be certain that agents and resources have been allocated to each channel, multi-tasking as needed to maintain cost efficiency.
- Choosing the Best Solution
All of the aforementioned capabilities are essential to what WFM can and should provide, and this is where to start the vendor review process. Does a system possess?
Once these features have been established, there are other questions that should be asked as well:
- The ability to coordinate in multi-skill, multi-contact environments
- Support for email, phone and chat contact channels
- The ability to run simulations based on required skills and personnel
- The capability to analyze and report on a wide range of agent and scheduling date
How will this system integrate with my business?
The optimal WFM solution will improve a contact center’s procedures without requiring a complete overhaul of its current system. There will inevitably be a transition period as agents and managers acclimate to the new technology, but the end result should always be the capability of doing what has always been done, just in a faster, more efficient and cost-effective way.
How much does it cost?
An obvious question but also one that, for many smaller and midsized contact centers, marks the end of the discussion. Workforce management has traditionally been too costly ($100,000 or more for an on-premise solution).
But with cloud delivery systems, that is no longer the case. Users pay only a low monthly subscription fee with no upfront investment. And when it’s time to upgrade the software, it can be handled automatically at no additional cost. Contrast this with manual software upgrades, where the cost can be prohibitive enough to delay implementation. That reduces a call center’s ability to operate at maximum efficiency.
How long will it take to set up?
Once again, advantage: Cloud. Set up can be completed in days, with secure access available to agents and managers in the call center and at remote locations. With a traditional hardware/software system, complete installation and configuration can take several weeks, if not months, which will add additional costs and inconvenience to the conversion process.
Is the system easily usable/scalable?
Usability is a priority with most cloud-based solutions, so call center agents and managers can get started more quickly from any location. In fact, the evolution of cloud software has accelerated the work from home trend in the call center industry, as it provides the same technology and service capabilities to an agent’s home computer and web browser as they would enjoy at the call center. No installation is required, data sharing remains secure, and managers enjoy even more flexibility in the forecasting and scheduling process.
Multi-site recording systems should provide full recording and monitoring functionality, as well as instant retrieval of any files, whether from local or networked storage systems. With a cloud-based system, storage is never an issue. Whether there are two call centers or fifty at home agents, all calls and customer interactions can be unified within one system.
Scalability is another cloud benefit: With a server, you can only expand your capabilities so much before another investment is required. The cloud platform allows for maximum scalability.
When it comes time to choose a workforce management solution, it is imperative to find a system that works with the company’s budget, set-up and specific operation requirements, as well as one that can locate the gaps between the contact center’s available personnel skills and resources, and those that are needed to reach customer service goals.
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Many companies have discovered the advantages of virtual call centers, such as the cost reductions derived from agents working from home, and a more flexible scalability than what can be imposed at a brick and mortar contact center.
It’s an arrangement that is also preferable for many agents. They eliminate the time and fuel costs associated with driving to and from the contact center, and it allows parents of small children to be closer to their families. There is also something to be said for the trust shown in agents that work remotely, which is appreciated and often inspires greater confidence and performance.
Forecasting, Scheduling and Telecommuting
The evolution of cloud software has accelerated the work-from-home trend, as it provides the same service capabilities to an agent’s home computer as can be accessed at the call center.
No installation is required, data sharing remains secure, and managers enjoy even more flexibility in the forecasting and scheduling process. Forecast simulations can be run in the same way as with an office-based workforce, and scheduling will be easier because of greater agent availability.
Now it’s easier to always meet optimal service levels, as managers can create a pool of back-up telecommuting agents for times of increased call volume, peak calling seasons such as holidays, or for when there are just too many unexpected absences.
Best of all, with an automated, cloud-based workforce management solution, managers receive the same detailed reports and real-time information on employee performance, agent activities, shift assignments, schedule adherence and other data, regardless of whether the agent is working from home or elsewhere.
Managers used to a more traditional contact center environment make require some adjustment, but the benefits of cloud-based WFM, and the positive reception of agents who would prefer to work from home (and now may stay with the company longer) should ease the transition.
Any system that assures service levels are being met while costs are being reduced is certainly worth a try.
Forecast & Scheduling Best Practices
What is the biggest challenge faced by every contact center, regardless of size or type?
The answer is one you may already know: It’s the challenge of delivering great customer service at the lowest possible cost. The question that is more difficult to answer is – what is the best way to do it?
It starts with information – having the data your agents need, when they need it.
Specifically, this means real-time insights delivered via dashboards and reports on KPIs, as well as alerts that allow managers to adjust forecasts and schedules as needed when the unexpected occurs. It means running scenarios to prepare for various contingencies, and changing breaks to meet the demands of call volume.
It also means being able to record and score calls so agents receive the coaching and training they need to deliver outstanding customer service.
With the capabilities provide by this data, the contact center manager has the actionable insights necessary to be proactive in decision-making, and that means every shift of every day will be prepared to deliver the kind of customer service that keeps customers loyal and happy. And when the contact center is running at peak efficiency, that reduces costs as well.
Even greater cost savings can be achieved when contact center technology is provided through the cloud as a subscription service, which eliminates the need to invest in additional hardware and software. In this model, call centers pay only for the time and capacity that they need. For a smaller call center, this means the ability to significantly lower upfront costs, while maintaining the option of scaling up as needed.
