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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 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. salesforce.com) 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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Agent Adherence – you can only manage what you measure

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In a recent survey and study by ICMI one of the top challenges mentioned by call center managers was “consistent adherence to schedule”. In another study by DMG, over 30% of call center managers indicated that agent adherence is a key challenge. Of course, there might be several reasons for this based on call center specifics, but one statement is probably true for all: You can only manage agent adherence if you have a way to measure it. Many call centers still have no reliable way to track and monitor adherence. Workforce management solutions can help in two ways:

  • Real-time adherence: At any moment you can see if members of your team are adhering to the schedule, or not. Real-time monitoring is a key element to better manage call center performance throughout the day, especially if the call volume fluctuates and you don’t need the “out of adherence” challenge on top of it.
  • Adherence reporting: The reporting help you to compare adherence for certain time periods, certain teams, etc. You are able to identify potential causes for low service levels or other issues. In addition, it helps you proactively work with you team, educate about the importance of adherence and provide a “fair” way to motivate and promote positive behavior.

Again, only if you can measure it, you can actually start improving adherence. In a previous blog post "Are you monitoring schedule adherence in your call center?" we have talked about 3 steps that will help you improve schedule adherence. Please take a look if you have not read it.


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Cloud versus On-Premise WFM Software - Part 2

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Last week we posted the first part of our article cloud versus on-premise workforce management software - here is the second part.

5. Software upgrades
Cloud: Painless and automated upgrade procedures ensure that customers are always on the latest version. Upgrades and new features are made available on an on-going basis, typically at no cost.
On Premise: Manual upgrade processes often get postponed (or avoided) by the customers due to the effort and costs. New features won’t be available to users.

6. Implementation success
Cloud: Typically, a cloud based vendor has a bigger financial incentive to make customers successful, solve issues and maintain them as a long term customer (subscription model).
On Premise: The on-premise software model is characterized by a high upfront license fees as key motivator, and potentially a lower financial motivation to make the solution work as fast as possible.

7. Usability
Cloud: New web-based user interface often have a stonger focus on usability and ease of use, similar to consumer based web applications such as amazon.com or ebay.com. 
On Premise: Traditionally, older client-server software were not always optimized for usability, making it more difficult for the user to take advantage of the software features.

8. Investment risk
Cloud: Lower risk - if a customer is not satisfied with the solution they might be able to cancel the agreement or switch to another vendor.
On Premise: Typically, higher risk due to upfront investment. The associated "switching" costs are higher in case the software doesn't meet the needs of the customer.


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Best practices in call center scheduling

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Please join us for our upcoming webinar "Best practices in call center scheduling" that will be hosted on August 5, 2010 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 to you see you there.
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Cloud versus On-Premise WFM Software - Part 1

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More and more companies discover that the "Cloud" or "SaaS" (Software-as-a-Service) based model has advantages over the traditional premise-based solutions. The following two part blog post compares the two models in more detail and illustrates how the differences can impact the cost, implementation, usage and success of the Workforce Management solution in your organization.

1. Set up and implementation
Cloud: Typically faster set up by simply creating a new customer account, loading of data and system configuration that only takes days or weeks.
On Premise: Installation of hard- and software that can take several months to purchase, install and configure.

2. Upfront costs
Cloud: No upfront investment for software and hardware - offered through a monthly subscription fee that typically includes training, support, maintenance and upgrades.
On Premise: Large upfront investment - purchase of hardware and software, cost for installation, configuration and implementation by IT consultants. Can add up to a 5 or 6 digit capital expenditure.

3. Operating costs
Cloud: Lower operating costs through shared services infrastructure, dramatically reduces the cost for the individual customer.
On Premise: Costs for running your own server operation, including back ups, maintenance, upgrades and hardware replacement that is often not accounted for.

4. Scalability and performance
Cloud: High scalability through multi-tenant architecture and "elastic cloud computing" platform that allows for maximum scalability of data-intensive scheduling scenarios.
On Premise: Scalability limited through server installed and operated by customer.

Please stay tuned for part 2 of this comparison.


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How to forecast special days in your call center

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Earlier this week we hosted a webinar about improving forecast accuracy in your call center, which was very well received. One of the topics we discussed was: “How to forecast special days”. Here is a quick summary of the key points:

Analyze call history data for previous and similar periods:

  • Consider: Growth factor, day of the week, etc.
  • Apply weight: Highest weight for recent year/month/day

In step two, you need to predict daily and interval call volume. With an WFM solution this is all processed and calculated automatically, but here are the key elements. You have to break down the forecast into monthly, daily, etc. intervals and also apply the "special day" effect (in italic below). The following is an example for 4th of July:

  • Forecast for year = 382,572
  • July percentage = 9.38%
  • Wednesday percentage = 16%
  • Impact of July 4th = 30%
  • 10:00 to 10:30 proportion of day = 5.2%

In addition, you should adjust for other known influences, such as:

  • Internal: Planned marketing campaigns, events, news, etc.
  • External: Weather, season, consumer trends, etc.

