Call Center Scheduling Hints, Tips & Best Practices
Three years ago, the CEO of a company that manufactures customer self-serve solutions predicted (perhaps rather self-servingly) that the call center’s days were numbered. He believed the smartphone would become the contact center of the future, and expected this major shift in communication to take place by the end of 2012.
Yet here we are in 2015, and contact centers are not only still here, they are expanding. Here are two reasons why they won’t be replaced by smartphone service apps anytime soon.
1. Everyone Has a Phone
While other communication channels are now available, they have not diminished the convenience of the telephone. Service apps for smartphones are already in use (and at some companies in development) but not everyone has them yet and there’s a good bet that many of your older customers will never see a need to change. If customers want to speak to someone at your company, the first option is still dialing a phone number.
2. As Phones Get Smarter, So Do Contact Centers
The CEO’s assertion that a smartphone would supplant call centers did not account for the ways in which call centers evolved into contact centers. It also didn’t factor in the lower costs and technological advancement at these contact centers made possible by the cloud. The lower cost inherent in the cloud delivery system has made these businesses more efficient. Sophisticated forecasting and scheduling solutions such as Monet WFM Live boosts productivity and assures businesses of having the number of agents they need to meet customer demand – not too many, not too few. Speech analytics delivers valuable insights into each customer that could not be gathered through many apps.
It’s great that customers have more choices today. But when one is faced with a problem – say, a blu-ray player that won’t work – a phone call still sounds easier than finding, downloading and installing the manufacturer’s app, and then following an on-screen troubleshooting guide.
Even when we reach the day where everyone has a smartphone, most consumers will still prefer using that phone to call customer support.
If your contact center is located in an area where the next nearest contact center is 50 miles or more away, consider yourself lucky. Chances are you are getting first pick at the local workforce and can be more selective about which candidates to hire to serve your customers.
However, if your call center is In Tampa, Florida, Phoenix, Arizona, Greensboro, North Carolina, Las Vegas, Nevada or one of the other cities where the saturation rate for this type of business is high, the search for qualified labor can be more daunting. Here, the agent is picking you as much as you are selecting the agent, and you may find yourself in a constant competition to recruit and retain the best candidates.
Each high-saturation market presents its own unique challenges. Las Vegas, for instance, still has a particularly large transient population. For contact centers, that might raise a red flag on candidates that have only lived in the city for less than one year. It can be frustrating to devote the time and effort necessary to develop and train a new agent, only to have that agent move out of state a few months later.
However, regardless of the market there are a few initiatives that can be taken to improve the likelihood of attracting talented agents in competitive environments.
A Desirable Place to Work
While specific policies and procedures may vary, the basic function of a contact center agent will be much the same wherever that agent works. So anything that can be done to improve the workplace look, its hospitality and its overall “vibe” might become a deciding factor in where that agent chooses to work.
For some businesses this could be as simple as a bright, welcoming atmosphere. Or it may be the offering of extra conveniences and perks, such as a child-friendly or pet-friendly workplace.
This is obvious. A competitive wage package is essential in cities where similar opportunities are plentiful.
Word of Mouth
Sometimes the best recruitment tools a contact center has are the agents that already work there. Make them a part of your recruitment process.
Veteran agents in particular will appreciate being able to ask the types of questions that only another agent can answer. They’ll want to know whether agent input is valued, or if an assembly line attitude pervades. Has a script or policy ever changed because of an agent’s suggestion? Are outstanding performances rewarded? Does the occasional mishandled call prompt an angry outburst, or a coaching moment?
Opportunity for Advancement
Some people seek a job. Others seek a career. Those that fall in the latter category are typically more serious about their work and are looking for a business that provides an opportunity for growth and advancement. Is it possible at your contact center for an agent to progress from agent to coach to operations manager to site director? This comprises not just the possibility of such advancement, but also the creation of training programs and initiatives that encourage such transitions.
Since contact centers are among the workplaces that now allow employees to work from home, it may not even be necessary to recruit exclusively from the local community. Call recording and workforce management (WFM) software provides agents with the same technological capabilities they would have at an office. This is particularly true when hosted call recording and WFM are accessed through cloud computing.