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For many years the skill set expected from a call center agent was fairly narrow and clearly defined. But as call centers have evolved into contact centers, additional skills are now required to meet customer expectations via their preferred method of communication.
Bad news for agents? Not at all. Those will the ability to adapt to different communication channels will be more in demand. Also, those with outstanding written skills, but who are not as comfortable with interaction via telephone, now have an opportunity to work successfully in this environment.
What skills should you be looking for when hiring an agent into a multi-channel contact center environment? Here are 10 of the most prominent:
• Courtesy and professionalism in all communication
• Attendance and punctuality
• Outstanding verbal skills and/or written skills
• The ability to multi-task
• A responsible team player
• The ability to adhere to a strict schedule
• The confidence to work independently and problem-solve without assistance
• The ability to stay calm in a fast-paced work atmosphere
• Familiarity with the technology found in contact centers
• The ability to listen to and respond to coaching
Specific contact centers will have additional expectations, such as the ability to work a non-traditional schedule. Agents that communicate with customers through a video chat will also need to maintain a professional appearance, with appropriate body language.
Monet’s Workforce Management solution can play a key role in helping agents to achieve optimal performance, by giving them the information they need to succeed.
You may have seen the news earlier this month: AT&T Inc. has agreed to pay a $25 million settlement following the discovery of a data breach at their call centers in Mexico, Colombia and the Philippines. It happened because employees at these call centers accepted illegal payments to share the private information of the company’s customers. About 280,000 people were affected.
This case raises awareness that contact centers play a central part in dealing with customers in case of a cyberattack. They are the first point of human contact. Everyone can remember the large scale attacks that hit Target stores in 2015 or the Sony PlayStation Network in 2011. Millions users were affected, millions of credit card numbers leaked. This is a stressful situation for the customers and it can affect the company’s reputation dramatically.
Just like any other businesses, call centers have to be prepared and proactive to deal with the aftermath of a cyberattack targeting the company.
It becomes essential that shrinkage is taken into account, in order to handle an unexpected spike of calls, agents are trained, available, and scripts with an emergency procedure are ready.
How should you prepare your contact center?
Most companies devote just 2-4% of their IT budget to security and disaster recovery planning. And yet, the actions taken before a cyber attack are as significant, if not more so, than actions taken after the worst has become reality.
Some companies specialize in disaster preparation. They can help implement a strategy to fit a contact center’s needs, likely threats and budget. Many of these companies may begin with a business impact analysis, to assess the potential loss (whether financial, technical or in human resources) from a cyber attack.
It’s also a good idea to put together an issue response team ahead of time, so you will have the right people in place if an attack should occur.
What to Do After?
A cyber attack is not the same as other unforeseen activities that could not be anticipated with forecasting and scheduling. This is a situation where customers are directly and negatively affected by what has occurred, and may even incur financial loss as a result. Some will be angry. Some will be frightened. And most of them will be calling you as soon as the news of the attack is made public.
Because data breaches are now, unfortunately, an ongoing threat in 21st century business, most customers will understand that these incidents are not always avoidable. That means it’s no longer an automatic deal-breaker for that business relationship – but a lot will depend on how the company responds. For the contact center, that means focusing on 4 words: Communicate, Respond, Explain, and Apologize.
Let customers know as soon as possible that an attack has occurred. Don’t wait for them to call you. This will be the first step in rebuilding any trust that has been lost. The faster they are aware of what has happened, the faster they can contact their bank or credit card company and take steps to protect themselves. The companies that lose the most customers from a cyber attack are those that wait weeks (or even months) before going public.
Customers will have questions. Have your best agents in place – those that have shown via quality reviews and coaching that they know how to remain calm when speaking with someone who is upset. Make sure these agents have the answers ready to the questions that are always asked following an attack (“What happened?” “How will this affect me?” “Do I need to call my bank?”).
Cyber attacks are highly technical in execution, but customers will not be interested in explanations that they cannot understand. Agents should be able to explain in plain English what has happened, why it happened, and what steps the company is taking to control the damage, and make sure the customer is inconvenienced as little as possible. Also, tell them what steps are now being taken to make sure their information will be safer in the future.
This is where agent training should begin when preparing for the aftermath of an attack. The apology should happen near the beginning of the call, and again at the end. It will go a long way toward maintaining a customer’s confidence.
Bonus Step: Stay in Touch
Customers will expect a company to be reluctant to talk about a cyber attack, so they will appreciate if the company takes the initiative in keeping customers apprised of what is happening. Whether it’s a phone call from the contact center updating them on the situation, or an apology email from the company CEO, or some other means of following up, it demonstrates ongoing concern for the customer’s welfare and interest in keeping their business.
With cyber attacks in the news almost every week, companies can no longer assume they will be the exception and never have to worry about the fallout from such a damaging incident. However, few companies have devoted sufficient time to advance preparation, and a recent Ponemon study found that companies were also not prepared to communicate with customers following a data breach; in fact, of more than 470 surveyed, just 21% had a trained communications team in place.
For contact centers, where communication is the first and most important skill considered for agent hires, that percentage will not do. This is the moment when agents should be called upon to use their skills to address customer concerns and restore confidence and loyalty.
Ponemon study referenced in article: http://www.corpcounsel.com/id=1202598001685?slreturn=20150320141052
Different call centers have different busy seasons.
