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Tips for More Effective Call Center Workforce Management

This blog provides practical information on all aspects of workforce management for contact centers, including quality monitoring, call recording, performance management and analytics

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Call Center Workforce Management Blog

Motivation of call center agents, employees and workforce

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Employee motivation is the most important and probably most challenging management task in a call center - and it has the biggest impact on the overall call center performance and success. There are no simple recipes or easy answers for this. Dependent on your industry, the size of your center, the culture of your company and the people in your company, you need to develop your own plan of action. Here are a few things to consider:

Practice clear communication: What do you expect from agents, how is performance measured, etc.

Include agents into problem solving: Share reports and metrics with employees and discuss issues/improvements

Recognition of employees: Publicly and individually recognize employees as a valued member of the organization

Make employees more knowledgeable: Develop your employees' skills through training and coaching

Build confidence: Provide necessary training and coaching, give feedback that helps them grow

Teams: Create teams that work "well" together

Good infrastructure: Make sure that office, chairs, headsets, and other infrastructure etc. are functional and provide a positive experience

Flexible schedules: Start- and end-time flexibility can be a win-win for the employees and the call center performance

Good resource planning: Accurate forecasting and scheduling helps reduce stress

Lead by example: Actions instead of words and mission statements

But how do you find out what's important for your call center? Just listen do your agents, ask specific questions, and listen again.

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Workforce Management Software Comparison - Cloud versus Installed Software

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The following section compares the cloud- based and the on premise software model in more detail and illustrates how the different models would impact the cost, implementation, usage and success of the Workforce Management solution in your organization:

Set up and implementation
Cloud: Fast set up, vendor creates new account. Users access the solution through a web browser.
On Premise: Takes time to purchase, install and configure both the hardware and software.

Upfront investment
Cloud: No upfront investment for software/hardware. Subscription fee typically includes support, maintenance and upgrades.
On Premise: Large upfront investment for hardware and software, installation, configuration and implementation.

Operating costs
Cloud: Shared services infrastructure dramatically reduces the cost for operating and maintaining servers.
On Premise: Running your own server operation, including back ups, maintenance, upgrades and hardware replacement result in higher costs.

Scalability and performance
Cloud: Multi-tenant architecture and "elastic cloud computing" platform allows for maximum scalability of data-intensive scheduling scenarios.
On Premise: The purchased/installed server(s) in your environment limit the scalability and performance of installed software.

Software upgrades
Cloud: Automated upgrade procedures ensure customer are always on the latest version without the need for manual upgrade procedures.
On Premise: Upgrading software is often postponed due to the vast effort and costs. New features to improve scheduling won’t get implemented.

Implementation success
Cloud: Vendors have a financial incentive to make customers successful, solve issues and maintain them as a long term customer.
On Premise: High upfront license fees might lower motivation for vendors to help make the solution work and solve your issues; software may not get fully utilized.

Cloud: The new web-based user interfaces of cloud-based solutions typically focus strongly on usability and are often easier to use and faster to learn.
On Premise: Traditionally, older client-server software was not optimized for usability, making it more difficult for the user to take advantage of the software features.

Investment risk
Cloud: Lower risk - if the customer is not satisfied with the solution they might be able to cancel the agreement or switch to another vendor.
On Premise: Higher risk through a huge upfront investment that "locks" customer in, even if the solution ends up not meeting the their needs.

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Tips for improved contact center agent scheduling

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We have published several tips for more effective call center scheduling on this blog over the last year. We have summarized those tips in a short Call center scheduling whitepaper. If you didn't have the chance to download it, please do. You will learn about:

  • Shrinkage
  • Flexible shift-models
  • Schedule adherence
  • Multi-skilled agents
  • Activities to include into schedule
  • and more

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Checklist for evaluating workforce management software solutions

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When selecting a workforce management solution for a small to medium sized call center you should consider the following criteria:

1. Key capabilities

  • Does it accurately forecast call volumes by supporting the use of historical data and real-time ACD integration?
  • Can you create schedules based on ‘what-if” scenarios, different shift patterns, skill levels and other criteria?
  • Can you easily include agent exceptions (e.g. training, time-off) into the schedule?
  • Can you make intra-day changes to forecast and schedule based on changing call volumes ‘on the fly’ during the work day?
  • Does it give you visibility into agent adherence in real-time?
  • Can you produce performance management reports?