But is it a good idea to allow agents to work remotely? Often, the comforts of home can make an agent more content in his or her work, and more motivated to maintain their employment by working hard and meeting the company’s needs. And depending on the home environment, there may be fewer distractions there than there would be at a busy contact center.
Agents who work from home avoid the two-way commute every day, which saves money on gas. Parents can also save on daycare for their children and the need to maintain a ‘professional’ wardrobe for the office. The arrangement is more economical for the company as well, as it does not have to provide a workstation on its premises.
In addition, an agent may feel more confident in knowing that he or she is trusted enough to work from home without a manager looking over their shoulder throughout the day.
That said, not every agent will prosper in a telecommuting position. It takes self-motivation to work from home, and employees who lack this discipline may be distracted in a home environment, and their job performance will suffer.
Agents may also miss out on the motivation that comes from the fervent pace in a competitive contact center, where agents and teams strive for more first call resolutions and shorter call times in friendly competition. While it’s certainly possible to compare notes via email, it’s not the same as when agents are working side by side. Work-from-home agents also miss out on some of the camaraderie and support they receive from fellow employees and managers.
Any city that is home to a significant number of contact centers may be challenged by employee attrition rates and an escalation of wages – another $1 an hour somewhere else is reason enough for some agents to move on. But there are measures that can be taken to reduce attrition while attracting the agents with the greatest potential for future success.
“The extensive reporting capabilities, graphs and charts presented senior managers with the tools they needed to make staffing decisions. We are satisfied with Monet Software and feel that the application has met our requirements.”
Oscar Gutierrez, Contact Center Analyst, Bayview Loan Servicing
Bayview Loan Servicing, an investment management firm focused on all areas of mortgage credit, including mortgage servicing rights were scheduled manually using spreadsheets.
Comcast Corp. recently announced plans to hire 10,000 military veterans, reservists and spouses over the next three years. Since 2012, the company has hired more than 4,200 veterans. Many of them now work at Comcast’s contact centers.
This is not only an admirable effort, especially with Memorial Day having recently passed, it is also a proven method for finding better agents that are more likely to provide excellent service, and to stay in their positions longer.
Compare the attributes managers look for in a contact center agent to the attributes veterans obtain during their military service, and it becomes obvious why this transition is one that works:
Accelerated learning curve: veterans can quickly learn new skills and concepts
Teamwork: the military encourages both individual and group productivity
Grace under pressure: if veterans can handle stressful combat situations, they can certainly cope with the rigors of tight schedules and angry callers
Following orders: Military men and women are used to accurately following procedures
Integrity: Veterans are familiar with the concept of an honest day’s work, and will bring their ‘A’ game to their job every day.
There are many qualities that are desirable in a contact center agent, and most of them have already been acquired by men and women who have served in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. Something to keep in mind next time your contact center is hiring.
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
What is the biggest challenge faced by every contact center, regardless of size or type?
The answer is one you may already know: It’s the challenge of delivering great customer service at the lowest possible cost. The question that is more difficult to answer is – what is the best way to do it?
It starts with information – having the data your agents need, when they need it.
Specifically, this means real-time insights delivered via dashboards and reports on KPIs, as well as alerts that allow managers to adjust forecasts and schedules as needed when the unexpected occurs. It means running scenarios to prepare for various contingencies, and changing breaks to meet the demands of call volume.
It also means being able to record and score calls so agents receive the coaching and training they need to deliver outstanding customer service.
With the capabilities provide by this data, the contact center manager has the actionable insights necessary to be proactive in decision-making, and that means every shift of every day will be prepared to deliver the kind of customer service that keeps customers loyal and happy. And when the contact center is running at peak efficiency, that reduces costs as well.
Even greater cost savings can be achieved when contact center technology is provided through the cloud as a subscription service, which eliminates the need to invest in additional hardware and software. In this model, call centers pay only for the time and capacity that they need. For a smaller call center, this means the ability to significantly lower upfront costs, while maintaining the option of scaling up as needed.