For those connected with our annual income tax obligation, this is the month that requires more advance preparation, agent training and full staffing. The New York State Department of Taxation and Finance typically handles about 1 million calls every April.
If your contact center is one designed to help businesses and consumers answer IRS or state tax-related questions, how did you do? If your agents now look like they have been through a 15-round fight, and your callers had to wait longer than you would prefer to speak to an agent, it’s never too early to start preparing to do better next year.
That process starts by studying this month’s figures. That will help you better anticipate what traffic will be like in April of 2016, not just in call volume but in how many chose to seek help through other channels (chat, email, etc.). With a sound forecast in place you’ll be better prepared to allocate resources and personnel to the shifts and the areas where they will be needed most.
Do you have a workforce management solution in place that can route a specific type of call to the agent best qualified to take it? Do you have qualified temp agents on stand-by who will be available on the busiest days? If not, start hiring early and have contact information ready for more agents that you expect to need, as some drop-off should always be anticipated.
Keep in mind also that just because you are busier, it’s no reason to pay less attention to quality control. This is actually a critical time to be monitoring calls, emails and chats to compare to the call center’s quality benchmarks. Do not wait until after the season is over to address any issues.
“Is it in the budget?”
Some variation of that question is always asked when any changes to contact center procedures are proposed. And it’s a valid question. Economic realities have forced businesses of all kinds to do more with less, and contact centers are no exception.
But there comes a point when inaction can be more costly than a beneficial investment. And when it comes to the use of spreadsheets vs. workforce management software, that time has come.
Yet many small and midsized contact centers still rely on spreadsheets for daily forecasting and scheduling. Even larger contact centers, those with 100 agents or more, are still making due with an inefficient system that lowers customer service, and can actually increase costs.
When an increase as low as 1% in productivity can significantly impact the contact center budget, it is imperative to identify areas where efficiency can be improved. Ditching spreadsheets should be at the top of that list.
Spending Money to Save Money
The limitations of a spreadsheet result in fixed schedules that can produce higher shrinkage and overstaffing, or understaffing and a low service level. But with WFM it is easier to manage start times, end times and breaks with an ease of flexibility that dramatically improves service levels.
Managers can also consult more detailed and accurate call histories with WFM, resulting in better forecasts. Scheduling is also faster – some managers can save as much as 25% of the time once devoted to filling in spreadsheets – time that can now be used for additional agent training or to attend to other matters.
Is increased efficiency worth the investment? One of our clients, the Texas credit union GECU, found out first-hand. Their call center, staffed by 85 agents, selected Monet’s cloud-based WFM Live as a way to improve customer service. Affordability was a key component in the decision, as WFM Live provides such benefits as reduced IT investment, low implementation service fees and a more cost-effective per-user license model.
Just a few months after implementation, GECU was able to save money by reducing its number of agents by 14, while delivering better customer service. With the more accurate scheduling made possible by WFM Live, there was a 30% reduction in unscheduled breaks. Costly overtime scheduling was reduced, while call volume spikes were managed more easily.
“In terms of ROI, Monet has already paid for itself after a few months. The cost of the 3 year subscription I've already saved in salaries, overtime and administrative costs.”
--Joshua Gomez, GECU Assistant Vice-President, Call Center
Today, the quality and service levels at GECU are solidly placed in the top 97% tier.
The Better Solution for Managers, Agents and Your Customers
A spreadsheet can be used to calculate workforce percentages, but precise forecasting requires more in-depth analysis. And when forecasts are wrong, stressed agents cannot deliver the service level you and your customers expect – or, they’re sitting in their cubicles with nothing to do, and earning money for it.
One of the reasons we hear most often from companies reluctant to change is, “But this is the way we’ve been doing it for 10 years.” Change can indeed be intimidating. What we tell them is they are not really changing the things they do – they are just going to be able to do them more easily and efficiently.
Forecasts rely heavily on historical data – daily, weekly, monthly, seasonal – to determine call volume. Contact center managers may start with monthly and weekly stats, and then delve deeper into daily and hourly numbers, perhaps even examining work periods as short as 15 minutes.
This can be done with spreadsheets, theoretically, but with WFM it is significantly easier to analyze call types, call volume and call patterns, and then to note past variations, determine their cause, and forecast accordingly. With WFM it is also much easier to forecast special days or other events that impact call volume. “Special day” provisions can be created for any factor, from marketing campaigns or events to weather patterns.
Scheduling is yet another area where WFM offers enhanced capabilities. Spreadsheets can handle fixed schedules, but in 2015 how often do contact center schedules stay fixed?
With a WFM system managers have the flexibility to automatically manage start times, end times and break times. Now, agents can work the hours that work best for them, and happier agents are far more likely to excel at customer service. They are also more likely to stay with the company longer, a consideration that should not be minimized considering the average employee turnover rate in this industry.
Intra-day adherence tracking is another significant component of a best practices approach that is practically impossible with just a spreadsheet. WFM also provides insight, through dashboards and real-time alerts, into which agents are meeting their schedule obligations, and which may require additional guidance or training.
The annual budgeting process presents a familiar challenge – cut costs where necessary while maintaining (or improving) the customer experience. Since labor forces rank among the highest cost items, it is essential that they be managed properly. With WFM, a manager can always be confident that he or she is scheduling the right agents with the right skills at the right time.
Those still using spreadsheets for these functions are missing out on the convenience, efficiency, flexibility and functionality of workforce management.