2. Time and resources to implement

  • How long does it take to implement the solution from start to finish? When can you actually begin to get benefits from the solution? (Days, weeks or months?)
  • Can I use the solution over the web without equipment purchase or do I need to buy and install hardware and software?
  • How many people do I need (vendor and own company) to implement the solution?

3. Total cost of purchasing, running and maintaining the solution

  • Upfront: What are the total upfront costs for software, hardware, integration and implementation?
  • Ongoing: What are the ongoing monthly or annual costs such as subscription, maintenance, support, upgrade fees?
  • Other costs: Many solutions have hidden costs that many vendors don’t mention but occur within your company such as: your IT people installing and operating the server, your people helping to implement the solution, integration costs, yearly upgrade costs, etc.

4. Usability

  • Is the solution easy and intuitive for non-IT people to use, making sure that you get the most out of it?
  • Does the solution focus on your call center needs? Many solutions have feature overload that are often contra-productive, especially for small and medium size call centers.

5. Risk

  • Every solution carries a success risk within a given work environment, and you should evaluate that risk. If for whatever reason, the solution doesn’t work for you, can you “return it” or “turn it off” with no or limited financial risk?

6. ROI and payback

  • You purchase a WFM solution to either enhance your ability to grow business or reduce operational costs, or both. So it’s important to clearly understand how long added business or cost savings actually take to recoup the system costs. The sooner the solution begins working for you and the lower the upfront costs, the sooner you realize cost and business operational benefits.

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The importance of accurate call center forecasting

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Accurate forecasting is critical to successfully managing your workforce. In order to meet call demand without under-staffing or over-staffing, you need methods that precisely predicts how many agents are needed to handle the center's contact volume. However, predicting the “future” is challenging. Based on a DMG report in 2010, survey participants listed the following five forecasting challenges:

  • Need to forecast for multiple skill sets
  • Changing business needs negate usefulness of historical volume data
  • Volume driven by external events, not controlled by company
  • Volume is seasonal varies greatly
  • Volume patterns change frequently, making projections difficult

Here are some tips and best practices that might help you:

Develop "what if" scenarios to explore how a change in call volume or service level goals during a specific day or week would affect your center. Read more about “How to forecast special days

Create regular intra-day forecast updates throughout the day, and calculate a new forecast based on what has already occurred to establish trends that will help you in future decisions. Read more about “Intra-day forecasting

Forecast and schedule based on response time and "urgency” of the various channels, such as calls, emails and chat. Read more about “Forecasting for multiple channels

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What is real-time schedule adherence, and why is it important?

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What is real-time adherence?
Real-time agent adherence compares planned agent activity to actual activities throughout the day, as well as real-time views of forecasted and actual call volumes, handle times and other key performance indicators. Managers and supervisors can compare agents' actual activities against their schedules, review a breakdown of adherence by activity, and manage exceptions. The also see when agents are available for calls and when they take their lunches and breaks based on predetermined schedules.

Why is real-time adherence important?
A key component to managing adherence is shrinkage, which is the time for which agents are paid during times when they are not available to handle calls. Shrinkage can dramatically affect your center's ability to meet service levels. Real-time adherence provides you the capabilities and tools to manage and reduce shrinkage.

