Call Center Forecasting Hints, Tips & Best Practices
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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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
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.
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.
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.
Workforce management refers to an integrated set of processes used to
optimize employee productivity on both an individual and company-wide
level. Any systems with such a wide range of moving parts and variables
will inevitably present challenges; however, a sophisticated workforce
management solution can help to anticipate these challenges and overcome
1. Accurate Forecasting
Forecasting on call volume and agent workload can reduce instances of
over-staffing, which wastes valuable resources, as well as
under-staffing that can affect services levels and customer service. Workforce management automatically processes all relevant data to deliver more accurate short-term and long-term forecasting projections.
2. Comprehensive Scheduling
Scheduling involves far more than sign-in and sign-out times. There are a
multitude of call center activities that pertain to non-call activities
that must also be taken into account. Choose a WFM solution that makes
non-call activities part of the forecasting and scheduling process. This
is especially important since customer engagement today is based on
many different channels such as chart, phone, email, social media. More
about this in our recent blog post multi-channel agent scheduling.
3. Adherence Tracking and Improvement
Schedule adherence is still one of the biggest challenges for call
centers. With workforce management, a call center can monitor and record
the schedule adherence status of all agents in real-time. The system
tracks data on every status related to this issue, from lunches to daily
breaks to when agents log out. If a problem is discovered it can thus
be handled quickly. In addition to a good solution, you also need to put
solid processes in place, more about this in our whitepaper Five Strategies to Improve Schedule Adherence.
4. Intr-aday Forecast/Schedule Management
Intra-day management is always a challenge due to particularly complex
resource considerations. An integrated WFM solution should be able to
monitor intra-day workload information (planning, controls, deployment
strategies) that will produce pre-emptive rather than reactive actions
5. Exception Handling
Workforce management should manage and process exceptions in a way that
communicates all necessary information to all parties concerned, accepts
or rejects each exception instance based on company criteria, and make
certain everyone is on the same page so there is no confusion on the
part of the agent or management.
We also invite you to watch any of the short videos about how a workforce management system can help overcome those challenges.
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.
Almost everyday, you can read analyst reports and magazine articles about the adoption of cloud-based solution in all areas of business, including call center forecasting and scheduling. Here are 7 reasons why companies move to the cloud:
- Easier to use: Cloud-based solutions are designed to be easy to use for fast adoption, without a lot of training. Think ROI!
- Lower investment: Traditional software requires a substantial upfront investment for software licenses, hardware and additional software. The cloud model eliminates that.
- Faster implementation: Have you experienced long and painful software implementation projects? Cloud-based software has changed this. Instant account creation and easy configuration and self-service makes it possible to roll-out and use solutions in weeks.
- Less maintenance: The IT team in your company has to make sure that the software is working, servers are running, do back-ups, etc. Again, with cloud, this is all done by the solution provider.
- Always newest version: Do you use an older software version simply because it is too expensive or too painful to upgrade? Typically, cloud solutions automatically deploy new features and versions. Customer can easily take advantage of new functionality.
- Access from anywhere: Do you have call centers at multiple locations and a pool of flexible home agents? Providing a consistent infrastructure is a challenge. Cloud computing delivers “software” over the Internet - it's easier to deploy, more consistent and easier to use and support.
- More flexibility and scalability: As you grow your call center and as your needs change, it is often easier to add functionality, capacity and additional modules using the cloud model.
Bottom line: Lower cost, lower risk and faster adoption are convincing more and more call centers to "go cloud". To learn more, please watch a demo of cloud-based call center scheduling.
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.
What are the key functional components of a scheduling and forecasting solution for a contact center? Here is a quick overview:
If you are interested in seeing a solution in action, please take a look at a contact center forecasting and scheduling demo on our website.
Ability to run simulations to calculate a precise forecast for future
call volume, agent requirements and average handle time for any time
interval of the day, based on historical data from your ACD system.
The scheduling module should incorporate all call types and other
call and non-call related activities to generate staffing schedules that
optimize a wide range of factors, including agent availability,
skills, holidays, breaks, training and service levels.
- Exception handling:
Integrated exception calendar to simplify scheduling of agent
exceptions such as time off and one-time or recurring training meetings.
- Real-time adherence:
Ability to compare planned agent activity to actual activities
throughout the day, as well as real-time views of forecast and actual
call volumes, handle times and other key performance indicators.
- Intra-day management:
Graphical display of agents' schedules with drag-and-drop
functionality to quickly manage breaks, lunches and other exceptions.
Real-time updates can be made to required and assigned agents
instantly, and display surpluses and shortages for each time period of
- Agent - supervisor collaboration:
Enables easy and efficient agent-supervisor interaction and
collaboration, such as exceptions, schedule bids or swap requests and
critical reports. Agents get empowered to be more directly involved in
the scheduling process by entering exceptions or bids and viewing their
schedules at any time.
- Configuration & administration:
Ability to set up unlimited number of center splits or agent groups,
each with its own set of service objectives and guidelines. Management
of multiple sites and time zones. Ability to set hours of operation by
day of week, and service level goals down to 15-minute intervals if
- Metrics and reporting:
Ability to report and analyze all agent activities including their
schedule adherence and key performance indicators. Managers need to get
actionable insights through tools such as call center dashboards, Key
Performance Indicators (KPI) and real-time alerts.
