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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

Call center management tips - part 1

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The following is a list of practical tips, tricks and best practices on how to manage your call center more effectively and efficiently. In part 1 of this series, we focus on how to improve call center forecasting and scheduling:



Next week, we will provide tips regarding agent adherence and agent motivation - stay tuned.

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The social enterprise – is your contact center ready?

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Last week at the Dreamforce conference, salesforce announced the Social Enterprise, the next step of connecting companies and employees with their customers through social technologies. More and more customers interact with companies through Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Google+ and other social networks. Contact centers, customer service centers and call centers need to embrace this new way of customer engagement, make sure that they have staff available, trained and scheduled to deal with these “multiple channels”. There are two considerations:

  1. Technology: Do you have the tools to track and monitor the social activity, the engagement with customers and the overall performance of your contact center?
  2. Workforce: Do you have the workforce in place, trained, multi-skilled, scheduled and available to interact with customers based on calls, email, chat and the new social media channels?

In a 2010 survey, 30% of contact centers stated that they struggle with forecasting and scheduling of multiple channels (call, email, chat, etc.). The addition of the new social media channels makes this even more challenging. Here are some tips and tricks for multi-channel forecasting and scheduling in your contact center.

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7 Tips for improved schedule adherence in your call center

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How do you get your staff to show up for work on time and stick to their planned schedule and break times? This is one of the most challenging jobs related to managing any call center - making sure there is the right number of staff with the right skills available at the right times of the day. Here are seven tips that might be helpful to improve schedule adherence in your call center:

1. Quantify the implications of missing staff
First, you need to understand the effects of schedule adherence in your call center. This starts with measuring adherence and quantifying the implications on service level, costs and other metrics that are critical for your business. Typically, a lack of adherence results in understaffing and decreased service levels. In order to compensate for this, call centers might increase staffing, which results in higher costs. Here is an example of the cost implications of out-of-adherence.
2. Set reasonable adherence goals
Identify adherence goals and objectives based on the unique characteristics of your call center environment and also take a look at benchmarks of other call centers. When defining your goals, please consider the following:
  • Include your staff into this process from the beginning
  • Define minimum expectations
  • Average handle time of calls
  • Identify potential barriers that might prevent adherence
3. Identify the reasons for attendance and adherence problems
Basically, there are three different reasons for adherence problems:
  • Don’t know: the agent may either be unclear about what the expectations are, or they may be unaware of how their behavior is not meeting the expectation. Giving the agent timely feedback can help resolve the problem.
  • Can’t: the agent may require more training, although adherence problems are rarely lack of training. More likely there could be a barrier that prevents adherence.
  • Won’t: the agent may lack motivation or may be receiving improper consequences. The most effective consequences are: Positive, Immediate, and Certain.
For more details please read this post about schedule adherence challenges.
4. Identify rewards and consequences that support adherence goals
Reward agents that adhere to their schedule (e.g. 95% within adherence scores) through recognition within the team and tie bonuses to good scores. It is also critical that all agents are aware of the consequences for out-of-adherence behavior; this establishes their responsibility towards the success of the call center.
5. Communicate the “power of one” to all staff
Emphasize the “power of one” to highlight the importance of every agent’s adherence. Using tables or charts available to make “adherence” visually quantifiable can be helpful. So can activities like "Ball Toss" in which six agents are paired off and given a ball which they must toss back and forth. Replace one person in the pair and keep the toss moving. Then take one person away without providing a replacement to show how quickly understaffing can create stress and dropped balls – which, of course, represent "calls".
6. Review your tools to manage and track adherence
Workforce management software helps automate schedule adherence tracking and reporting capabilities. Review the tools you have available in your call center and evaluate if you have the need for more sophisticated adherence tracking tools:
  • Real-time dashboards
  • Alerts and notification
  • Adherence reporting by agent, group and center
  • Exception management
  • Adherence tracking for all activities
  • Accurate forecasting of call center volumes
  • Automated scheduling
7. Measure and monitor
You can only manage what you measure. Make adherence monitoring & reporting and the regular review with your team part of your staff meetings. Over time, the whole team will more and more appreciate the importance of adherence and it will get "internalized" into your service culture.
For more detailed information, please read this whitepaper "Strategies for improving Schedule Adherence".
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What does lack of schedule adherence cost a call center?