  • Monitor agent status in real-time
  • Receive instant alerts for out-of-adherence states
  • View agent exceptions in real-time and approve or deny right away
  • Monitor and analyze key performance indicators and trends to reforecast, reschedule, and adjust staffing
  • Track and compare forecasted and actual center statistics
  • Schedule overtime or time off during high and low call volume situations
  • Evaluate adherence and take action to improve performance
To learn more about this topic, please read this whitepaper "Strategies for Improving Schedule Adherence".
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Customer Interaction Solutions Magazine’s 2010 Product of the Year Award for Workforce Management Solution

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We are very excited that Monet WFM Live has been recognized as Product of the Year for exceptional innovation by TMC’s Customer Interaction Solutions Magazine. Here is a short statement from the announcement. “Monet Software received a 2010 Product of the Year Award for its achievement in advancing contact center technologies. Monet WFM Live has demonstrated excellence as well as provided ROI for the companies that use it,” said Rich Tehrani, CEO, TMC. “Customer Interaction Solutions magazine has been honoring innovative companies for 13 years and Monet Software has earned its place with this distinguished honor.”

We very much appreciate this award and would like to thank our customers and Customer Interaction Solution Magazine for this honor. The 13th Annual Product of the Year Award winners are featured in the January 2011 issue of Customer Interaction Solutions magazine.

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New year's resolutions for call center managers

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Happy New Year! At the beginning of a new year, as new plans and strategies get implemented, it might be a good idea to step back and think about your "new year's resolutions" for your call center. Think about some key questions you should ask yourself and your team to help you improve the operation of your call center in 2011. Here are a few questions to consider:

  • What were the key challenges in 2010 and how can we overcome them?
  • What do we need to do to keep our agents happy and motivated?
  • How can we better serve your customer?
  • How to maintain or improve your service levels?
  • How can we better leverage new web-based technologies and solutions to make our work easier and more efficient?
  • What online sources are available that provide me with new tips, ideas and tools (blog, twitter, etc.) for my daily work?
  • What are the top 3 things I should focus on in 2011?

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Call center metrics: Abandon Rates

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In follow up to our post about call center metrics goals, we are now starting to talk about specific metrics; the first one is Abandon Rates. Abandon rate is the percentage of calls that hang up before an agent could take the call (and did not get a busy signal).

What it measures:

  • It can be considered a measure of customer satisfaction. If customers hang up a lot, they might not like the speed of service.

Potential causes and implications: More...

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How to forecast and schedule for multiple channels - calls, emails, chat

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With more electronic media such as email, chat, twitter, etc. being used in customer communication in addition to calls, the question of forecasting and scheduling resources for those channel becomes more important. Here are 3 suggestions that might help you better manage multiple channels in your service center:

1. Forecast and schedule based on response time and "urgency” of the various channels:

2. Two models for forecasting workload for non-call channels:

  • Use transaction history for each channel: If you have historical numbers, you can forecast based on those:
    =># of emails, average work time for email, efficiency
    => 100 emails/day, 5 min per email, 8.3 hours
    => Apply efficiency factor: 90% => 9.25 hours

  • If you don't have exact numbers, you can use a shrinkage factor: e.g. 10% for email work

3. Potential approaches for scheduling
  • Fully blended: Agents work all channels as work arrives. The danger of this is that agents burn out and is therefore not recommended.
  • Banded work: Schedule time blocks based on agent availability throughout the day. Find time "pockets" in the core schedule where agents are available

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Call Center Scheduling Tip #6: Keep top talent on your team

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How to keep your talent? Make sure you accommodate scheduling needs and provide schedule visibility to your call center team members. Top agents will be more likely to stay loyal and productive because of their understanding of how their needs and your schedule can match up. Here are some ideas and suggestions:

  • Involve your agents: Survey about preferences and personal needs and work with them to match those with the needs of the business.
  • Rank your agents: Creating a schedule by agent rank can be very effective in achieving certain goals of you business (e.g. cost or revenue goals). You can rank agents according to call completion time, call per hour or other performance measures including sales and order size.
  • Match personality and team: Studies have shown that a good relationship with colleagues drives motivation and performance in call centers. Your schedule should leverage this by teaming up the “right people”.

