Workforce Management

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

Call Center Forecasting 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. More...


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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). More...


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How effective is your call center forecasting and scheduling process?

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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 issues. More...


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Forecasting and Scheduling When Call Volume is Inconsistent

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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. More...


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The Limitations of Call Forecasting in Excel Spreadsheets

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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 budgeting problems.
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 automatically. More...


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Forecasting and Scheduling During the Holiday Season

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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. More...


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Advanced Forecasting Methods for Your Call Center

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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.

advanced forecasting for call centers
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. More...

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Use Call History Data for Better Forecasting and Scheduling

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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.

call forecasting and scheduling
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. More...


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Special Days: The Challenges of Forecasting and Scheduling

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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 calculations automatically.

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. More...




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How Accurate is your Call Forecast?

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Call 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.

However, even 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 forecasts. More...


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The Top 5 Workforce Management Challenges

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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 them.

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. More...



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5 Tips for More Accurate Call Center Forecasting

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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.  More...





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7 Reasons for Call Center Forecasting and Scheduling in the Cloud

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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:

  1. Easier to use: Cloud-based solutions are designed to be easy to use for fast adoption, without a lot of training. Think ROI! More...


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Call center forecasting and scheduling tips and best practices

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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.


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Top 5 call center forecasting & scheduling articles for first half of 2012

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We have seen tremendous interest in our Call Center Workforce Management blog over the last 6 months. We just compiled a list of our top blog posts based on page views. We also noticed that there was a lot of interest in "schedule adherence". This still seems to be one of the key challenges for call centers. Here is the top 5 list in case you missed some of the articles:

  1. What is schedule adherence and why is it important for a call center?
  2. Call forecasting and call center scheduling spreadsheets? A few considerations.
  3. Contact Center scheduling and call forecasting overview
  4. Important call center metrics: Service Level
  5. Workforce Management: How to move from "reactive" to "pro-active" call center performance management

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Contact Center Scheduling and Forecasting Functionality

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What are the key functional components of a scheduling and forecasting solution for a contact center? Here is a quick overview:

  • Forecasting: 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.
  • Scheduling: 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 the day.
  • 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 desired.
  • 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.
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.
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Call forecasting and call center scheduling spreadsheets? A few considerations.

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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. More...


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Important call center metrics: Service Level

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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 20 seconds. More...


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Contact center scheduling and forecasting overview

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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 following activities: More...


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Best call center forecasting & scheduling articles of 2011

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Happy New year! We just compiled a list of our top blog posts that got the most views by our readers in 2011. It is interesting to see that there was a lot of interest in "schedule adherence". This still seems to be one of the key challenges for call centers. In case you have missed those articles, please take a look:
  1. Important call center metrics: schedule adherence
  2. How to make a call center schedule work for your staff
  3. Workforce management software comparison: cloud versus installed software
  4. 7 tips for improved schedule adherence in your call center
  5. What is real-time schedule adherence and why is it important
  6. The importance of accurate call center forecasting
  7. How to improve call center forecasting with simulation tools

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Call Center Forecasting Methods & Techniques

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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: More...


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3 Ways to Simplify Call Center Scheduling

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1. Focus on a more accurate forecast
Focus on forecast accuracy first to avoid under-staffing, minimize crisis situation, and constant shuffling around of agents! Try to get the best possible forecast baseline for your schedule:

  • Identify historic and future call volume “driver” (special days, events, promotion, etc.)
  • Run various forecast scenarios
  • Include all customer service related activities into forecast (call and non-call)
  • Include all communication channels (call, email, chat, etc.) More...



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