Call Center Forecasting Hints, Tips & Best Practices
Forecasting and scheduling are vital components in the success of every
call center management. Achieving consistent results requires a little
art and a little science, but is impossible without concrete data.
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 staffing
An automated workforce management (WFM) and optimization (WFO) solution
can help you to implement Best Practices. You can easily improve
forecast accuracy and in turn, optimize schedule assignment, making sure
all the necessary resources are always in place. An integrated WFO
solution allows a manager to check KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators)
against historical data. In a typical call center a manager will ask
such questions as:
“When I see that my agents’ Average Talk Time has exceeded the target,
does this result in more abandons and a poor service level?”
“If a longer talk time is causing more abandons, are there agents that
are still able meet all of their quality monitoring goals while keeping a
low talk time?”
By analyzing data in an integrated WFO tool, a manager can then
reference what processes allowed some agents to have a lower talk time
while meeting their quality targets, and then train the rest of the
workforce using these processes. At that point, a lower Average Talk
Time goal may be set for the entire center, resulting in happier
customers getting their calls answered more quickly and less overall
“Call Center Forecasting and Scheduling: Best Practices” details how WFO
improves the likelihood of creating reliable forecasts and accurate
schedules. There are also sections on how WFM impacts agent
productivity, and which criteria are most important when selecting a WFM
Click here to download Call Center Forecasting and Scheduling: Best Practices.
At some call centers, periods of call volume stability are followed by
days or weeks where the numbers will fluctuate more noticeably. And
that’s the best-case scenario.
With other contact centers
attached to companies where new special offers, seasonal promotions and
other aggressive marketing tactics are employed, fluctuations are more
commonplace and even more difficult to predict. How can a manager create
an accurate forecast and schedule in these circumstances? Here are 5
tips that might help.
1. Analyze call history
events in a call center are completely unique. Whatever is happening
this week or next week has happened before, and by using 1-2 years of
call history, it is easier to anticipate the impact of an approaching
event, based on what happened when a similar event occurred previously.
2. Run scenarios
simulations based on 2-3 potential outcomes can help managers analyze
routing policies and incoming call volume. That leads to more accurate
forecasts and schedules.
3. Include all activities
activities are the primary data source, and it’s important to get a
handle on incoming call load, average handle time, etc. But non-call
related activities such as breaks, training sessions and meetings must
also be considered – something that is much easier to do with an
automated system (as opposed to spreadsheets).
4. Track internal and external events.
know about the big sale coming up, and what that is likely to do to
call volume. You can see the holiday approaching on the calendar and can
foresee its impact by what happened last year. But there are other
factors that will be unique to the day for which you are forecasting and
scheduling. For instance, if the weather is supposed to be bad more
customers might shop from home, which would require more call center
5. Stay flexible
The more rigid the
schedule, the more likely it will fall short of expectations. Built-in
flexibility allows managers to be prepared for unforeseen fluctuations.
How accurate are your call center forecasts? If they’re consistently
missing the mark, then chances are the business is constantly dealing
with overstaffing or understaffing, customer service issues and
Thus, forecasting becomes one of the most
significant daily challenges on a manager’s schedule. But it’s a
challenge that becomes manageable with a workforce management (WFM)
solution that handles much of the processing and calculations
Unfortunately, many call centers are still working
with Excel spreadsheets to create forecasts. And these spreadsheets
simply do not have the same functionality as WFM solutions. Below is a
list of key points, but if you would like to get the full story, please
download the whitepaper: The Real Cost of Spreadsheet Based Forecasting and Scheduling.
What aren’t you getting with spreadsheets?
- Call volume history – this can play a significant role in
determining forecasts and schedules, and WFM delivers it automatically.
- Simulations – by running automated simulations, managers can
discover flaws in a forecast and correct them before it’s too late.
Excel does not provide that capability.
- Coverage of other customer contact points – today’s call centers are
really contact centers, accessible not just by phone but email and
online chat as well. Forecasting staff needs for all of these channels
is difficult with spreadsheets, but manageable with WFM.
For some contact centers with very limited call volume fluctuation, a
spreadsheet may suffice. But how many of these businesses experience the
same call flows all the time? Better to be prepared for whatever
tomorrow has in store, with an automated workforce management solution.
- Forecasting by call type – predicting the types of calls coming in
makes it easier to staff a shift with the agents best qualified to
handle them, and to make sure you don’t have too many or too few at the
same time. Not possible with Excel, but simple with WFM.