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Call Center Scheduling Tip #5: Include all activities into the schedule

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A schedule driven by forecast and basic agent requirements might work, but won’t boost performance and productivity. When trying to determine agent requirements to meet a desired service level, if not all agent activities are being factored in, it will lead to under-staffing and lower service levels including abandoned calls. When developing your forecast and schedule make sure to include breaks, multiple skills of agents, training, time-off and a realistic buffer for shrinkage.

It might help if you categorize all activities based on your unique situation. Here is an example:

1. Work related to incoming “call” load

  • Call time and after work related to calls
  • Outbound if triggered by inbound calls
  • Chat (if important to your business)

2. Other activities that are related to calls

  • Breaks, lunch
  • Training
  • Absenteeism

3. Measurable activities, not part of core staffing

  • Meetings
  • Admin or research work
  • Correspondence
  • Emails
  • Outbound calls

4. Unproductive time

  • Smoking, etc.
  • Getting supplies
  • Other

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Call Center Scheduling Tip #4: Cross-training & multi-skilled agents

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And here is our call center scheduling tip #4: If you have agents trained to handle multiple skills and you use skill-based routing, you can reduce the number of agents needed to handle your call volume. 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). This model provides a lot of flexibility that is especially useful in times of fewer resources and changing call volumes and patterns.

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Call Center Scheduling Tips: #3 Agent Adherence

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Here is call center scheduling tip #3: Once you produce optimized schedules, it will be important for agents to stay on schedule, taking their breaks and lunches on time and returning on time, thus reducing shrinkage. What should you do to improve schedule adherence?

Inform and educate

  • Agents need to understand the relevance of schedule adherence
  • Explain how 10 minutes impacts the entire center performance

Measure and manage 

  • Measure & track adherence using workforce management tools
  • Share adherence reports with your agents - how they are doing

Provide incentives

  • Reward agents (95% within adherence) – recognition & bonus
  • Agents are aware of the consequences for out-of-adherence behavior

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7 Tips for more Effective Call Center Scheduling: #1 Flexible Shift Model

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In these challenging economic times, every call, every customer interaction and every dollar counts. We have created a list of 7 best practices for call center scheduling to not only keep your call center running efficiently, but maintain service levels, customer base and revenues growing. We would like to share these tips with you and hope it proves to be useful in your daily call center operations.

Implement a Flexible Shift Model:

As we all know, the number of calls and the arrival patterns vary from day to day. Despite this, starting times, lunch breaks, end times, etc. are often fixed over the week, resulting either in over-staffing (higher costs!) or under-staffing (lower service levels and revenues). That’s why more and more call centers are switching from a fixed to a flexible shift model. The advantages are obvious, but how do you implement and manage a flexible model?

  • Ask and inform your agents. Survey about preferences and personal needs. Work with them to match their needs with needs of the business
  • Gradually implement a flexible shift model by introducing it to some of your agents (existing and/or new hires) first
  • Offer a bonus program. Provide financial incentives for “start-time flexibility”
  • Gradually add new agents that are flexible
  • Over time move the whole center to a flexible shift model.

This change can increase your service levels by 1 to 2 percent and result in a similar percentage of savings in personnel costs.

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Call Center Scheduling Tips: #2 Keep track of your shrinkage

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Many companies underestimate the sheer volume of shrinkage. Here are two suggestions on how to reduce shrinkage:

1. Increase forecast and schedule accuracy by including all activities into your schedule:

  • Call time and after work related to calls
  • Outbound if triggered by inbound calls
  • Chat (if important to your business)
  • Breaks, lunch
  • Training
  • Absenteeism
  • Meetings
  • Admin or research work
  • Correspondence
  • Emails
  • Outbound calls
  • Other unproductive time

2. Monitor schedule adherence and work with your agents to improve over time

  • Monitor in real-time
  • Run reports and share with the call center team

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Call center metrics - what's important?

