Workforce Management

Tips for more effective call center forecasting, scheduling and agent adherence

Workforce Management Hints, Tips & Best Practices

Scheduling Spreadsheets Become Obsolete in the Cloud

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“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. 


Conclusion

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".




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Spring Break at the Contact Center

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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. 


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Contact Centers are Coming Back

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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.


Conclusion

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. 



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Skill Based Scheduling with Spreadsheets?

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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.


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The Art and Science of Service Levels

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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. 


Conclusion

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. 


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Contact Center Leadership: Easy as 1-2-3

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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...


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Defining – and Improving First Call resolution

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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.


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Does your Workforce Scheduling Software Deliver these Reports?

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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.” 


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Cloud WFM for the Enterprise – A New Monet Software Whitepaper

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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. 



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Happy Holidays to your Contact Center Team

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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.
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Still Scheduling with Spreadsheets? Put WFM on Your Holiday List

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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.
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Best of Workforce Management 2014

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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.

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Contact Center Staffing for the Holiday Season: Are you Ready?

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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.
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How to Prepare your Contact Center Workforce for the Unexpected

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“Planning for the unexpected” may sound like an oxymoron, but it’s an important aspect of contact center management.

Of 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?
Whether 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 day brings.

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.

Surprisingly, 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?

Running 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
Still, 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.

When 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
Tracking 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.

When 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
The 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 exceptions.

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.

For some 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.

For other 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.



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Drilling Down for Better Schedule Adherence Tracking

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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.
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How Accurate are your Call Volume Forecasts?

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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.


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Five Tips to Help Achieve More Accurate Call Center Forecasts

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Accurate forecasts produce accurate schedules. But what is the secret formula to generate forecasts that are consistently on the money? 

It starts with an automated workforce management solution that delivers the necessary historical data. If that sometimes isn’t enough, here are 5 additional tips for utilizing WFM in forecasting. 

1. Select More Weeks of Historical Data.  

Use the WFM system to generate additional historical data, which should more accurately average out handle times and return a more even distribution of calls when things get too “spiky.”

2. Make Granular Edits to Call Volume

After viewing a forecast, edit call volumes by queue and by interval.  This can be especially useful if you’re changing hours of operation or just need to edit smaller ranges of data.  

3. Override Agent Numbers

After viewing a forecast, use WFM to override the required number of agents, or adjusted agents, for times when you wish to reduce the degree of variance from one interval to the next.  

4. Adjust Total Day Changes

Use the Total Day changes to deliver more sweeping changes to call totals, AHT, service levels, abandon targets, and staffing numbers. 

5. Edit Current Day Forecasts

Use intra-day functionality to edit the current day’s forecast, so it matches the current trends of collected data for today.  

These steps would be difficult, if not impossible, with spreadsheets or a home-grown system. If you are ready to step up to a Workforce Management solution, make it sure it has the functionality to accomplish all of these objectives and more. To learn more, we invite you watch any of the foreasting and scheduling videos on our website.


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The Advantages of Skill-Based Scheduling

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Skill-based scheduling is a practice where incoming calls at a contact center are routed to specific agents based on the type of service requested. If customers can be connected with an agent that excels at the service they require, the odds are much greater of achieving a satisfactory result.


This practice can take many forms, from simply routing calls from Spanish-speaking customers to bilingual agents, to routing angry callers to those agents with the personality and people skills to calmly resolve the situation.

Generally, the implementation of a skill-based scheduling process requires four steps, starting with a detailed knowledge of why customers call. By classifying these contacts, a manager can define the necessary agent skill sets, and gather some of the information needed to set up an effective schedule.

The next step is to identify staff skills and resources. This can be achieved in a number of ways, but call recording should play a key role. Most well trained agents have more than one skill, which can make the process somewhat easier, while reducing the number of agents needed to handle call volume. Productivity can increase 5-15% from agents with at least two skills.

Step three requires a review, and perhaps an upgrade, of the contact center’s technology. Choose a system capable of skill-based routing and scheduling in a multi-channel environment.

Finally, conduct a gap analysis to compare your current business environment with how that environment will changed under a skill-based scheduling system. This will uncover any risks incurred during the transition period, and help to make certain that the system is working as designed to benefit customers and improve contact center efficiency.


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Successful implementation of Workforce Management Software

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Workforce management (WFM) software provides the best means of optimizing personnel resources in a contact center.

When a contact center decides it is ready to make the move to a workforce management software system, it now faces another decision when reviewing the range of available products. One way to improve the odds of choosing the right system the first time is to make a list of the qualities and capabilities that are most important. Such a list might include the following:

Forecasting
By using historical data, and through simulations to calculate future call volume, WFM generates forecasts for appropriate staffing, call handle time and other factors to maintain optimum call center performance for any time interval of the day.

Scheduling
Accurate forecasts create accurate schedules. A WFM scheduling engine should incorporate all call types and other activities. A staffing schedule is only valuable when it is optimized for all necessary factors, including agent skill sets, staff availability, holidays, breaks and service levels.

Intra-day Management
Scheduling an agent for a shift is not enough – WFM should provide a graphical display of variances in agents’ schedules during the workday for breaks, lunch and other exceptions. Real-time updates allow managers to compensate during surpluses or shortages for each time period.

