Workforce Management

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

Call Center Scheduling Hints, Tips & Best Practices

Scheduling Spreadsheets Become Obsolete in the Cloud

Posted: by:

“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".




Download Whitepaper

Spring Break at the Contact Center

Posted: by:

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. 


Learn More

Contact Centers are Coming Back

Posted: by:

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. 



Learn More

Skill Based Scheduling with Spreadsheets?

Posted: by:

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...


Learn More

Defining – and Improving First Call resolution

Posted: by:

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.


Learn More

Does your Workforce Scheduling Software Deliver these Reports?

Posted: by:

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.” 


Learn More

100 Agents and Still Using Spreadsheets for Scheduling?

Posted: by:

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.

However, 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.

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 – 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.”


Learn More

The Enduring Contact Center Challenge: Agent Scheduling and Agent Adherence

Posted: by:

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:

Scheduling
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.

Adherence
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 process.

Watch a Demo

Forecasting
Both daily and long-term forecasts can be checked quickly through tables and charts on forecasting dashboards.

Scheduling
Review past call volumes to create tomorrow’s schedule. Find out who’s in, who’s on break and who’s on vacation.

Adherence
Adherence alerts on the call center dashboard identify instances where scheduled activities vary from the current call center status.

Metrics
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.

Learn More

15 Tips on Contact Center Scheduling

Posted: by:

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.

Easier 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:

  1. Don’t use spreadsheets – they are incapable of producing an optimized call center schedule. 
  2. Accurate scheduling starts with accurate forecasting.
  3. Track both call activities and non-call activities for better scheduling.
  4. Make sure all scheduling procedures are clearly delineated among agents, supervisors and management.
  5. Test schedule accuracy with simulations and dry-run scenarios.
  6. Build some flexibility into schedules so changes can be made on the fly.
  7. Take agent preferences into account – if agents can work the shifts they prefer, they will likely do a better job. 
  8. Make sure you are using sufficient ACD data (at least one year) for schedule creation. 
  9. Build in a shift-swapping procedure that is easier for agents to utilize, and easier for management to monitor.
  10. Incorporate agent skill levels and specialties into schedule creation. 
  11. Try this formula for calculating schedule adherence: [phone time + other work related activity time] / ([shift time] - [lunch/dinner] - [break] + [exception time] + [overtime]) = schedule adherence
  12. Personally address agent issues such as tardiness and extended lunch breaks so they do not become habitual, and have a detrimental impact on scheduling. 
  13. Take weather conditions into account when creating schedules, as they can impact both call volume and agent availability. 
  14. 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. 
  15. Choose a Workforce Management solution that gathers and provides the necessary scheduling information through dashboards that are clear and concise.
Fore more details, please download our Contact Center Scheduling Tips whitepaper.
Learn More

The Challenge of a Flexible Workforce: Scheduling

Posted: by:

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 the workforce.

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.

http://www.monetsoftware.com/call-center-workforce-scheduling-demos/


Learn More

Workforce Scheduling Made Easier

Posted: by:

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 employee turnover.

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 automatically.

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.


Learn More

Learn Something New About Forecasting and Scheduling

Posted: by:

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?

Check 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.

Forecasting and Scheduling Demo Center

The videos cover the following topics:

Accurate Forecasting
With 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.

Efficient Scheduling
Confident 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 easier.

Effective Staffing
Discover how WFM optimizes scheduling for all necessary factors, including agent skill sets, staff availability, holidays, breaks and service levels.

Intra-Day Management
Scheduling 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.

Exception Planning
Find out how the integrated exception calendar simplifies the scheduling of agent exceptions for training, time off and other variables.

Interactive Dashboards
Watch how WFM provides actionable insights on all agent activities through dashboards, key performance indicators and real-time alerts.

Learn More

How Efficient is Your Call Center Forecasting and Scheduling Process?

Posted: by:

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 factors.

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.


Learn More

How Do You Handle Today’s Schedule Exception?

Posted: by:

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.

Learn More

Are You Still Using Spreadsheets for forecasting and scheduling?

Posted: by:

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.

Spreadsheet based forecasting and scheduling

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 service levels.
  • Forecast Simulation – WFM allows for more detailed and accurate forecast simulations.
  • 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.
To find out more about why WFM is the better solution, even for smaller call centers, sign up to receive a free whitepaper.
Learn More

5 Reasons for Call Center Schedule Issues

Posted: by:

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
This 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 more difficult.

2. Call Related Activities
Scheduling 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
Forecasting 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

The more 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 it.