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There are three areas that are immediately affected when your call center is out-of-adherence:

  • Speed of answer to customers is reduced (service level and satisfaction)
  • Staff workload and occupancy are affected (productivity and staffing cost)
  • Telephone costs can soar (operational costs).
All three areas are avoidable when you understand the impact of out-of-adherence within the call center. In order to find out the costs associated with call center scheduling and out-of-adherence, you need to measure and quantify the effect. Let’s consider that you have 200 call center agents and due to out-of-adherence activities, they lose 10 minutes per day. At an average of $15 per hour wage for your 200 call center agents, the resulting cost is $130,000 per year.
  • 10 minutes x 5 days x 52 weeks = 2,600 minutes per year = 43.3 hours per year.
  • 43.3 hours x $15 = $650 per person x 200 agents = $130,000.
Take the time and do the math and understand the actual hard dollar costs associated with out-of-adherence for your call center and evaluate the necessary internal changes needed to reduce the wasted time. For ideas and more information about schedule adherence, please read this whitepaper: "Strategies for improved call center schedule adherence".
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Call center workforce management software selection criteria

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Here is a list that should be helpful when selecting a workforce management solution: 

1. Key functionality to consider: 

  • ACD integration for call history
  • Simulation of forecasts
  • Staffing and Scheduling
  • Exception handling
  • Intra-day management
  • Real-time adherence
  • Performance metrics reports

2. Implementation of software: 

  • Time to implement - ready to use.
  • Equipment needed (hardware and software)
  • Resources needed (internal, vendor, consultants)

3. Total cost of ownership: 

  • Upfront cost for software, hardware, integration and implementation?
  • Ongoing costs for subscription, maintenance, support, upgrade fees?
  • Operational costs for IT team, facilities, etc.

4. User adoption: 

  • Ease of use to make sure software gets used to full extend
  • Configurable to meet your unique center needs

5. ROI and Risk: 

  • Payback time: Benefits versus costs/investment
  • Financial risk if solution does not meet your needs

For a more detailed list, please download our Workforce Management Success Kit.

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How to improve call center forecasting with simulation tools

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One of the most critical steps in the workforce management process is forecasting. Based on the work history you need to forecast call volume and agent requirements for desired time frames in the future - a forecast for future call volume, average handling time, and agent requirements for each 15-minute period of the day based on service level objectives.

How can you use forecasting simulation to improve forecast accuracy? A simulator forecasting engine analyzes all call types and routing policies when creating forecasts. This lets you accurately forecast staffing levels to manage all call types within your center, and build scenarios for budgeting and planning purposes. You can even use simulators to produce center budgets by running a costing of all forecasted agent shifts and agent schedules. Here are some tips on how you can benefit from using forecasting simulation:

  • You can quickly generate automatic forecasts for multiple sites, complex routing strategies, and multi-skilled agents.
  • You can accurately forecast staffing levels to manage all call types, as well as build scenarios for planning and budgeting purposes.
  • You get regular intra-day forecast updates, automatically calculating a new forecast based on what has already occurred to establish trends that will aid in proactive decision making.
  • It helps you evaluate and plan current and future workforce requirements.
  • You can 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.
  • You are able to simulate routing rules, agent skill assignments, and schedules by date range and see the impact on staffing and scheduling.

For more information about this topic, please watch the call center forecasting video.

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Important call center metrics: Agent turnover

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Working in a call center is demanding due to the nature of fluctuating call volumes, emotions calls, and time pressure. As a result, many call centers experience a high turn-over. It's not uncommon that some centers experience 30% or more - meaning that 3 out of 10 people leave and need to get replaced and trained. A high turnover has a negative impact on costs, productivity and service quality of the center.

How can you reduce turnover in a call center? First, you need to measure your turnover, and try to identify and track the reasons for the turnover. Second, you need to find ways to improve working conditions - here is a list of tips and ideas where to start :

Hire the "right" people - make sure you understand the challenges of your customer service or call center work and select people that can best deal with it

Engage - make agents part of the team by listening, encouraging them to make improvements, etc.