The calculations necessary for optimal forecasts and schedules are very difficult to do with Excel. WFM has sophisticated simulation processes that tell a call center how many people it will need and when it will need them.
“But we can’t afford it.” That might have true ten years ago, but today with cloud-based WFM, even smaller and medium-sized contact centers can reap the benefits of automated workforce management at an affordable cost. A lower investment also means a more rapid return on that investment.
When call volume changes, spreadsheets are insufficient. With WFM, managers can get back to managing people, instead of spending hours on Excel planning forecasts and schedules. To learn more about this, download our whitepaper "The Real Cost of Spreadsheet-based Scheduling".
Is your contact center ready for spring break?
Certainly many of your agents are looking forward to this annual celebration. If that means taking additional time off, managers will need to have a plan in place for potential attrition.
This time of year can also mean increased business in certain industries – travel, hospitality, entertainment – creating the perfect storm at some contact centers of more calls coming in and less agents there to handle them.
How can a business negotiate this impending crisis? A workforce management (WFM) solution is the answer.
When a manager needs to know what type of calls, and call volume, to expect on a certain week or day or even during a particular hour, WFM collects and analyzes historical call data to help predict future workload. That makes it easier to forecast needs and schedule staff accordingly.
This is also a time when the flexible schedule creation made possible by WFM delivers additional benefits. Now you can take foreseen and unforeseen variables and agent exceptions into account, as well as make intra-day changes to both forecasting and scheduling.
With WFM, costly instances of overstaffing and understaffing are reduced, schedule adherence is improved, and more flexible scheduling is possible. If you try to achieve the same results with spreadsheets, you’ll be the one that needs a spring break vacation.
If you see a building going up or being renovated in an office park or commercial area near you, don’t be surprised if it turns out to be a call center.
Enter “contact center jobs” into a news search engine and you’ll see story after story about companies adding positions – 682 in Hamilton, Ohio; 600 in Clearfield, Utah; 750 in Louisville, Kentucky.
Part of this can be attributed to a steadily growing economy, but the trend toward insourcing these jobs from overseas, rather than shipping them out to India and The Philippines, is also significant factor. Today, there are approximately five million Americans employed in contact centers, and many of them are working in positions that were outsourced more than a decade ago.
Why the switch? Labor costs are going up in other parts of the world, so companies aren’t saving as much money; security has also become a concern, considering the uncertainties in data privacy laws outside the United States.
There has also been a renewed appreciation for the central role the contact center plays in customer service, whether that entails order processing, payment processing, market research or addressing customer concerns. Given how contact center agents are on the front line of customer communication, CEOs now acknowledge, maybe this isn’t the best place to cut corners.
But the real issue may be the escalating numbers of complaints from callers, who are tired of speaking to agents that are poorly trained and difficult to understand. Not only are outsourced personnel not trained as thoroughly, they are thousands of miles away from management personnel, who are thus unable to monitor and interact directly with these employees.
Not Just Jobs: Good Jobs
Since businesses originally outsourced to save money, it’s encouraging to see that as these contact center agent jobs come back to the U.S., they are doing so in most cases with a salary that will attract intelligent, capable employees.
S&P Data LLC, which provides contact center solutions to Fortune 500 companies in the United States and Canada, has announced plans to bring 425 new contact service representative jobs to Rio Rancho, NM, with annual salaries averaging $38,000 plus benefits.
This is reflective of one way that call centers have changed since the outsourcing boom – with basic company information accessible through social media and order processing available online, the responsibilities of the contact center agent has changed.
“The types of calls that are coming through to our agents today, regardless of the client, are more complex, and it’s requiring that higher caliber associate,” said
Richardo Layun, director of operations at the Melbourne eBay Enterprise center.
One Success Story: Colorado
Colorado has been in the national news often of late, mostly for its legalization of marijuana and that decision’s impact on the state’s culture and economy. But in La Junta, a city in the southeast part of the state, a less controversial means of economic recovery is underway.
The city converted an old Air Force training facility into a 1,500-acre industrial part that is already home to two call centers: the first employs 180 agents in a 10,200 square foot building. Nearby a 300-seat center is housed inside a 33,750 square foot brick building with ample space for additional departments and meeting facilities. Amenities for both include a restaurant, day care facility and golf course all located within the park itself.
The influx of new business is the result of a community effort that also includes The Colorado Workforce Center, which provides recruitment and training programs, and the local junior college, which offers preparatory classes in computers, software and technology training. The La Junta City Council has shown its support for new business by approving a relocation incentive that allows contact centers to operate for five years rent-free.
Things Have Changed Since We’ve Been Away
That may be the reaction of agents and managers when they realize how the contact center industry has evolved in the years when companies were shifting positions overseas. The technology and use of spreadsheets that was sufficient to stay competitive in the industry has been surpassed by more sophisticated solutions. For these new contact centers, it is important to equip agents with the tools they need to prosper.
That starts with an automated workforce management (WFM) solution, which delivers a means to improve the productivity and cost-efficiency of the contact center by making so many vital tasks easier. These includes running simulations for more accurate forecasting, and scheduling that incorporates all call types and other activities. Exception planning, performance analysis, intra-day management, and other practices are streamlined through the real-time data generated by today’s WFM systems.