So many companies rely on increased orders during the holiday season to
make or break their annual sales goals. Thus, the call center plays a
critical role in making certain each customer call is efficiently
handled during these final weeks of the year.
If that means adding agents or changing shift personnel, the time to
start planning for these events is not in December, but right now.
Proper planning and forecasting is the key to handling seasonal changes
in call volume. This is much easier to do with Workforce Management
software. Now, you can take advantage of "special day"
forecasting/scheduling, leveraging call history data to forecast the future. Plus, you can run simulations based on this data and review the results, so they can be fine-tuned as necessary.
Once generated, schedules should be easily accessible to all concerned parties so there’s never any confusion.
Unfortunately, once schedules are set they are not immune to revision.
Last minute changes are often unavoidable, but WFM should resolve any
issues before they can impact performance.
The most critical and useful step in the workforce management
process is forecasting. The more precise the forecast, the more likely
a call center will be to avoid such issues as over-staffing or
under-staffing, while providing consistent customer service.
Forecasts are subject to a wide array of variables and challenges, which
places great demands on a workforce management system. When choosing a
solution for your business, make sure to review the following
capabilities that will improve the likelihood of optimized schedules.
Detailed Data Analysis
The system must use work history data to anticipate future call volume,
agent requirements, average call handling time and other performance
indicators, not just for a particular day but also for different times
throughout that day.
The necessary data is gathered through analysis of call types and
routing policies, but should provide updates throughout the day when new
data suggests changes are necessary.
A workforce management system should quickly generate automatic
forecasts for multiple call center sites based on their unique needs.
The system should not just generate accurate forecasts, but analyze
alternative scenarios based on changes in staffing or call volume.
Managers can then run “what if” simulations that can help prepare the
call center for such fluctuations.
For more information, please check out these videos about call forecasting and Intra-day management.
Forecasts determine schedules, but what determines forecasts? There is
both art and science involved in predicting future call volume and agent
staffing needs, and technology can make the forecasting process more accurate. But the starting point should always be a review of call history data.
Past activity is always the best predictor of future activity,
especially when broken down into ever-smaller increments of time. This
makes it easier to identify anomalies and prepare accordingly.
You’ll want to have monthly and weekly stats to review, and then dig
deeper into daily and hourly numbers. Finally, examine work periods as
short as 15 minutes. You may be surprised at the stats for these
intervals, and it may help in determining when agents can take breaks,
and whether personnel are beginning or ending their shifts on time.
Obviously you’ll need at least one year of historic data, but it’s
better to have at least 2-3 years to spot patterns and trends that can
help fine-tune future forecasting.
Pay particular attention to lower or higher numbers, which should be
apparent as they tend to stand out amidst otherwise consistent call
volumes. Determine the cause for the variation, whether it was a holiday
or a new company promotion, and adjust your forecast accordingly for
that same time period.
Many changes in traffic volume are not likely to repeat – on a day that a
major news story breaks, call volume will go down. On a day when
computers are knocked offline due to a technical glitch, call volume
accuracy will be thrown off. Until you determine the cause, you will not
be able to forecast a point estimate (the theory that a point in the
future will be comparable to a similar point in the past).
Once all of this data has been reviewed, you’ll be ready to prepare a forecast, assess staff requirements and create a schedule.
Accurate forecasts are vital to customer service and budgeting, and
avoiding additional issues that occur when the center is overstaffed or
understaffed. Forecasting methods must take into account changing
business needs, seasonal volumes and external events that are outside
the company’s control.
Special days provide another challenge.
But it’s a scheduling and forecasting challenge that is manageable with a
workforce management solution that handles much of the processing and
But the process starts with a
manager, and an effort to explore how a change in call volume or service
level goals on one day, or within one week, will affect the call
center. You already have the information necessary to achieve this in
past call history data that covers previous similar periods. Always
review both the similarities and potential variables.
break down your forecast into monthly, weekly or daily intervals, with
special allowances made for the “special day” effect. For some call
centers, Valentine’s Day is a special day of increased orders.
Forecasting efforts will already have calculations in place for
February, and for the day of the week that Valentine’s Day falls upon.
But then the impact of the holiday must be assessed, as well as the
times of that day where call volume may be increased.
“special day” provisions should also be made for other factors,
including any company marketing campaigns or events, and perhaps even
weather patterns; if it’s raining outside, will more customers call and
place and order instead of going out and buying a gift?