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There are many call center metrics you can track, so the key question is often: What is really important for my call center? We have compiled a list of call center metrics that are usually used to measure performance. But before you select the metrics, you should first establish the overall goals and objectives for your specific business and call center operations. There are a couple of strategic goals and objectives that might apply to your call center:

  • Contribute to profitability of your business
  • Deliver services at lowest possible costs
  • Maximize revenues More...

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Call center scheduling - keep track of your shrinkage

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Many companies underestimate the sheer volume of shrinkage (paid time but not taking calls). For example, in a 30 agent contact center 20 minutes of out of adherence status per agent equates to 10 hours per day in shrinkage. If those agents are being paid $12 per hour plus benefits, equaling $15 per hour, you would be losing $150 per day, $750 a week or $39,000 per year.

While it is not possible to recover all lost time, imagine you can reduce shrinkage from 20 to 10 minutes resulting in a $20,000 savings alone, plus improved service levels. That is only the tip of the iceberg if you also consider lost sales due to shrinkage, which again, can easily add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.

How can you reduce shrinkage? There are three key elements involved:

  • Create a better match to call volume with agents’ availability;
  • Increase forecast and schedule accuracy by including additional parameters;
  • Monitor and improve schedule adherence, if possible in real-time.

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Call center scheduling spreadsheets - yes or no?

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There are free call center scheduling spreadsheets available, but are they really "free"? Yes and no, you don't have to pay for those spreadsheets, but you might pay for sub-optimal call center performance later. Of course, it depends on the size and needs of your call center, so spreadsheets might just work fine for you. But for mid-size and large centers (25 agents and more) with fluctuating call volume and other conditions that impact call patterns, the use of scheduling spreadsheets might "cost" you money in lower services levels and lower productivity. Here are some points to consider when thinking about using scheduling spreadsheets versus workforce management software:

  • Flexible schedule: Spreadsheets are limited to fixed schedules. You might not be able to take take advantage of schedule with flexible start-time, end-time and breaks to boost service levels.
  • Use of call history: Spreadsheets don't support real-time or automated data import of large amounts of data, potentially resulting in lower forecast accuracy.
  • Skill-based routing and scheduling: Very complicated to manage with spreadsheets, therefore, call centers often can't realize productivity advantages of skill-based scheduling.
  • Tracking schedule adherence: Spreadsheets don't support this. Studies have shown that tracking and monitoring agent adherence in real-time has a tremendous impact on call center performance.
  • Exception handling: Manual and complicated with spreadsheets. Automated exception handling of modern WFM solution keeps agents happy and results in higher productivity.

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How to schedule full/part time and flex workers in your call center?

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As a follow up to our last post about "schedule flexibility", we would like to talk more about how to leverage this new gained flexibility to optimize your schedule.
Let's assume you have agents assigned to full- and part-time shifts and also some flex-workers. Now, you layer these "shift types" and the associated resources to optimize your schedule. The image below illustrates the principle. In our example, for each time slot (8 to 9, 9 to 10...) there is a certain number of agents required (5, 6, 8...). Based on these required number of agents you start layering the various shifts.

The first layer is the full-time shift (yellow bar), then you layer part-time shift agents (gray bar), and finally you add agents with flexible start and end time (green bar) to optimize the time slots that are often most challenging (resulting often in over- or understaffing). With this method, you can minimize over- and understaffing (+/- row) while maintaining an easy to manage shift model.

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How to make your call center schedule more flexible?

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We often get the question: How to schedule full/part time and flex workers and how to make the call center more flexible? Here are some thoughts and ideas:

1. Ask your agents about their needs and inform them about the call center needs
In larger centers you can use surveys to find out about preferences and personal needs, in smaller centers you can use a less formal method. With this information, you can better match agent needs with the needs of the whole call center.

2. Find ways to create some more flexibility in your center
Based on the center needs you might need to have some more flexibility, especially in the early hours and late hours. There are different ways to accomplish this. Here are a few ideas:

  • Offer a bonus program for being flexible
  • Provide financial incentives (higher hourly rate) to agents for "start-time" flexibility
  • Gradually add new agents that are more flexible

In our next post we will talk about how to effectively build a schedule using full/part-time and flex workers.