An investment in such technology might have been counterproductive, as companies would be reluctant to add a $100,000 equipment investment on top of other development and personnel costs. Even if you are relocating to rent-free La Junta, that’s a lot of money. But with a cloud WFM system, a unified solution can be implemented quickly without a large upfront cost. Instead, users pay only a low monthly subscription fee.
In addition to cost savings, a cloud platform also provides maximum flexibility and scalability, and is more easily deployed even across multiple locations. Since all data is stored “in the cloud,” it can be retrieved at any call center workstation. If you are interested in this topic, please also read the article "5 Reasons Why Contact Center Jobs are Coming Home" that was published by Contact Professional.
While customers now have other options when it comes to interacting with a company, such as email and online chats, surveys show that the majority still picks up the phone when they want to ask a question or place an order.
To take better care of these customers, companies that outsource their contact centers are now shifting their focus to centers within the U.S., which can provide a higher quality of care. But that investment can quickly escalate if a large technology investment is required.
Cloud computing can reduce these costs. In this model, contact centers pay only for the time and capacity that they need.
Customers appreciate when their calls are received by the agents most qualified to handle them.
And this is certainly one of those instances where what is good for the customer is good for the contact center as well. Skill-based scheduling results in higher productivity, higher first call resolution and shorter call times. It plays to agents’ strengths and boosts their confidence.
Implementation of skill-based scheduling begins by establishing a clear tier system that ranks agents by skills based on call type. Ultimately, the goal is to have only agents that are capable of handling every type of customer call. Thus, performance remains consistent no matter how schedules may fluctuate.
Such scheduling based on specific skill sets is easily manageable with Workforce Management. Inclusion of skills is handled automatically by WFM, so it’s easier to fill each shift with fewer agents – those who have the requisite specialties to handle every customer encounter. Now, try to achieve the same results with spreadsheets, when each of your agents has 3-5 different skills. How would you even begin to take all of them into account and run various scenarios? Even if it could be done, it would take many, many more hours that could be devoted to other challenges.
Based on a recent call center industry analysis, approximately 20% of call centers still use spreadsheets for forecasting and scheduling. Those that do are missing out on the convenience, efficiency and flexibility of workforce management, particularly when it comes to this vital function.
Workforce management plays a prominent role in engendering employee and customer satisfaction through skill-based scheduling. Spreadsheets just can’t keep up. To learn more, please read this whitepaper about Spreadsheets vs. Workforce Management Software.
There are many challenges to success and improvement at the contact center, and one of the most persistent is stagnation. The best contact center managers are never satisfied; they are always in search of ways to improve every aspect of their business.
One factor that should always be part of such discussions is the contact center’s service level goal. Anything that can be done to raise service levels should be explored, though too often this requires additional investment that might not be possible. Still, such considerations should not be a barrier to exploring options.
As always, the process begins by asking the right questions.
• Do you know what your service level costs?
• How would higher or lower service levels impact your costs?
• How would a change impact customer satisfaction?
• How did you decide on your service level goal?
All good questions, but the last one may be the place to start. Was the contact center’s service level defined before you joined the company, and that is the way it has always been? Was it set because the competition is trying to hit the same level? There are times when assumptions take on the guise of decrees, and that puts them beyond questioning. It’s a trap that no contact center manager should fall into.
The Myth of the Service Level Standard
What are the variables that will impact the optimum service level? Start with the so-called seven factors of caller tolerance, which include the customer’s expected service level, available time, motivation for the call and whether other options exist for achieving what the customer wishes to do.
To these, we can add contact center labor costs, equipment costs, and the relative value attached to different calls. It would be impossible for one standard service level to meet all these criteria across different contact centers, meeting all customer needs and expectations while maximizing revenue and minimizing expenses.
Perhaps that is why so many contact centers settle on the 80/20 objective (80% of calls answered in 20 seconds) as a reasonable balance between staffing and customer expectations. Others will tweak those numbers as they investigate how low they can be adjusted before they start losing business. The problem here is the assumption that if a caller will stay on the line for five minutes, acceptable service has been provided. Abandonment rates, of course, don’t tell the whole story.
Customer surveys are another popular method for reviewing and adjusting service level. However, when some calls are answered immediately and other takes 90 seconds or more, responses are likely to vary based on individual experience.
Perhaps the best option is to combine elements from all of these methods – track what others are doing, review customer feedback, and run calculations based on current staffing and scheduling capabilities. Then, set a service level target based on the result.
Cutting Costs without Cutting Service
Once an appropriate service level has been established, contact center managers can explore options for reducing costs. That means asking how long customers are willing to wait, and how busy you want agents to be. This is known as the occupancy rate: the busier your agents, the lower the service level.
Once that rate has been set, an equivalent service level goal can be determined by reviewing historical data. Look for instances where the new occupancy rate goal was achieved, and collect the corresponding service level data – that will serve as your new service level target.
The right occupancy rate also bolsters service by making shifts less stressful for agents, which allows them to deliver better, more consistent customer engagements.
Most Budget Reducing Tips
Here are some additional ideas for reducing costs while maintaining a practical service level. Some will not be appropriate for every type of contact center, but implementing just one or two could result in significant savings.
• The Audit: Make it call center-wide. Review metrics, productivity, revenue generation and potential process improvements.
• Full, Part or Flex? What makes the most economic sense for your contact center – full time agents, part time or a flexible staff with a mix of both?