Flexibility - Providing more flexibility in their work schedule is a great way to motivate your team

Schedule - Use good WFM tools to create an accurate forecast and optimal schedule resulting in less overworked (and happier) agents

Adherence - Monitor and track schedule adherence to make sure that the call load is spread "fairly". A few agents that are not in their seats, will cause a lot of "pain" to the rest of the team.

Create a positive work environment - culture, office space, equipment, etc.

For more ideas and tips on call center agent motivation, please read our previous blog post.

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ROI of Workforce Management Software in the Call Center

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If you are in the process of selecting a workforce management solution for your call center, you might be interested in learning about the key ROI (return on investment) drivers.

  • Time savings in forecasting and scheduling activities leaves more time for supervisors and managers to coach and train their teams
  • More accurate forecasting and scheduling helps avoid over- and understaffing - resulting in improved service levels and reduced payroll costs. Better schedules also lower the cost of turn-over due to higher agent motivation and avoidance of burn-out.
  • Improved schedule adherence improves call center productivity and helps achieve or exceed your service level goals.
  • Dependent on the type of call center, the above productivity gains could also lead to increased revenues (= agent have more time for selling).

In addition to the WFM solution capabilities that reduce cost, save time or increase revenues, the overall ROI is also driven by other factors such as:

  • Ease of use and user adoption: If people don't use it you won't get the benefits of the solution.
  • Investment: The ROI is higher the greater the benefits and the lower the costs are. Therefore, the ROI is also driven by the amount of the upfront investment for the software and the implementation. Traditional on-premise software is typically characterized by a large upfront investment. In comparison, cloud based solutions have no and very low up-front costs, helping to get to an ROI faster, typically in months, versus years.

It is important to include all aspects into the ROI calculation when making a decision.

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How to improve call center schedule adherence

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Watch this recorded webinar by The Call Center School and learn how to improve schedule adherence in your call center. During the session, call center experts share proven practices such as:

  1. How to quantify the cost and service implications of missing staff
  2. Learn about options for setting adherence performance goals
  3. How to identify the reasons why staff don't adhere to the schedule plan
  4. How to develop reward and consequence programs that support adherence goals
  5. How to effectively track, monitor and measure adherence
Here is the link to the recorded event
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Call center forecasting and scheduling best practices

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In a 2010 survey by DMG, call center managers rated the following 4 tasks as their top call center workforce management challenges:

  • Need to schedule phone and non-phone activity
  • Need to optimize the mix of full-time/part-time/flex workers
  • Poor agent adherence
  • Need to schedule multiple channel: phone, email, chat, etc.

Here are some best practices we would like to share with you that might help you overcome those challenges:

  1. Call Center Scheduling Tip: Include all activities into the schedule
  2. How to schedule full/part time and flex workers in your call center?
  3. Six simple strategies for improved call center schedule adherence.
  4. How to forecast and schedule for multiple channels - calls, emails, chat

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What is workforce management?

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Workforce management in a call center is the art and science of having the right number of employees, with the right skills at the right times to meet accurately forecasted volumes of work and to do all that at a predetermined service level and minimized costs. Workforce management is a critical task for call centers and poor planning and execution can have a negative impact on the business (revenues, cost), customers (satisfaction) and also employees (motivation/burn-out). Key tasks of workforce management include the following activities:

1. Calculation of an accurate forecast

  • Collect call history data
  • Identify call patterns (day, week, season, etc.)
  • Identify special day patterns (holidays, etc.)
  • Identify other event or business drivers that might impact call volume/pattern

2. Calculation of staffing requirements

  • Define Service level, ASA and average handle time
  • Calculate workload
  • Define staffing requirements

3. Creation of schedule

  • Include all activities (call and non-call) into schedule
  • Build in flexibility (start/end times, breaks, multi-skill, etc.)
  • Create schedule for 15 or 30 minute increments

4. Monitoring and managing adherence

  • Inform and educate about adherence importance and impact
  • Measure and manage adherence throughout the day (real-time adherence)
  • Provide incentives

5. Managing exceptions and changes throughout the day

  • Changes in call volume or arrival pattern
  • Staffing or scheduling issues
  • Business related exceptions

6. Measuring and adjusting

  • Analyze daily/weekly reports
  • Investigate causes for under-performance
  • Apply learnings into workforce management process

Many organizations still employ a manual approach to workforce management. By relying on paper- or spreadsheet-generated estimates, they lack any way to accurately measure the degree of adherence to the schedule. Reporting, if done at all, is a nightmare. The end product is too much time and effort spent managing staff for little return.
Workforce management software helps organizations to automate key tasks that have an immediate impact on the bottom line through more accurate call volume forecasting, optimized scheduling and daily performance tracking in real-time.