Fore more information about different forecasting models and simulations tools, please watch this call forecasting video.
No one every said predicting the future was easy. But workforce
management can remove much of the guesswork and improve the accuracy of
schedules and forecasts.
center staffing and scheduling will be largely determined by
forecasting of the call volume. Thus, when a forecast is errant, it can
cause serious repercussions in customer service.
in the best call centers there will never be 100% accuracy in
forecasting. The number of variables from day to day, and week-to-week,
as well as unexpected scheduling changes, can all affect how a workday
varies from projections. When this happens it is important to drill down
to find the reasons for the variations, and factor them in to future
Measuring the level of accuracy in your call center
forecast requires more than just calculating workload percentages. Take a
typical week where the Monday forecast was 12% under actual call
volume, Tuesday was 8% under, and the remaining three weekdays were all
8% over. When those numbers are run the result would be an overall
weekly forecast variance of 4%.
Sounds pretty good – but it
doesn’t recognize how customer service may have suffered on Monday and
Tuesday by an insufficiently staffed call center. Or even more, how
Monday morning between 9am and 11:30am there was even a bigger The
lesson here is to be aware how instances of overstaffing and
understaffing can cancel each other out, resulting in a forecasting
picture that looks more favorable than it is.
Forecasting can be
rendered more accurate through the use of a simple standard deviation
approach, and by examining intra-day forecast accuracy as well as just
how close the daily or weekly numbers compared to the forecast.
course, the ability to forecast schedules is dependent on the ability
to forecast call volume. The challenge here is the number of factors
that can impact this statistic, from online marketing to economic
conditions to social networking. Analyze call forecasting data to
uncover trends and over time these forecasts should zero in more
accurately numbers. Look at the following:
Watch this short video to see how call forecasting tools and simulation
can help. However, even with these tools it is important to
continuously "learn" from your past forecasting - what assumptions
resulted in better forecasts, and what assumptions did not result in a
- Forecast in 15, 30 or 60 minute increments
- Look at daily, weekly, monthly or seasonal pattern
- Look for "special days" (holidays, sales promotion, payday, end of month, etc.)
- Look for external factors (weather, events, etc.)
- Plan for "internal" events such as marketing and social media campaigns, newsletters, company news, product launches, etc.
Unlike weather forecasting, call center forecasting can be performed
with a high degree of accuracy. Workforce management solutions combine
the use of historic data and real-time data, to not only improve the
efficiency at a call center, but to create projections for future
growth, changes and special events, so the call center can be prepared
for any eventual scenario.
Here are five tips to help you make the most of you call center forecasting solution:
1. Use Historic Data
This is the obvious place to start. Historical call volume data can be
used to analyze present performance and future growth trends. It can
also serve to correct assumptions about what constitutes an appropriate
length of a customer engagement, how many calls an agent should handle
in one shift, and other factors that impact hiring and staffing
procedures. Several weeks of data is usually sufficient as a starting
point, but longer-term projections would require months or years of
data, especially for seasonal or annual projections.
2. Run Scenarios Based on Data
With workforce management a call center manager does not have to wait
for something to happen to gauge the effectiveness of call center
response. Staffing and service levels can be analyzed ahead of time by
creating a what-if scenario. Typical scenarios would include the start
of a new advertising campaign that will increase call volume, a discount
on a key product line, or a turnover in personnel that results in a
higher number of less experienced agents on the same shift.
3. Leverage Past Events
How did the opening of a new retail location affect call volume to the
call center? How did call patterns change during the holiday season? By
reviewing past events, a call center can be better prepared for future
occurrences, and adjust accordingly. This data can also impact long-term
strategies for planning, budgeting and recruitment.
4. Leverage Real-Time Data
Every call to a call center is a forecasting tool. Real-time analysis of
individual calls and calls handled within an hour, a day, etc. can lead
to adjustments on the fly and more accurate forecasting in the days and
weeks to come. Among the most important measurements here are the speed
with which calls are answered, average call-handling times, percentage
of calls abandoned, and number of interactions on hold.
5. Multi-Channel Forecasting
Customer communication is not handled only through a telephone anymore.
With the introduction of multi-channel environments (email, fax,
Internet), customers now have a wide range of options, and an equally
wide range of expectations in how a company responds to their needs.
While this makes forecasting more complex, it is a necessity for any
workforce management solution to incorporate multi-channel capabilities.