• Attrition: Cutting attrition and its associated recruiting and training costs is one of the most direct ways to save money. Review training techniques as well to make sure agents are learning when they should, and not ‘on the job.’
• Quality Assurance: A QA review can uncover inefficient processes and other shortcomings that impact customer service.
• Adherence: Service levels cannot be maintained if agents are not at their desks when they should be.
• Workforce Management Software: Much of the data on forecasting, staffing, adherence and KPIs can be delivered more quickly and accurately with a workforce management solution. And with WFM in the cloud, a contact center can avoid the large upfront cost traditionally associated with such a technology upgrade.
• Telecommuting: Agents that work from home reduce the contact center’s occupancy costs, and can also boost employee morale.
• Reduce Call Volume: Does the contact center receive a lot of calls on subjects that could be addressed another way? Find out why customers are calling and see if some of those unneeded calls can be cut down.
Because contact centers are different in size and scope, it can be difficult to provide a general approach to improving service level, especially when attempting to lower cost at the same time. But the challenge of creating a positive change is no excuse for not taking a fresh look at service level status at your contact center, and questioning whether the standard that was determined or the methods used to maintain it should not be open for discussion.
Leadership is an often-overlooked trait in any business, including the contact center. Every company has a boss, but not every boss is a natural leader.
One way to establish leadership, according to this article, is to adopt a set of best practices that help managers lead agents and achieve goals. But with so many other responsibilities (coaching, preparing management reports, dealing with unexpected occurrences), doing so can be a challenge.
Here is one three-step process for cutting through the clutter and focusing on what is most important. More...
In the old days it was simpler – first call resolution (FCR) at the call center was a simple measurement of how often a customer’s issue was settled within one call. No standard definition was required.
Today it’s a little more complicated. If a caller is transferred from an agent to a technical support expert, that’s still one call but two separate conversations – does that still qualify? What if a call is made after an attempt to resolve the issue via web chat proves unsuccessful? That’s just one call as well, but it was also the customer’s second effort to achieve a goal.
While definitions might change, one thing is certain – FCR is the most highly correlated metric to customer satisfaction. A CFI Group study surveyed customers whose issues were not resolved in one call; it found that 43% said they would take their business elsewhere.
Keep These Customers with WFM
An automated workforce management (WFM) solution is one way to improve first call resolution and encourage customer loyalty.
With WFM it’s easier to implement a skills-based schedule so calls are answered by agents with the talent and experience to resolve them. It also allows managers and agents to use recorded calls to learn from mistakes and train new agents in proven company procedures.
These recordings can subsequently play a role in your quality monitoring efforts. Score each one based on specific criteria and overall success, and it’s easier to discover the best way to address different types of customer questions and concerns.
Finally, if you have a WFO system with speech analytics, you can use this resource to identify important recurring words and phrases, and how an agent should react when receiving a call that fits their criteria.
However you choose to define FCR, one fact is certain: the better prepared your agents can be for any eventuality, the more likely they will be able to end a call knowing they have just said goodbye to a satisfied customer.
Optimal resource scheduling requires accurate forecasting of work volume and staff requirements. Workforce management (WFM) software makes it easier to specify shift patterns and daily duties, and factor in the skill sets and preferences of individual agents.
This information should be delivered via reports. But if your system is not delivering the information you need, or is providing that data in a way that is difficult to decipher, it might be time to consider a new WFM solution. This is particularly important since the responsibility of WFM does not end with the production of an accurate schedule.
If you are ready to consider a new WFM system, be sure to ask about the reporting options that can make a positive difference at your contact center. These include:
• The Hours Worked Report: this report makes it easier to observe the breakdown and summary of assigned activities, balance multiple types of work, and handle other backlog issues
• The Agent Status Report: Compare this report with the Hours Worked Report for new insights into workload distribution and productivity
• The Service Performance Report: Compare “How we did” results to “What we expected” numbers.
• The Coverage Report: Reveals gaps in staffing.
These are just some of the capabilities of Monet WFM. Find out why we call it “Call Center Workforce Management Made Easy.”
There is still a misconception that cloud computing is best suited only for small and medium-sized contact centers, because of concerns over security and scalability. Whether this was ever accurate, it is certainly no longer the case.
Cloud computing is not only ready for the enterprise, it is now the preferable option over traditional on-premise software.
Monet has created a new whitepaper that analyzes this topic, at a time when more companies of all sizes and types are exploring their technology options.
Use of cloud applications is increasing rapidly every year, which is not surprising given the array of benefits intrinsic to this service:
• Scalability – Cloud service providers allow clients to increase or decrease existing resources as needed to accommodate changing needs on demand.
• Flexibility – Cloud applications are available from any computer or any device—any time, anywhere. That allows enterprise personnel to be more flexible in and out of the workplace.
• Cost – With a cloud system, larger companies can take advantage of scaled maintenance in a specialized data center, while investing the money saved in capital expense into other aspects of the business.
• Ease of Use – Since the cloud provider manages all updates and upgrades, there are no patches for customers to download or install.
• Security – The cloud offers a much higher grade of security than most internal IT departments.
Monet is always available to help address the concerns of companies considering a cloud solution, and to identify the many ways in which the cloud can benefit your enterprise.
We’ve devoted a number of blogs to the challenges of finding the best contact center agents, from hiring and training to ongoing coaching and providing incentives for exceptional performance.