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What is Cloud Computing?

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Everybody talks about cloud computing, but do you really know what it is, how it works, if it might be something for your business and how it could benefit your call center. There is a great video on YouTube that explains What is Cloud Computing - posted by Obviously, this video focuses on CRM, however, the principles are the same for call center software such as workforce management and scheduling.

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What is Cloud Computing?

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Everybody talks about cloud computing, but do you really know what it is, how it works, if it might be something for your business and how it could benefit your call center. There is a great video on YouTube that explains What is Cloud Computing - posted by Obviously, this video focuses on CRM, however, the principles are the same for call center software such as workforce management and scheduling.

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Call Center in the Cloud: Is it cheaper and simpler?

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In a recent article in InformationWeek "Call Center in the Cloud: Cheaper and Simpler" there are some interesting customer case studies, interviews and research that summarize the key benefits of cloud computing in the call center. Some highlights from the article:

  • Call centers convert on-premise IT systems to cloud-based systems for flexibility, scalability, ease-of-use and substantially lower cost.
  • They need to scale up and down and want to unify service across multiple sites
  • Besides relieving contact center operators of IT maintenance, they also avoid the capital expense of IT hardware
  • Cloud-based call centers can save large enterprises as much as 50% compared to on-premise systems

The article also contains some research by Frost & Sullivan. Please click here to get to the article.

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Apple's iCloud announcement - what are call center managers waiting for?

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With Apple's iCloud announcement, cloud computing is really going mainstream. Reading the iCloud announcement makes it so obvious that cloud computing is the future in the connected world. Cloud computing is easier to integrate (any device) and it's easier to scale (almost unlimited storage and performance), it's easier to set up (just turn it on) and it is lower cost (shared infrastructure) . In a recent post we compared workforce management software in the cloud versus on-premise. Here are some additional considerations regarding call center software in the cloud:

1. If your call center uses spreadsheets or other manual means for forecasting/scheduling:

  • The increasing complexity of call centers makes it more difficult to efficiently manage forecasting, scheduling and adherence using traditional ways - see recent post about call center shrinkage.
  • Typically, the monthly savings of using a cloud based WFM solution are higher than the cost of the solution, so you should save money from the get go.
  • In addition, you can improve service levels and other key call center performance indicators by using a more robust and flexible scheduling solution, compared to spreadsheets.

2. If your call center uses on-premise WFM software:

  • Traditional WFM software is often complicated to use and therefore does not get fully leveraged, meaning you are not getting all the benefits from the software to realize cost savings and performance improvements.
  • Calculate what you pay for yearly maintenance of your WFM software, including the internal costs of operating/upgrading servers. Just these costs can be higher than the monthly fee for an all inclusive WFM in the cloud offering.

There are many reasons to switch to the cloud. We hope we inspired you to think about it.

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Call center shrinkage - why does it get more difficult to manage?

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The increasing complexity of call center configurations with multiple locations, many time zones, more demanding customer interactions, and new communication channels make it more difficult to manage shrinkage. You cannot any longer manage the shrinkage in today’s complex centers just by standing up and looking out across your center or using a manual/spreadsheet based approach. Here are some of the challenges centers need to overcome:

  • Distributed call centers and home agents make it more difficult to manage and track breaks, attendance, exceptions, etc.
  • Multiple communication channels (phone, email, chat, social media, etc.) make it more difficult to manage shrinkage without appropriate tools to forecast, schedule and track adherence for each channel.
  • Some call centers have no effective way to forecast and schedule non-call activities such as breaks, meetings, unplanned discussions – resulting in shrinkage.

Therefore, shrinkage becomes more of an issue for call centers that don’t leverage WFM solutions. Usually, they don’t have the necessary visibility into what happens at any moment in time and what is supposed to happen based on the published schedule. Learn more about how to reduce shrinkage by watching the on demand webinar "Strategies for improved call center schedule adherence". In this educational webinar, industry expert Penny Reynolds from the The Call Center School, shares proven practices on schedule adherence that have resulted in increased availability and reduced shrinkage.

