Call Center Forecasting Hints, Tips & Best Practices
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.