If you’ve been fortunate enough to assemble a team of outstanding agents, this is the time of year to make sure they feel appreciated. Answering phones or conducting online chats in a contact center is a challenging job, and managers who appreciate what goes into a good day’s work already know how important it is to acknowledge professional contributions that make the team and the company better.
At Monet, we are pleased and proud to provide contact center technology solutions that can make the agent’s job a little easier, a little more predictable, and hopefully a little more fun.
We want to take a moment to say Happy Holidays to all of the contact center teams that show up every day with professionalism and positive attitudes, even when dealing with customers who seem to have misplaced their holiday spirit. Thank you for a job well done.
Scheduling is a vital component in the success of every call center. And concrete, reliable data is vital to achieve accurate, consistent scheduling results.
For decades, that data was gathered through spreadsheets, and would take hours to compile. Even then, the results were not always accurate, or flexible enough to accommodate last minute changes or other issues.
And yet, hundreds of contact centers continue to handle forecasting and scheduling the same inefficient way they did 20 years ago, which is why the data generated sometimes proves insufficient.
It’s time for a change, and technology has made that change possible. An automated workforce management (WFM) solution can improve scheduling accuracy, making sure all the necessary resources are always in place.
A WFM system provides the flexibility to automatically manage start times, end times and break times. Spreadsheets cannot match this speed and efficiency, which results in unhappy agents and higher shrinkage. And wouldn’t you rather spend the hours now devoted to compiling schedules to focusing on other aspects of your business – or just getting out of the office on time for a change?
If so, perhaps it’s time to add a WFM solution to your holiday list. To find out more about this important investment, read “The Real Cost of Spreadsheet Based Scheduling
” to find out if you should put WFM on your holiday wish list.
While different contact centers have different needs, it’s hard to imagine a call center that could not benefit from a workforce management (WFM) solution. Whatever the specific goals of your business – lowering costs, improving efficiency, better customer service – workforce management can help to achieve them.
If you missed any of these 2014 posts about contact center workforce management, here’s another chance to review them.
1. Video: Workforce Management and Optimization in the Cloud
With this video you can see for yourself how Monet’s cloud-based solutions can help gain more insights and improve the performance and service quality of your contact center.
2. Call Center Forecasting and Scheduling Best Practices with WFO
The quality of call center customer service is largely dependent on accurate forecasting and scheduling. So why do so many call centers still rely on spreadsheets for this most important of daily tasks?3. 15 Tips on Contact Center Scheduling
The right workforce management system streamlines the process and provides more consistent, accurate data.4. The Call Center Choice: Cloud or Software?
Let’s take a closer look at the differences between a cloud-based delivery model, and one that requires on-premises hardware and software installation.5. Six Steps to Improved Call Center Staffing
Out of every dollar spent in call center costs, about 75 cents is related to labor. That makes staffing decisions pivotal to the operation of the business.
The holiday season means good food, good friends and good will toward men. But at some contact centers, it also means a significant increase in the need for customer service support. And by the way, your customers are busier during this season as well, and they expect the same response time and personalized service they receive at any other time of year.
If your contact center is about to get deluged with call volume that may be five times higher than usual, the time to start planning is now (especially if you haven’t been anticipating this for the last 1-2 months).
Increased staffing means more job interviews. The pace will be accelerated but the objective here is not just to fill empty seats. These new hires must be as motivated and as qualified as the agents you’ve had for years. Some contact centers maintain a database of potential hires so there is always a supply of qualified candidates that can step in with less training and get the job done. Forecasting and scheduling
are also crucial components to achieve adequate service levels and provide great customer service. Reviewing historical data is the best place to start this process, and then take a moment to think about what has changed since the holiday seasons of last year and the year before. These variables must also be taken into account.
Finally, with so many new faces in the contact center and so many more calls pouring in, quality monitoring
and control will be more difficult, but must be maintained. That means assigning more veteran team members to the quality control effort, so you have enough agents monitoring calls, emails and chats.
By taking these steps, you’ll have a much better chance to deliver a positive and memorable holiday shopping experience.
“Planning for the unexpected” may sound like an oxymoron, but it’s an important aspect of contact center management.
course we can’t see into the future. But sometimes making an educated
guess at future events is an important part of the contact center
manager’s job. The crucial functions of forecasting and scheduling can
help to eliminate uncertainty, by using available intelligence to
predict the resources that will be necessary for customer volume. Unexpected, or Just Poor Planning?
a contact center experiences relatively steady calling patterns or
frequent periods of uncertainty, a workforce optimization solution is
the key component of forecasting future call volume. The access it
provides to historical call history can help managers navigate the
scheduling challenges posed by seasonal promotions, special offers and
new, aggressive marketing tactics.
These regular practices, of
drawing upon 1-2 years of call history, and uncovering call patterns
that can predict future patterns, is the best way avoid unexpected
circumstances. Such calculations are rendered more precise by including
non-call activities as well, such as breaks, training, after-call work
and internal communication.
A workforce management solution can
also employ skill teams (skill sets, or skill groups) based on each
agent’s capabilities to handle certain skills/queues/competencies. This
allows the forecast process to select the best skills combinations for
either blank shifts to be filled later, or to place existing
agents. It’s another way to plan ahead for whatever the next shift or
Visibility into agent activity is another priority.