Sometimes, spreadsheets for forecasting and scheduling seem to be just
fine. However, one of the biggest challenges in call centers -
maintaining schedule adherence - is very difficult or almost impossible
to manage using spreadsheets. In addition, there are other forecasting
and scheduling tasks that can be very challenging with spreadsheets and
might result in sup-optimal performance. And those tasks (listed below)
are often key drivers to make your call center more productive and
deliver better service to your customers.
Spreadsheets don't support this well. Studies have shown that tracking
and monitoring agent adherence in real-time has a tremendous postive
impact on call center performance.
This is a very manual process and complicated with spreadsheets.
Automated exception handling of modern WFM solutions keep agents happy
and results in higher productivity.
Spreadsheets are often limited to fixed schedules. You might not be
able to take take advantage of schedules with flexible start-time,
end-time & breaks to boost service levels.
Spreadsheets don't support real-time or automated data import of large
amounts of data, potentially resulting in reduced forecast accuracy.
Skill-based routing and scheduling:
Very complicated to manage with spreadsheets, therefore, call centers
often can't realize productivity advantages of skill-based scheduling.
you are still using spreadsheets, you should review the above list from
the perspective of your call center needs and evaluate the potential
for improving call center operation. You can also learn more about WFM
by looking at automating forecasting, scheduling and adherence tracking.
There is no "right" service level for a call center. The service level
should be defined based on customer needs, behavior and expectation,
aligned with the business goals and objectives of your company. Also,
the service level is just one element that drives customer satisfaction
and positive business outcome. If you answer calls very quickly but
cannot address the customer issue, it might be worse than having
customers wait a bit longer and get their issues resolved in one call.
However, this post focuses on the service level component:
How is the service level calculated?
It is defined as the percentage of calls that get answered within a
specific time period. Example: 80% of calls should get answered within
What causes service level issues? There are many reasons that have an impact on services levels, here are just a few:
How to improve service level?
- Calls take longer than planned (product issues, training issues, unexpected events, etc.)
- Forecast inaccurate (higher call volume or different call pattern)
- Schedule sub-optimal (doesn't include all activities, lack of flexibility, etc.)
- Call fluctuations during day that could not be planned for
- Low schedule adherence (often the biggest problem of missed service levels)
- Exceptions (unscheduled meetings, staff absenteeism, etc.)
First, it is important to define a realistic service level that is in
line with your overall business objectives and the specifics and needs
of your customers and their inquiries.
- More accurate forecast:
It all starts with an accurate forecast - both the overall volume and
the arrival patterns throughout the day. Having call history data
available, being able to run different scenarios and breaking it down to
15 or 30 minute increments helps to improve accuracy over time
- Better aligned schedule: There are many aspects to consider when creating a schedule. A previous blog post about call center scheduling 101 talks about those in more detail.
- Flexible schedule:
Building in some flexibility into your schedule is not easy, but can
help dramatically. Flexibility regarding start and end time, breaks,
training, etc. helps cover periods of irregular call patterns, while
still running a cost efficient operation.
- Schedule adherence:
Again, this is one of the biggest issues, but at the same time, has a
big potential to improve service levels. You can read more about improving schedule adherence in this whitepaper.
As you know, you can only manage what you can measure. Add the service
level as one of you key metrics to your "dashboard" and also track
dependencies to discover the issues that have a negative impact on your
As you measure and monitor you will learn more about what causes
problems and over time, you will be able to better plan or even avoid
service level issues.
Make service level discussions part of team meetings/training session
and have your team share their experience. Compare the measured services
level with the perception of customers; have agents share their
experience of customer behavior and expectations. For example, a service
level that looks great on paper might not be perceived well by
customers, or the other way round, a presumed low service level might
not be an issue with customers because they feel they get great service.
Scheduling contact center staff is the "art and science" of having the
right number of employees, with the right skills at the right times to
meet anticipated call volumes (and other communication channels such as
email, chat , social media). And all this has to happen with a targeted
service level and at minimal costs. Contact center forecasting and
scheduling is a critical task and poor planning and execution can have a
negative impact on revenues and cost, customer satisfaction and also
employees motivation. Key tasks of contact center scheduling include the
1. Call Forecasting - Calculation of call volumes based on key parameters:
- Call history data
- Call patterns (day, week, season, etc.)
- Special day patterns (holidays, etc.)
- Other event or business drivers that might impact call volume/pattern (sales campaign)
2. Staffing requirements - Calculation of staffing needs based on:
- Service level, ASA and average handle time
- Type of calls (required skills)
- Anticipated workload
3. Schedule - Creation of a schedule for every day based on your unique needs:
- 15 or 30 minute increments
- Consideration of all activities (call and non-call)
- Flexibility regarding start/end times, breaks, etc.
- Multi-skill routing
4. Schedule Adherence - Monitoring and managing adherence as team effort:
- Inform and educate about adherence importance and impact
- Measure and manage adherence throughout the day (real-time adherence)
- Provide incentives for adherence
5. Exception handling - "Stuff happens", be prepared to manage exceptions and changes throughout the day:
- Changes in call volume or arrival pattern (campaigns, external events, etc.)
- Staffing or scheduling issues (training, sick, absenteeism, etc.)
- Business related exceptions
6. Measure Success - Define what "success" means for you center and measure & adjust accordingly:
- Analyze hourly/daily/weekly reports
- What worked, what didn't? Investigate causes for under-performance
- Apply "learnings" into future forecasting/scheduling process
contact center is different, but one of the most challenging tasks from
the above list for every center is most likely schedule adherence. If
you would like to learn more, please download our whitepaper "How to improve schedule adherence in your call center" and discover new ways that might work for your contact center.