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For many years the skill set expected from a call center agent was fairly narrow and clearly defined. But as call centers have evolved into contact centers, additional skills are now required to meet customer expectations via their preferred method of communication.
Bad news for agents? Not at all. Those will the ability to adapt to different communication channels will be more in demand. Also, those with outstanding written skills, but who are not as comfortable with interaction via telephone, now have an opportunity to work successfully in this environment.
What skills should you be looking for when hiring an agent into a multi-channel contact center environment? Here are 10 of the most prominent:
• Courtesy and professionalism in all communication
• Attendance and punctuality
• Outstanding verbal skills and/or written skills
• The ability to multi-task
• A responsible team player
• The ability to adhere to a strict schedule
• The confidence to work independently and problem-solve without assistance
• The ability to stay calm in a fast-paced work atmosphere
• Familiarity with the technology found in contact centers
• The ability to listen to and respond to coaching
Specific contact centers will have additional expectations, such as the ability to work a non-traditional schedule. Agents that communicate with customers through a video chat will also need to maintain a professional appearance, with appropriate body language.
Monet’s Workforce Management solution can play a key role in helping agents to achieve optimal performance, by giving them the information they need to succeed.
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.
In the old days it was simpler – first call resolution (FCR) at the call center was a simple measurement of how often a customer’s issue was settled within one call. No standard definition was required.
Today it’s a little more complicated. If a caller is transferred from an agent to a technical support expert, that’s still one call but two separate conversations – does that still qualify? What if a call is made after an attempt to resolve the issue via web chat proves unsuccessful? That’s just one call as well, but it was also the customer’s second effort to achieve a goal.
While definitions might change, one thing is certain – FCR is the most highly correlated metric to customer satisfaction. A CFI Group study surveyed customers whose issues were not resolved in one call; it found that 43% said they would take their business elsewhere.
Keep These Customers with WFM
An automated workforce management (WFM) solution is one way to improve first call resolution and encourage customer loyalty.
With WFM it’s easier to implement a skills-based schedule so calls are answered by agents with the talent and experience to resolve them. It also allows managers and agents to use recorded calls to learn from mistakes and train new agents in proven company procedures.
These recordings can subsequently play a role in your quality monitoring efforts. Score each one based on specific criteria and overall success, and it’s easier to discover the best way to address different types of customer questions and concerns.
Finally, if you have a WFO system with speech analytics, you can use this resource to identify important recurring words and phrases, and how an agent should react when receiving a call that fits their criteria.
However you choose to define FCR, one fact is certain: the better prepared your agents can be for any eventuality, the more likely they will be able to end a call knowing they have just said goodbye to a satisfied customer.
Optimal resource scheduling requires accurate forecasting of work volume and staff requirements. Workforce management (WFM) software makes it easier to specify shift patterns and daily duties, and factor in the skill sets and preferences of individual agents.
This information should be delivered via reports. But if your system is not delivering the information you need, or is providing that data in a way that is difficult to decipher, it might be time to consider a new WFM solution. This is particularly important since the responsibility of WFM does not end with the production of an accurate schedule.
If you are ready to consider a new WFM system, be sure to ask about the reporting options that can make a positive difference at your contact center. These include:
• The Hours Worked Report: this report makes it easier to observe the breakdown and summary of assigned activities, balance multiple types of work, and handle other backlog issues
• The Agent Status Report: Compare this report with the Hours Worked Report for new insights into workload distribution and productivity
• The Service Performance Report: Compare “How we did” results to “What we expected” numbers.
• The Coverage Report: Reveals gaps in staffing.
These are just some of the capabilities of Monet WFM. Find out why we call it “Call Center Workforce Management Made Easy.”
Many small and midsized contact centers still rely on spreadsheets for
daily forecasting and scheduling. It’s an imperfect system that could be
improved by workforce management (WFM) software.
what’s surprising is that some larger contact centers, those with 100
agents or more, are also still using spreadsheets for scheduling. Here,
the inefficiencies of the system are multiplied, resulting in much lower
customer service (under-staffing) and higher costs (over-staffing) -
often both, based on the time of day.