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Real-time schedule adherence in call centers

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If you were to poll a number of contact center managers about their biggest challenges, chances are good that agent adherence will show up near the top of their lists. It’s impossible to overstate how critical adherence is in a contact center. A contact center may have the best schedule in the world, but it’s not going to do a lot of good if agents are always out of adherence and, as a result, service levels begin to slide.

Real-time adherence monitoring, accompanied by customized reporting, will tell you WHY you are out of adherence. It might be certain agents or certain work groups, or it may not be agents’ fault at all: a poorly designed schedule might be the cause of low service levels. It may be a certain time of day that causes the most trouble spots, which narrows down your list of probable causes.

Also, it’s important that agents understand what their adherence goals are. A contact center is a sum of many moving parts, and agents need to realize that taking 10 minutes to check their social networking page may not seem like much, but put together in aggregate among all agents, 10 minutes here and 10 minutes there can throw the entire contact center far off the mark for service levels. Real-time adherence monitoring can help agents better understand how their behavior can directly affect service-level goals, and help them feel like contributors to the success of the contact center.

If you are interested in this topic, please make sure to read this whitepaper "Strategies for Improving Schedule Adherence".

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How to schedule call and non-call activities

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In a recent survey by a research firm, over half of the respondents said that scheduling of call and non-call activities is their biggest challenge. Here is some advice on how to overcome this challenge. First, you need to categorize all activities based on the impact on your service level, and then in a second step, you need to build a schedule based on these categories. Let's get started with the categories.

Priority 1 activities - all activities that directly impact service levels need to get scheduled first:

  • Work related to incoming “call” load such as calls and after work related to calls, outbound if triggered by inbound calls and chat (if important to your business) 
  • Other activities that can be directly related to inbound calls such as breaks, lunch, training, absenteeism, etc.

Flexible activities: The following activities are more flexible in nature and are not directly impacting your service level. They can be scheduled based on agent availability (“pockets of time”):

  • Measurable activities, not part of core staffing such as meetings, admin or research work, correspondence, email, outbound calls, etc.

“Unproductive” activities: These are all activities that a not related to productive work. They get added to the schedule as a buffer at a certain percentage.

  • Unproductive time such as smoking, bathroom, getting supplies, etc.

In our next blog post we will illustrate in more detail how we will build a schedule based on those categories – stay tuned.

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Misconceptions about hosted call center solutions

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A recent paper by the research firm DMG Consulting discusses five top misconceptions about hosted call center solutions. We would like to add to this from the “cloud computing” perspective. So, here are the misconceptions and our comments:

It's only for small contact centers: Actually, with the cloud based approach it is easy to scale and address the needs of larger centers and/or larger organizations. The required computing power can easily grow (and shrink) based on the customer needs – this is called “elastic computing”. There are many cloud computing companies (e.g. that successfully provide cloud solutions to very large enterprises.

Limited functionality: Since many cloud based solution are already in the 2nd or 3rd version, they offer very rich functionality. Often, they are easier to use and provide an fast way to add new features through automated upgrades.

Not flexible and customizable: Cloud computing solution were designed with lots of users and different customer needs in mind. Therefore, they have a more flexible architecture and often allow customization and configuration without programming.

Implementations and integrations are more difficult than premise-based initiatives. Cloud based solution have a more flexible architecture and they were designed with “inter-connectivity” in mind, knowing that “island” solutions won’t be successful.

Hosting has a higher total cost of ownership than premise-based solutions: If you do a "total cost of ownership" comparison, the cloud based solutions have a clear advantage. In addition to avoiding the overall investment risk of a large upfront capital expenditure, there are costs that are often hidden, sich as: upgrades, hardware, ongoing operation, additional software (database, etc.), backup solutions, and IT staffing.

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A More Efficient Call Center in One Minute?

These are just some of the real-world benefits experienced after implementing Monet WFM software.

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