If you would like to learn more about forecasting methodologies and related WFM capabilities, please contact us or check out the webinar recording that will be posted shortly.


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Intra-day call center forecasting and scheduling

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Based on a recent survey by DMG consulting, a majority of survey participants indicated that one of their biggest forecasting challenges is related to unpredictable call volume fluctuations. In our recent webinar, we discussed how to deal with these intra-day changes and how to update your forecast.

First, spend some time and effort to achieve an accurate forecast in order to minimize surprises:

Analyze call history

Anticipate factors that impact call volume

Focus on skill level, skill team and interval level 

When you notice that the actual call volume is different from the forecast, you should analyze deviation and trend lines for both, call volume and average handle time. Below is an example based on call volume fluctuation:

Calls received by 10:30 am 417 calls

Usual proportion of call by 10:30 17%

Revised call forecast for day = 2,452 calls

Now, apply this trend to the next period or rest of day by recalculating the forecast for each interval:

Proportion for 3:30 to 4:00 6.6% (of day)

New intra-day forecast for 3:30 to 4:00 = 161 calls

Then you need to move things around (breaks, training, etc) to adjust the schedule as well. Finally, investigate to find the cause for the deviation and learn from it. This might help you be better prepared next time, and you might even be able to "build it" it into the forecast.


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call forecasting, scheduling, workforce management

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Optimal call center performance starts with an accurate forecast. In a recent study and survey by DMG Consulting, 230 contact center professionals were asked about their forecasting challenges. Here are the top 5 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
Based on these results and questions we hear from our prospects, we at Monet Software thought we should host an educational webinar about Call Center Forecasting. In this webinar, planned for June 23, 11 a.m. PST, we will discuss how to overcome or better deal with some of these forecasting challenges. We hope you can join us.
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What are your call center forecasting challenges?

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Optimal call center performance starts with an accurate forecast. In a recent study and survey by DMG Consulting, 230 contact center professionals were asked about their forecasting challenges. Here are the top 5 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

Based on these results and questions we hear from our prospects, we at Monet Software thought we should host an educational webinar about Call Center Forecasting. In this webinar, planned for June 23, 11 a.m. PST, we will discuss how to overcome or better deal with some of these forecasting challenges. We hope you can join us.


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Call Center Staffing Software for Small Call Centers?

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Regardless of size, all call centers have the same basic goals of controlling costs, optimizing call center staffing, and meeting services levels. A common myth is that only larger centers need (and can afford) call center staffing software. But small call centers do have some unique challenges when contrasted with larger centers that make the case for staffing software:

  • Unpredictable call volume: Since calling patterns tend to be far more diverse and marked by peaks and valleys in small centers, call center staffing can be a headache for many managers. They have to respond to spikes in volume on-the-fly, often without much historical data to back-up their decisions.
  • Schedule adherence: Whereas larger centers can often manage schedule deviations and absenteeism without as much strain, smaller center performance suffers when 1 or a few agents are not available for calls. For instance, in a call center of fifty agents, occupancy is critical. If five agents take breaks or go to lunch at the same time, occupancy decreases by 10% and service levels go with it.
  • Agent retention: Retention is one of the key factors of any size call center, but it’s especially significant when call center staffing revolves around a limited group. One of the many reasons agents leave is because staffing seems random and does not consider their personal needs. Agent morale increases when everyone understands and accepts schedules in advance, which reduces turnover and lets everyone know what’s expected of them.

While these are only a few of the many issues faced by small call centers, they show that you don’t have to be a large center to need call center staffing software. When you consider the cost to benefit ratio, most call center managers choose call center staffing software, especially now that it’s offered in the cloud (or SaaS). Now, you can be small and operate big.


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Improved Call Center Scheduling leads to increased customer satisfaction

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Workforce management, call forecasting and agent scheduling is not only about efficiency, cost and service level metrics, but most importantly about how to better serve your customers. It’s about customer satisfaction. So, how does a more accurate forecast, flexible schedule and good agent adherence impact customer satisfaction:
  • A better schedule reduces the stress for your agents, resulting in improved call quality, call resolution, etc.
  • A better schedule helps you meet or exceed your service levels, ensuring that you answer calls in a timely manner
  • A more flexible schedule and shift model helps you to better deal with fluctuating call volumes, avoiding understaffing and longer wait times
Of course, there are many other factors that influence customer satisfaction, but letting customers wait for too long is often a major reason for dissatisfaction. Take a look at your customer satisfaction surveys and compare those with key metrics such as service levels, average wait, etc. to see if there are any trends or issues. You should also evaluate if you have the adequate workforce management tools available to properly schedule your agents for maximum performance, ensuring that customers are not left waiting their turn in line.

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Skill-based scheduling and routing in your call center

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With the growing number of call types due to more complexity (pre-sales, sales, support, service, etc.) and the increasing number of channels (phone, web, email, twitter, etc.), it becomes more difficult to efficiently handle the incoming "traffic", especially in small and medium-sized call centers. One solution is skill-based routing and scheduling. If you have agents trained to handle multiple types of calls 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 5 to 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 especially in times of fewer resources and changing call volumes and patterns.


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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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