5. Slow Reaction to Changing Call Volumes

Some 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 dissatisfied customers.


Learn More

Call Center Scheduling: 5 Important Tips

Posted: by:

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:

1. Clarity
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.

2. Testing
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.

3. Inclusion
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.

5. Flexibility
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 necessary.

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".


Learn More

Call Center Scheduling in Real Time

Posted: by:

So you’ve finished your call center scheduling duties and are ready to focus on other tasks – until you discover that the average call wait time is longer than it should be, and either something was missed on forecasting or a lot of customers just felt this was the day they needed to place an order or ask a question.

Call center intra-day management for scheduling
What do you do? If you’re locked into your scheduling, you may end up with angry customers and frazzled agents.

Situations like this are going to happen. They should be rare if you’re using the call center scheduling and forecasting tools at your disposal in a workforce management (WFM) solution; however, sometimes even the best laid plans can go awry.

When they do, hopefully you can count on a call center scheduling solution with real-time updates that will allow you to adjust forecasts and schedules accordingly. When external conditions change, managers should be able to review the call center metrics, in real time, that will help the business get back on track.

By reviewing forecast vs. actual call volume and agent adherence, managers can then re-run forecasting and scheduling based on what is happening in the call center at that very moment. Then, they can update the schedule based on current conditions, and adjust staffing as quickly as possible so customer service is restored to optimum level. Please watch this short video to see intra-day call center scheduling in action.

Call center scheduling may not be an exact science, but real-time WFM will expose any glitches, so they can be corrected before they cause too many issues.

Learn More

How to Schedule your Call Center Workforce

Posted: by:

Workforce management (WFM) software lends accuracy and consistency to the scheduling process in a call center. Given the impact that scheduling has on call center performance, doing it right is necessary for call centers to save time and money. Plus, when scheduling can be handled more quickly, it frees up time for managers to focus on other responsibilities.

Once configured, WFM should provide real-time data by call center or by department, that covers every aspect of the scheduling process.

Start with forecasting, which helps to determine how many agents will be needed on a given shift on a given day, taking into account special days such as holidays or the first day of a new company sales promotion.

Next, factor in employee availability, with data on vacation schedules, approved days off, and matching individual skills to forecasting and scheduling preferences. The goal is to have the correct number of agents in place for the expected workload on that shift – no more, no less. Too many agents on a shift means wasted resources; not enough means longer call wait times and frustrated customers.

During the shift, tracking metrics keep tabs on agents that leave early, show up late, or take longer breaks than allowed.

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. If an agent can’t make it to work, WFM should identify a replacement with a comparable skill set, determine his or her availability, and expedite the change.

Other issues related to scheduling, such as employee shift swaps and separate rotations for trainees, can also be coordinated through WFM. Once generated, schedules should be easily accessible to all concerned parties so there’s never any confusion. To see call center scheduling in action, please follow this link to watch a series of videos about forecasting, scheduling, staffing, exceptions handling and intra-day management.


Learn More

Call Center Schedule Exceptions

Posted: by:

Handling exceptions is a key component to workforce schedule compliance. Exceptions must be managed in a way the minimizes their impact on productivity and availability, since both will have a negative impact on service levels and also quality of service.

There are four types of exceptions:

Pre-planned
These would include vacation days, training days and work time spent on other necessities such as team meetings.

Unplanned
Sick days and downtime due to technical issues would qualify as unplanned exceptions.

Unplanned but pre-approved
These are schedule deviations initiated by management to maintain performance levels.

Unplanned and not pre-approved
These tend to be reactionary, caused by meetings that run long or added coaching sessions.

Regardless of the exception type, the goal remains the same – customer service consistency and meeting company goals for schedule adherence.

call center schedule exception calendar - Monet Software
Call Center Schedule Exception Calendar







 
This can be achieved with workforce management software, which provides real-time adherence data that streamlines call center schedule exception tracking, making it easier for managers to maintain service levels, to know which agents are excepted at any given time (and the reason for the exception, whether it’s a day off or time spent in training) and to review reporting data. The solution should also provide an easier method for shift swapping, with management approval.

Learn More

Call Center Schedule Rotations: The Basics

Posted: by:

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. There may be some instances where an agent needs to work a specific shift on a particular day of the week, one week, and then the next week work, different shift on the same day.

Call center schedule rotations should balance available staff against predicted call volumes. Data from call recording software and workforce management solutions should provide the answers necessary to improve this process. However, there are always variables with scheduling, from shift swaps and vacation seasons when more agents are in Hawaii instead of at their desk, to unanticipated call volume swings.