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.
One of these areas is
flexibility – the limitations of a spreadsheet result in fixed schedules
that can produce higher shrinkage and overstaffing. But with WFM it is
easier to manage start times, end times and breaks with an ease of
flexibility that dramatically improves service levels.
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 – that time can now be used for additional agent training
or to attend to other matters.
There are many additional
advantages as well, from reducing the number of agents needed for a
particular shift to improving agent morale by making it easier to match
employees with the hours and shifts they prefer.
Find out more in the Monet whitepaper “The Cost of Spreadsheet Based Forecasting & Scheduling.”
After so many years, and so much attention paid, why are scheduling and
adherence still a challenge at so many contact centers? One reason,
perhaps, is that each of these objectives incorporates a number of
moving parts, and a wide range of variables that must be calculated in
advance. If these calculations are off, even by a little bit, it can
bring the whole plan crashing down.
Consider the contact center manager’s ongoing challenge:
Inaccurate forecast? There goes the schedule. If a manager schedules 20
agents on a shift and call volume is higher than expected, average wait
time increases, other KPIs are impacted, and customer service suffers.
If call volume is lower, agents are at their desks with nothing to do.
The customers are happy, but accounting is not – no one likes to pay
agents when they aren’t doing anything.
Sudden call volume change? It can happen. Sometimes unforeseen
circumstances, even a change in the weather or a news story about a
company’s product, can spike calls.
Then there are exceptions, and agents who call in sick at the last
minute, and other KPI predictions that don’t pan out. Any one of these
can make scheduling a frustrating process.
Do your agents understand the impact of adherence? It was covered at
hiring and reinforced during training sessions, but even the best agents
sometimes forget. Are those that regularly fall out of adherence held
accountable? If not, they have no reason to change their behavior.
Having a system in place to track adherence would be helpful, but some contact centers have yet to make this investment.
What’s the Solution?
Fortunately, one solution is available to address the wide array of
scheduling and adherence challenges: Workforce Management (WFM)
software. It’s the fastest and easiest way to track status, progress,
and real-time activity at a call center. Dashboards provide a visual
display of call center data, providing insight into every key WFM
Both daily and long-term forecasts can be checked quickly through tables and charts on forecasting dashboards.
Review past call volumes to create tomorrow’s schedule. Find out who’s in, who’s on break and who’s on vacation.
Adherence alerts on the call center dashboard identify instances where
scheduled activities vary from the current call center status.
Besides forecasting, scheduling and adherence, other key WFM metrics
that can be reviewed via dashboard include call answer times, first call
resolutions and transfer rates.
Of course, the wealth of information provided by WFM isn’t much good if
it is not presented in a way that is clear, concise, and accessible to
changes as needed. Choose a WFM system that allows for real-time changes
to be easily implemented, that shows summaries of all agent statuses,
including exceptions. If you can’t find the data you need quickly, look
for another system.
One of the call center manager’s most important tasks is to create a
schedule that balances agent needs vs. call center capabilities, while
accounting for such variables as shrinkage and exceptions.
said than done? Not necessarily – the right workforce management system
streamlines the process and provides more consistent, accurate data.
If scheduling is still an issue, check out these quick tips:
Fore more details, please download our Contact Center Scheduling Tips whitepaper.
- Don’t use spreadsheets – they are incapable of producing an optimized call center schedule.
- Accurate scheduling starts with accurate forecasting.
- Track both call activities and non-call activities for better scheduling.
- Make sure all scheduling procedures are clearly delineated among agents, supervisors and management.
- Test schedule accuracy with simulations and dry-run scenarios.
- Build some flexibility into schedules so changes can be made on the fly.
- Take agent preferences into account – if agents can work the shifts they prefer, they will likely do a better job.
- Make sure you are using sufficient ACD data (at least one year) for schedule creation.
- Build in a shift-swapping procedure that is easier for agents to utilize, and easier for management to monitor.