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Scheduling Spreadsheets: Are they a low cost alternative for your call center?

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Many small to medium size call centers still use spreadsheets to forecast and manage call center schedules and workforce planning, assuming that it is a sufficient tool for fewer agents. Quite to the contrary, it is more difficult to manage fewer agents in a small to medium size center, and here is why:
  • Behavior of individual agents have bigger impact on overall center performance;
  • Fewer agents need to multi-task, making skill-based scheduling more complex;
  • It is more difficult to correct the schedule once it has been upset by unexpected events.
Staffing is the most expensive resource in the entire call center budget (60 to 80%), therefore, even a 1% increase in productivity will significantly impact the bottom line. Read more in this short whitepaper The Real Costs of Spreadsheet Based Scheduling.

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Great online event about Call Center Schedule Adherence

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Yesterday, we hosted an extremely well attended webast with the topic: "Six simple strategies for improved call center schedule adherence." People asked a lot of great questions and we had lots of interactions during this online event about the following topics:

  1. How to quantify the cost and service implications of missing staff
  2. Learn about options for setting adherence performance goals
  3. How to identify the reasons why staff don't adhere to the schedule plan
  4. How to develop reward and consequence programs that support adherence goals
  5. How to effectively track, monitor and measure adherence

In case you missed it, here is the link to the recorded session - enjoy!

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Call center workforce management from anywhere – with your mobile device

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In the ongoing effort to make schedules more flexible and better address fluctuating call volumes and also give agents more flexibility, more call centers implement web based communication tools to collaborate between agents and supervisors in almost real-time. With new wireless, high bandwidth devices, these web-based tools can be literally available from anywhere. Here are few examples:

  • Get alerts on mobile devices based on thresholds (service level, adherence, etc.)
  • Monitor adherence from anywhere and be able to act right away
  • Manage schedule changes on the spot and adjust staffing as needed
  • Manage exception handling between agents and supervisors, especially across multiple locations.
  • Shift bidding: Open up shifts for bidding and assign agents right from the mobile device

With more call center solutions offered in the "cloud", it becomes easier to use those applications on a mobile device through a web browser.

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How to improve schedule adherence in your call center

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One of the most challenging jobs related to managing any call center, is often ensuring there is the right number of staff with the right skills available at the right times of the day. How do you get your staff to show up for work on time and stick to their planned schedule and break times?

Monet Software is sponsoring a free webinar that exactly addresses this topic: "Six simple strategies for improved call center schedule adherence." Please join our special guest speaker and industry expert, Penny Reynolds from the The Call Center School, for this webinar on May 11th. She will share with you proven practices on schedule adherence that have resulted in increased availability. Please register here.

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Upcoming webinar: Best practices in call center scheduling

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If you are a call center manager, supervisor or WFM analyst and face one, many or even all of the following challenges:

  • Need to schedule phone and non-phone activities
  • Need to optimize the mix of full/part-time and flexible workers
  • Experience poor agent adherence
  • Need to schedule multiple channels, such as phone, email, ...

... then you should join us for our upcoming webinar "Best practices in call center scheduling" that will be hosted on March 30, 2011 at 10 am PST. We will talk about the following:

  • Schedule optimization: How to properly handle call, non-call activities and exceptions, breaks, lunches, training, etc.
  • Schedule adjustment: How to deal with call volume fluctuations and adjust schedules
  • Schedule adherence: How to set goals, measure adherence and keep agents motivated to adhere to schedules.

We hope you can join us.

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Six strategies for improved call center schedule adherence

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One of the toughest jobs related to managing any call center may not be the calculations of proper forecasting nor the numerous iterations of coming up with the best schedule mix. The hardest part is often ensuring there is the right number of staff with the right skills in their seats at the right times of the day. So how do you get staff to show up for work on time and stick to their planned break times as well as generally acceptable time on various work tasks?

We are very excited that our special guest speaker and industry expert, Penny Reynoldsfrom the The Call Center School, will share with you proven practices on schedule adherence.

What attendees will learn?