This is important stuff, but the time spent working on adjusting rotations and changing schedules is also time that is not being spent on other facets of the call center, such as improving service levels and achieving the company’s operational and fiscal goals. So it needs to be done, but it needs to be done quickly.

The role of workforce management
The more a call center can rely on workforce management software to streamline rotation schedules, the more time that leaves for management to deal with other issues. Communication is the key, and call centers should choose a workforce optimization solution that includes forecasting data to help determine schedule rotations, exception handling as well as a wide range of scheduling metrics that make it easier for agents and management to adjust to changing situations in call volume.

In addition, workforce management can track how well agents are functioning within the system, and where action may need to be taken. When agents are clear on what their hours will be, when they can swap shifts and take vacations, and have that information available quickly, it should result in a positive impact on job performance and morale. It should be equally easy for management to review schedule changes and determine their impact on productivity.

For more information about schedule rotations and exception handling in a call center please click the link to watch a video,


Learn More

Call center schedule exception handling made easy

Posted: by:

Every day call centers have to deal with exceptions and find a way to minimize the impact on their schedule and service level. There are either planned exceptions such as planned time-off and planned training sessions, or mid-day exceptions that are typically not planned. Let's take a look at some examples and describe how to deal with those.

Call center schedule exceptions handling
Example: Schedule a meeting with multiple agents
while minimizing impact on service levels
  • Agents call in late
  • Agents leave early for emergency
  • Agents leave early with vacation time
  • Agents in training session
  • One on one meeting with supervisor
  • Multiple agent meeting with supervisor
  • Agents staying late for overtime
Many Workforce Management systems have integrated exception planner, that make scheduling agent exceptions such as time off and one-time or recurring training meetings a simple process.  For example Monet WFM Live provides a color-coded availability calendar that displays a real-time summary of time off, making it easy for managers to see whether to grant an agent's time off request.

Complete schedule integration ensures the center will be appropriately staffed if the time off is approved and that you will continually meet service levels. Exceptions can be scheduled far into the future or recorded as recurring exceptions. The Exception Planner has also support for mid-day exceptions too, taking them into account when choosing shifts and scheduling breaks and lunches. A manager can easily schedule an agent to attend a training meeting from 11:00 - 1:00 on the second Friday of every month, or set up a rotating schedule where agents have different days off on alternate weeks. The exception calendar enables managers to see how existing exceptions affect their staff availability. They can select any set of dates from the year and see agent requirements and availability, along with the number of exception hours, broken down both by agent and exception type. This tool is particularly useful when deciding whether or not to grant a vacation request.

Efficient and effective management of exceptions is crucial to achieve and maintain your service level. If you would like to learn more, feel free to watch a demo about intra-day schedule management or contact us.

Learn More

Call center staffing models and scheduling tips

Posted: by:

Besides the key staffing and scheduling question about how many agent you need at any given time, you also need to think about what agent skills and expertise you need at specific times and types of calls. Here are a few things to consider when planning your call center staffing and schedule:

Ranking of agents

  • Creating a schedule by agent rank can be very effective in reducing costs and increasing sales.
  • Rank according to call completion time, calls per hour, call quality, customer satisfaction or other performance measures.

Match personality and team

  • Studies have shown that a good relationship with colleagues drives motivation and performance.
  • Your schedule should leverage this by teaming up the “right" people.

Multi-skilled agents and routing 

  • The productivity gain from giving each agent two skills could easily be 10-15%. 
  • The importance of multi-skilled agents is that they form overlapping groups. For example, having one group that can handle calls type A and B while another group takes calls type C and D, can be substantially improved by adding a group that is able to handle calls type B and C (or one of the other three combinations). 

For more information about this topic, please download the "Seven Tips for more Effective Call Center Scheduling" whitepaper.


Learn More

7 Reasons for Call Center Forecasting and Scheduling in the Cloud

Posted: by:

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...


Learn More

Call center schedule tips

Posted: by:

We have created a list of seven practical tips for call center scheduling to not only keep your call center running efficiently, but also maintain high service levels, and keep costs under control. We would like to share these tips with you and hope it proves to be useful in your daily call center operations.

You can download the whitepaper by clicking this link 7 Tips for more effective call center scheduling. If you are also interested in schedule adherence, you can also download our whitepaper with the topic: Practical strategies for improving call center schedule adherence.


Learn More