The contact center is made up of many employees. While the overall
performance is driven by processes, and efficiencies, it is the
individual performance of each employee that drives the engine. Knowing
that, it is obviously very important and critical to have better
visibility into the performance and activities of each agent.
many contact centers still have not installed the tools that makes this
possible, such as adherence dashboards, reports, status alerts and an
AUX Setup to track overuse of ACW, lunches, breaks, or other
non-productive or limited statuses.
What about factors outside
the company and the contact center? Historical data may not exist for
some of these, but it’s too simple to categorize them as “unexpected”
and hope for the best.
Perhaps you don’t know exactly what the
weather will be like tomorrow or next week, but you should recognize how
it can impact call volume. If it’s bad, more customers are likely to
stay home and shop. If it’s sunny and clear, call volume may be reduced.
How will call volume be changed by an election day, or a
championship series with a team in your city? How is the national
economy faring? Are the products or services your company sells more in
demand when times are good, or when a recession looms?
multiple simulations and gauging the outcomes can better prepare contact
centers for almost anything that comes along. Most surprises can be
avoided this way. When You Can’t Predict Everything
unexpected events do occur: One of the top agents calls in sick at the
last minute. There’s a glitch in the system that could not have been
foreseen. There’s an increase in call volume that was not anticipated by
the historical data. While a proactive approach to forecasting and
scheduling always pays dividends, there are times when a manager will
have to be reactive to a situation no one could see coming.
this happens, it’s vital to have the tools to monitor activities and
receive alerts, so managers can react quickly and make changes as
necessary (and make sure those changes are communicated to all
personnel). The two best weapons available to meet these challenges are
utilizing the intra-day management and exception management capabilities
of a workforce management solution. Intra-day Management
schedule adherence for a shift or a day after they have ended is a
missed opportunity to correct an issue more quickly. Monitoring intra-day activities
, from lunch breaks to training sessions, helps to maintain service levels.
the unexpected occurs, managers will instantly know the best way to
react without sacrificing customer service. Using a graphical display
of agent schedules, a manager can drag and drop breaks, lunches and
other exceptions to adjust the contact center schedule as needed.
Real-time updates are instantly recorded, and any surpluses or shortages
are displayed for any part of the day. Exception Planning
best workforce management solutions, such as Monet WFM Live, provide a
fully integrated Exception Planner, with the ability to schedule
exceptions such as vacations, training meetings, jury duty, etc. These
can be scheduled far into the future or recorded as recurring
While many of these activities can be documented
days or weeks in advance, the Exception Planner also supports mid-day
exceptions as they occur, taking them into account while choosing shifts
and scheduling breaks. Conclusion
The first step in
planning for the unexpected is differentiating between those occurrences
that are truly unexpected, and those that are not.
events you can plan ahead by learning from the past, using ACD call
history, running scenarios in forecasting, training people on multiple
skills and creating flexible staffing schedules. Such precautions make
it easier to overcome certain challenges as they occur.
events that cannot be anticipated because they happen outside your
control (such as call volume spikes or a flu bug infecting multiple
agents) real time intra-day alerts to dashboards
and mobile devices quickly notify managers, so they can make changes that will have an immediate impact.
Schedule adherence plays a significant role in the efficiency of your contact center. It is a time saving and money-saving practice that impacts both agent performance and customer service.
To be effective, however, it must be executed correctly.
That starts with real-time schedule adherence
, which gives you the opportunity to react immediately to address problems. A workforce management system monitors agents in real time, and delivers instant alerts when adherence is not achieved. It also provides a means to analyze KPIs and compare forecasted, scheduled and actual contact center statistics.
Still, even with these capabilities, the cause of an adherence lapse is not always apparent at first glance. But the answers are there, all that is needed is a few moments to run the appropriate drill down reports. This allows the contact center manager to view different aspects of a workday in isolation, which makes it easier to identify where the schedule is not lining up with the reality of the situation.
Perhaps a certain time of day always seems to have lower adherence. By drilling down it’s possible to measure where goals are not being met, and communicate this to the team. Whether the issue is not enough schedule flexibility, or agents simply taking too many unscheduled breaks, there is now a chance to implement a satisfactory solution.
One may also discover that the adherence breakdown is centered on specific departments, sites or skill teams. Once the issue has been identified, it is incumbent on the manager to educate the agents involved on the importance of adherence on service levels, and how even a minor deviation can have a significant negative impact.
When it comes to forecasting, past activity is always the best predictor of future activity, especially when broken down via workforce management data analysis into ever-smaller increments of time. This makes it easier to identify anomalies and prepare accordingly.
The challenge, of course, is factoring in all of the variables to which forecasts are subject – it’s no wonder that creating consistently accurate contact center forecasts is both an art and a science.
But with the right workforce management system, one capable of predicting future call volume and agent staffing needs, you have everything you need to make the tasks of forecasting and scheduling more accurate and more efficient.
Here are some additional tips to get the most from your WFM solution.
- Detailed Data Analysis: Use work history data to anticipate future call volume, agent requirements, average call handling time and other performance indicators.
- Flexibility: Gather necessary data through analysis of call types and routing policies, and review updates throughout the day so you’ll always know when changes are necessary.
- Testing: Generate and analyze alternative scenarios based on changes in staffing or call volume, so you can better anticipate issues before they arise.
When forecasting is done right, the result is the right number of agents at their desks, handling call volume without long wait times. For more tips on call forecasting, please also visit our blog post from last week.