- Incorporate agent skill levels and specialties into schedule creation.
- Try this formula for calculating schedule adherence: [phone time +
other work related activity time] / ([shift time] - [lunch/dinner] -
[break] + [exception time] + [overtime]) = schedule adherence
- Personally address agent issues such as tardiness and extended lunch
breaks so they do not become habitual, and have a detrimental impact on
- Take weather conditions into account when creating schedules, as they can impact both call volume and agent availability.
- List the 3 greatest challenges to schedule adherence at your contact
center, then meet with agents and supervisors to address how these
challenges can be resolved.
- Choose a Workforce Management solution that gathers and provides the
necessary scheduling information through dashboards that are clear and
The advantages to a call center of a flexible workforce cannot be
discounted. When agents have more say in the shifts they work and the
breaks they take, they are more likely to provide outstanding customer
service. They are also more likely to stay in their position, which
reduces employee turnover and the time and cost issues involved with
training new hires. In addition, the call center can also benefit from
staggering shifts and flexible start and end times. Flexibility is often
a win-win for all involved.
The challenge, however, is to reap the efficiency, service and cost
benefits of a flexible schedule without the difficulties involved in its
creation. Spreadsheets, the traditional method of scheduling, are not
as user-friendly when flexibility is part of the mix.
The answer is workforce management (WFM) software.
A WFM system makes it much easier for agents to add, swap or cancel
shifts, even without a manager’s approval (if the call center allows).
And by doing so via a Web-based interface, rather than submitting
requests via telephone or email, changes are handled more quickly and
there is a record of each change. That helps to avoid conflicts later.
When a call center first makes the switch from a fixed to a flexible
schedule, it can be problematic in the short term as both agents and
managers adjust to the new status quo. One way to limit confusion is to
make the transition gradually, by granting access to the flexible shift
model to a few agents, and then expanding it over time to the rest of
Whatever short-term issues arise from the transition are nothing
compared to the improved service levels and lower personnel costs that
will inevitably follow. Please take a few minutes to watch any of the scheduling demos to get better understanding of how WFM can help you create and manage a more flexible schedule.
It takes both art and science to staff a call center. Next to hiring the
right personnel, scheduling plays the key role in maximizing resources
and making sure calls are handled in a courteous and efficient manner.
This is important stuff that deserves your attention, but it can’t
occupy too much of your time that could also be devoted to improving
service levels and achieving the company’s operational and fiscal goals.
It must be done, but it needs to be done quickly.
Workforce Management: Say Goodbye to Spreadsheets
The best way to make scheduling easier is to switch from a spreadsheet-based system to once that uses workforce management software. Now you’ll have the flexibility to better (and automatically) manage start times, end times and break times.
Flexibility is also an important element of agent satisfaction – when
you can staff a roster with the agents you need, and balance those needs
with agents working their preferred shifts and hours, you’ll have
happier agents (which always results in happier customers) and lower
What you don’t want, however, are agents at your office door all day
with questions about which shifts are available, if they can change
their Monday schedule to Wednesday, etc. An automated solution delivered
through a Web portal will allow agents to bid on shifts, swap or cancel
without taking up a manager’s time. The system will have parameters in
place, set by the call center, that will approve or reject such requests
Of course, the wealth of information provided by WFM isn’t much good if
it is not presented in a way that is clear, concise, and accessible to
changes as needed. Choose a WFM system that allows for real-time changes
to be easily implemented, that shows summaries of all agent statuses,
including exceptions. If you can’t find the data you need quickly, look
for another system.
Have you considered making a final break from spreadsheets, and
incorporating a sophisticated workforce management solution into your
contact center? If so, what is holding you back? For many, it may be a
concern that WFM is too complicated, too difficult to install, too
confusing to use. But what if we could prove that wasn’t the case?
out the short videos below, each of which covers a specific challenge
faced by every call center, and explains how workforce management
software makes that challenge much easier to manage. You’ll see how the
software works, and how simple it is to collect the data you need to
keep your call center running at optimum efficiency.