This makes it easier to discover, for example, how many customer
engagements are now handled via email, how that impacts call volume to a
call center, and how that center should adjust to meet its service
To learn more, you can also watch one of our forecasting and scheduling videos in our new demo center.
The following is a list of practical tips, tricks and best practices on how to better forecast call volumes and more effectively schedule your call center team:
If you would like to see some of these tips in action, please watch our video demonstrationsabout call center forecasting and scheduling.
Accurate forecasting is critical to successfully managing your call center. In order to meet call demand and avoid under- or over-staffing, you need methods that precisely predicts how many agents are needed to handle the center's call volume, and also methods that help you "re-calculate" if the the call volume fluctuates more than anticipated. Here are 5 considerations and methods that should help you improve forecast accuracy:
- The importance of accurate forecasting: First, take a look why an accurate forecast is crucial.
- How to improve forecasting with simulation tools: Anticipating the "future" is not easy, therefore, running simulations with different assumptions helps to better predict call volumes.
- How to forecast special days: There are certain days that are difficult to forecast, or are important for the business. Here are some tips on how to deal with those.
- How to do "intra-day" call forecasting: One of the biggest forecasting challenge is related to unpredictable call volume fluctuations - here are some "intra-day" tips.
- How to forecast for multiple channels: As more communication channels open up (phone, email, chat, social media) you have to add those to your forecasting scenarios.
Fluctuation in call volumes throughout the day is still one of the key challenges in managing a call center. Common questions are: How to update the forecast, how to create a new schedule, and how to staff for this throughout the day? Is there a way to plan for this? Typically, there are two scenarios:
- There are events that the call center should have known about, but didn’t for various reasons (e.g. was not informed about a campaign, didn’t plan for the event, etc.). Most of the call volume related impact can be avoided through planning – see #1.
- There are events, mostly external driven , that cannot be planned for (e.g. sudden product issues, weather, catastrophes). Call volume fluctuations due to these external events cannot be planned for, however, constant monitoring and quick action can lower the impact on service levels and customer satisfaction – see #2.
1. Anticipate and plan: Spend time and effort to achieve a more accurate forecast in order to minimize surprises.
- Learn from the past, anticipate events that might cause call volume fluctuation and stay in constant communication with other departments of your company to avoid call volume “surprises”.
- Analyze call history to spot “triggers” and anticipate factors that impact call volume
- Stay in touch with other departments (sales, support, marketing) to make sure you know in advance about events. Educate them about the implication of “surprises” on service levels and customer satisfaction
2. Monitor and act: Establish a dashboard or set up alerts that notify you about unusual or fluctuating call volumes.
- When you notice that the actual call volume is different from the forecast, you should analyze deviation and trend lines for both, call volume and average handle time.
- Apply this trend to the next period or rest of day by recalculating the forecast for each interval
- Then you need to move things around (breaks, training, etc) to adjust the schedule as well.
Finally, investigate to find the cause for the deviation and learn from it. This might help you be better prepared next time, and you might even be able to "build it" it into the forecast. For a short demo of intra-day management and exception handling please visit our website.
One of the most critical steps in the workforce management process is forecasting. Based on the work history you need to forecast call volume and agent requirements for desired time frames in the future - a forecast for future call volume, average handling time, and agent requirements for each 15-minute period of the day based on service level objectives.
How can you use forecasting simulation to improve forecast accuracy? A simulator forecasting engine analyzes all call types and routing policies when creating forecasts. This lets you accurately forecast staffing levels to manage all call types within your center, and build scenarios for budgeting and planning purposes. You can even use simulators to produce center budgets by running a costing of all forecasted agent shifts and agent schedules. Here are some tips on how you can benefit from using forecasting simulation:
- You can quickly generate automatic forecasts for multiple sites, complex routing strategies, and multi-skilled agents.
- You can accurately forecast staffing levels to manage all call types, as well as build scenarios for planning and budgeting purposes.
- You get regular intra-day forecast updates, automatically calculating a new forecast based on what has already occurred to establish trends that will aid in proactive decision making.
- It helps you evaluate and plan current and future workforce requirements.
- You can develop "what if" scenarios to explore how a change in call volume or service level goals during a specific day or week would affect your center.
- You are able to simulate routing rules, agent skill assignments, and schedules by date range and see the impact on staffing and scheduling.
For more information about this topic, please watch the call center forecasting video.