Exception Planning
Choose a WFM solution with an integrated exception calendar that simplifies the scheduling of agent exceptions for training, time off and other variables.

Real-Time Adherence
Use WFM to compare planned agent activity to actual activities throughout the day, while also reviewing forecasts for key performance indicators such as call volume and handle time.

Configuration/Administration
WFM should adjust to your call center regardless of how it is organized. Choose a system that lets you build an unlimited number of center splits or agent groups with separate service objectives and guidelines. Use WFM to manage multiple sites and time zones, and set service level goals down to 15-minute intervals.

Performance Analysis/Metrics
WFM provides actionable insights on all agent activities through dashboards, key performance indictors and real-time alerts.

Implementation: The Forgotten Attribute

All of these qualities pertain to the day-to-day usage of WFM, but contact center managers should not overlook the importance of implementation. Technology cannot benefit a business if it is not easy to use, and if it cannot be incorporated into the center with minimal training. It should also be possible to implement a workforce management solution to deliver break-even status in a matter of months, as opposed to years. But that will take some foresight.

While every company and corporate culture is a little different, these guidelines should prove valuable to any contact center in the process of a WFM transition.

Plan Ahead
Upfront planning – that incorporates both technical requirements and business processes, is critical.

Include all Departments

All of the contact center’s functional groups, including agents, managers, supervisors and trainers, should be involved in the process. The implementation of WFM software is going to represent a change for the center. It’s important for all those involved to know why the change is needed, how it will improve their business processes and how they all benefit from shared data and metrics.

Appoint a Liaison
While all voices should be heard, there should also be one project coordinator – usually a manager – with the experience and knowledge to work with personnel, answer questions and address concerns.

Training

It will take time and patience to adjust to today’s feature-rich workforce management systems. But the last thing a contact center wants is to make the transition and then discover that employees are only using 20% or 50% of the system’s capabilities. Comprehensive training will be necessary to ease the culture shock and ultimately arrive at a place of optimal functionality. The faster agents in particular realize the benefits of a WFM solution, the faster they will take to its advantages.

What to Expect from a WFM Provider
Up to this point we’ve described the implementation process from the end-user perspective. But few of these steps can be taken without the support and expertise of the software provider.

For the contact center, WFM implementation is (ideally) a one-time process. For the provider, this is what they do every day, and they should have a system in place that will make the transition as easy as possible.

At Monet, our implementation plan and timeline begins with a kick-off call of about 60-90 minutes. This consists primarily of a discussion of roles and required data necessary to get started.

Once that is completed, the initial set up can begin. This process typically involves the creation of workgroups, shift profiles, skills and skill teams and the selection of service level targets. While the provider initiates these processes, they are then completed and customized by the client team.

Data collection set-up is next, which incorporates configuration and historical data import and verification. Depending on the contact center and the specific situation.

Once this is completed, training of personnel can begin. The procedure will start with the basics – forecasting, scheduling, rosters – and then examine the more advanced features of WFM, from assigning exceptions and analyzing reports to intra-day management.

After implementation and training are complete, the provider should continue to be accessible for questions or concerns, and provide follow-up checks to make certain everything is running smoothly. And since Monet's complete suite of workforce optimization is cloud based, there are not a lot of resources and money required for purchase and installation of hardware and software. Therefore, the implementation team can focus on the business needs and business processes, and less on technology. And the whole set up or implementation can be done in 30 to 60 days.

Conclusion
When a contact center makes the significant decision to install workforce management software, it is critical that the system be implemented and configured properly, since management will be making key decisions on operations and staffing based on the information it provides.

A successful implementation requires not only software integration and configuration skills, but also a solid understanding of the customer environment and of the multiple ways of addressing and solving the specific requirements of the contact center. It should also be completed as efficiently as possible to shorten ROI.

With a little research, contact centers stand a much better chance of not only selecting the right WFM solution the first time out, but the right software provider as well.


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Getting More from your Workforce Management System

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When choosing the best workforce management (WFM) solution for your call center, there are a number of considerations to review based on that center’s specific needs.

From capabilities and implementation to cost, usability, scalability and ROI, it’s a decision that will require advance research and feedback from the key members of your management team. Of course, one of the main objectives should be to increase efficiency and service levels, while also reducing costs.

If you’re near the beginning of this process, or have been using it for a while,  here is a checklist of considerations that may be helpful in getting more out of your WFM software to maximize the performance of your contact center.

In the area of process design and improvement, run reports and do analysis in the following areas:

  • Call Handling Analysis
  • Benchmark Analysis

  • Activity Summaries and Details 
  • Work Standards 
  • Quality Form Review and Feedback

  • Evaluation of Coaching Techniques and Calibration

  • Staff Flexibility
In the area of management discipline, take a look at these areas:


  • Intraday Reviews, Adherence and Exception Management
  • Forecasting and Scheduling Best Practices 
  • QM and PM Coaching, Training and Role Playing
Finally, if you need help, be sure to assess the software provider as well, to make sure they will deliver the necessary training and follow-up so your agents, supervisors and managers can get up to speed quickly with the new technology and getting the most value from your investment. If you have any questions, please contact us and we are happy to share some of our best practices with you.

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