  • Quantify the cost and service implications of missing staff
  • Identify ways to communicate and educate staff on the “power of one” in call center staffing.
  • Describe options for setting adherence performance goals and selling to the staff
  • Identify the reasons why staff don't adhere to the schedule plan
  • Identify reward and consequence programs that support adherence goals

We are looking forward to having you join us for this free webinar.

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How does workforce management software impact call center staffing?

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Granted, you can do basic forecasting and scheduling with a spreadsheet. So, where is the real value of a workforce management solution then? Based on customer feedback, you can achieve improved staffing accuracy; get more visibility into call center operations and schedule adherence throughout the day, faster react to fluctuations in call volumes and better handle exceptions.

  • More accurate forecasting: Starting with an accurate forecast and optimized schedule will more likely achieve the targeted service level (avoid under-staffing) at the lowest possible cost (avoid over-staffing). WFM solutions allows you to easily run different scenarios, forecast special days, and include call history more effectively to achieve high accuracy.
  • Better manage call and non-call activities: One of the top challenges of many call centers is how to forecast and schedule non-call activities. WFM solutions make non-call activities part of the forecasting and scheduling process.
  • Schedule flexibility for higher productivity: With a WFM solution call centers are able to implement a more flexible schedule to address center needs (fluctuating call volumes) and agents needs (flexible start/end time, time off), resulting in higher center productivity.
  • Improved schedule adherence resulting in reduced shrinkage: With real-time adherence and adherence reports you can more effectively work with agents on reducing shrinkage. You can better educate agents about impact of adherence and set measurable goals. You can share adherence reports with agents, discuss causes for out-of-adherence and discover ways for improvement as a team effort. In addition, you are able to provide incentives to motivate adherence behavior.

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Important call center metrics: schedule adherence

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In our recent post about the importance of call center metrics we talked about the need to break down the goals and objectives from an organizational level, to a call center level, all the way down to an agent level. One such metric that is critical for most call centers is schedule or agent adherence. Let's define how it gets measured and discuss ways to improve it.

What call center adherence measures? It can be considered a measure of agent productivity. It measures the percentage of time an agent is actively working on the phone compared to the time the agent is supposed to be on the phone based on the schedule. For a more detailed discussion about adherence, please check out the whitepaper "Strategies for Improving Schedule Adherence".

Potential causes for out-of-adherence and ways for improvement:

  • Agents might not be familiar with the individual impact of adherence on overall service levels: Educate them and explain how a 10 or 20 minutes out-of-adherence can have a big negative impact on the overall service level of the whole group or call center.
  • Lack of clear definition of phone and non-phone activities: Clearly communicate the different types and explain what is included in the schedule.
  • Schedule is too rigid: Can create too much pressure for agents and the need to take extra "breaks". Evaluate the situation and talk to your team.
  • Schedule is too flexible: Lack of accountability might result in out-of-adherence. Again, evaluate and discuss with your team. Also, there are ways to include flexibility into your schedule using tools or software, such as shift bidding.
  • Adherence doesn't get measured and tracked: You can only manage what you measure, therefore, you need to find a way to measure adherence. Set clear goals, communicate to your team, measure adherence and review with your teamon a regular basis. You can also consider using incentives for "good" adherence behavior.
  • Forecast and/or scheduling assumptions and calculations might be inaccurate: Make sure to include all call and non-call activities into your schedule.

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How to make a call center schedule work for your staff

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An optimized call center schedule becomes even better when your team is satisfied or even really happy with their assigned shifts. Of course, that is not an easy task, but here are some tips that might be of help for call center managers and supervisors:

  • Shift bidding: This can be done in different ways. You can either open up for bidding every 6 months, or you can facilitate bidding on a more regular basis and make it part of the scheduling process. This frequent bidding becomes easier when you use a web-based tool that allows agents and supervisor to collaborate on shift bidding and trading.
  • Shift trading: This can be done even without lots of administrative work. Agents can trade their shifts on a day-by-day basis, assuming it only happens a few times per month for each agent. Otherwise, it might get difficult to keep track of who is scheduled.
  • Flexible start- and end-times: Allow agents to come in later (an hour or two) or to work longer hours on certain days (based on the needs of the call center and based on their personal needs). However, this needs to get administered properly to make sure hours don't "get lost". In addition, as posted to this blog, there are other ways to provide more flexibility.

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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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