The videos cover the following topics:
WFM you’ll have monthly and weekly stats to review, plus daily and
hourly numbers. You can even examine work periods as short as 15
minutes. By reviewing past activity, you’ll have a much better idea of
how to predict future needs.
scheduling comes from the knowledge that the right people are in the
right places at the right times. Find out how WFM makes this task
Discover how WFM optimizes
scheduling for all necessary factors, including agent skill sets, staff
availability, holidays, breaks and service levels.
an agent for a shift is not enough – WFM also provides a graphical
display of variances in agents’ schedules during the workday for breaks,
lunch and other exceptions.
out how the integrated exception calendar simplifies the scheduling of
agent exceptions for training, time off and other variables.
how WFM provides actionable insights on all agent activities through
dashboards, key performance indicators and real-time alerts.
While every call center is different, there are some qualities that
remain consistent throughout the industry, and these are the qualities
that can provide a basis for your forecasting and scheduling process.
Some variations may be possible based on specific call patterns and
staffing, but this guideline should be helpful in establishing a process
that achieves results.
1. Collect and analyze data, including call type, call volume, and call patterns.
2. Use this data to forecast call center workload (by day, by hour, even by quarter-hour).
3. Forecast special days or any other events that influence call
volumes. These may include company promotions and events, holidays,
seasonal fluctuations or other unique trends.
4. Calculate and plan resources requirements. These will be specified
once you have defined acceptable service levels on ASA, AHT and other
5. Review additional staffing considerations, including cost, personnel
skills and specialties, flexibility, availability and occupancy.
6. Create a schedule that balances agent needs vs. call center capabilities, and accounts for shrinkage and exceptions.
7. Manage daily operation based on the created schedule. Track key
metrics and adherence, and adjust forecast/schedule based on actual call
volume and pattern.
8. Review, report and analyze, then repeat the process starting with step #1.
We invite you to watch any of the forecasting and scheduling videos to visualize these process steps.
It’s a situation that a call center manager faces every week – in larger
call centers, it probably happens every day. You prepare to start a
shift and realize that one or more agents forecasted and scheduled to
work will not be coming in today. What should that manager do?
If he (or she) is using spreadsheets for scheduling, panic might be a
good first step. But with the right workforce management (WFM) software,
not only is the crisis averted, it never becomes a crisis at all.
Choose a WFM solution with an Exceptions feature that streamlines the
tracking process on no-show employees. Once the missing agent is noted,
the list of assigned employees is automatically adjusted accordingly.
This same capability also covers agents who miss part of their shift,
either through a training session, a special project, or just because
they were late. And for those enterprising agents that work overtime,
their efforts are recorded automatically as well.
Such data is about more than just staffing; it’s about measuring
productivity, and making sure the records accurately reflect how many
agents were taking calls at any specific moment of any specific day. By
getting those numbers right, it’s much easier to create forecasts and
schedules that match caller demand and other call center needs.
For instance – perhaps you have discovered that customers waited an
average of 60 seconds longer for an agent between 1pm and 1:30 on a
Wednesday. A spreadsheet might just show 20 agents working that
half-hour. But WFM data will show that two agents didn’t start their
shift until 1:10, since the lunch service was slow at Olive Garden that
afternoon. Now you know that only 18 agents were at their desks, which
likely accounted for the delays.
With a few clicks, a workforce management system delivers information
about employee status and availability, and the schedule exceptions that
are critical for accurate future planning. For more information, please
watch this video about schedule exception planning and management.
Based on a recent call center analysis, we discovered that approximately
20% of call centers still use spreadsheets for forecasting ad
scheduling. Those that do are missing out on the convenience,
efficiency, flexibility and functionality of workforce management.
Is there an optimal use for spreadsheets? Perhaps – for a call center
where the call flows are the same every hour of every day.
Unfortunately, such a call center does not exist. When call volume
changes, spreadsheets are insufficient.
Here are 5 ways that WFM represents a quantum leap forward in forecasting and scheduling:
- Flexible Schedules – spreadsheets are fine for fixed schedules – but
call center schedules rarely stay fixed. A WFM system provides the
flexibility to manage start times, end times and break times.
- Call History Forecasts – the most accurate call forecasts are those
that rely on call history data. This can be done manually with a
spreadsheet, but it’s much faster and more accurate to work with
real-time and historic call data collected by a WFM system.
- Adherence Tracking – tracking and schedule adherence are difficult,
if not flat-out impossible, with just a spreadsheet. Spot-checks are
fine as far as they go, but without the real-time tracking provided by
WFM there is a higher risk of over/under staffing, shrinkage and missed
- Forecast Simulation – WFM allows for more detailed and accurate forecast simulations.
To find out more about why WFM is the better solution, even for smaller call centers, sign up to receive a free whitepaper.
- Exception Handling – All exception considerations are handled
automatically through WFM. Spreadsheets cannot match this speed and
efficiency, which results in unhappy agents and higher shrinkage.
Call center schedules are only as accurate as the data used to determine
them. Usually if there’s an issue, that’s the place to begin your
search. However, the problem may also be caused by other call center
policies that impact scheduling data.
Here are 5 reasons why your call center schedule may not be getting the job done:
1. Insufficient Historic Call Data
is an issue with newer call centers who cannot trace two years of
calling patterns to determine future volume. But it can also be a
problem at call centers for companies that undergo significant expansion
or contraction, changes in product lines, or even expansion/contraction
of call center resources. If last August was different than this one
for any reason, that makes the challenge of forecasting and scheduling
2. Call Related Activities
must take into account all call- and non-call related activities, not
just managing the incoming call load and the actual time on each call.
Lunches, other breaks, training sessions, meetings and correspondence
should also be calculated.
3. No Simulation
simulation can help managers analyze their routing policies and
incoming call volume to develop more accurate forecasts, which lead to
more accurate schedules.
4. No Flexibility
rigid the schedule, the more likely it will fall short of expectations.
Building in some flexibility allows managers to be more prepared for
unforeseen fluctuations. It’s also better for call center agents, who
will appreciate being able to take a few extra moments away if they need
5. Slow Reaction to Changing Call Volumes
sports cars can change direction in a few seconds. An aircraft carrier
might take hours to accomplish the same task. If call volume changes
unexpectedly, a call center needs to react quickly and adjust the
schedule accordingly, or risk the pitfalls of overtaxed agents and
The International Customer Management Institute (ICMI) has been an
invaluable resource for helping contact centers get the most out of
their agents and managers. Recently, the ICMI offered five valuable tips on call center scheduling that are worth your time.
Some of this you may have heard before – but it’s so easy to get off
track when sometimes it’s all you can do to keep up with the day-to-day
pressures of personnel, technology, forecasts, scheduling and adherence.
A refresher course is always welcome.
You can click on the link for the full story, but here are the basics:
Senior management, supervisors and agents all need to be pulling in the
same direction. That means clearly delineated procedures and
professional values that will guide the schedule-making process, and
contingency plans for when a schedule goes awry. Having these
conversations first can resolve numerous issues later on.
Sample schedules and dry-run scenarios can be useful in testing schedule
accuracy and catching problems before they impact customer service.
Experiment with different alternatives until you find one that achieves
all of your objectives.
Scheduling should incorporate not just calls, but all of the activities
and practices associated with that process, as well as other projects
that require time from your agents or managers.
4. Conflict Resolution
Scheduling is never immune to issues from agents, new product/service
launches, unforeseen changes in shifts and other outside factors. How
well a contact center adjusts to these scheduling challenges will
indicate whether it is performing well. However, if conflicts become too
frequent, that suggests a systemic issue that should be corrected.
Related to #4 above, scheduling should be fluid but not so loose as to
create confusion. Adjust schedule horizons as needed if those created
two weeks away frequently prove inaccurate, take agent preferences into
account when possible, and have alternatives in place before they become
If you would like to learn how to implement these tips, please also watch our workforce management videos and see how clarity, testing, inclusion, conflict resolution and flexibility are "built-in".