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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

Adherence to schedule - a big challenge for your call center?

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Managing adherence to call center schedule is one of the most challenging jobs related to running a 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 some helpful tips and considerations:

  • What does lack of schedule adherence cost a call center? A quick overview of the cost drivers and the potential impact on your center operation.
  • Why is schedule adherence an important call center metric? This article helps identify potential causes for out-of-adherence and ways for improvement.
  • Are you monitoring schedule adherence in your call center? 3 simple tips on schedule adherence: Inform - measure - manage.
  • What is real-time schedule adherence? Learn how real-time adherence can help you finally overcome your adherence challenge.
  • Strategies for Improving Schedule Adherence: A more in depth whitepaper about schedule adherence and how Workforce Management software is a crucial tool to improve adherence. 


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Call Center Forecasting Methods & Techniques

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Accurate forecasting is critical to successfully managing your call center. In order to meet call demand and avoid under- or over-staffing, you need methods that precisely predicts how many agents are needed to handle the center's call volume, and also methods that help you "re-calculate" if the the call volume fluctuates more than anticipated. Here are 5 considerations and methods that should help you improve forecast accuracy:

  1. The importance of accurate forecasting: First, take a look why an accurate forecast is crucial. 

  2. How to improve forecasting with simulation tools: Anticipating the "future" is not easy, therefore, running simulations with different assumptions helps to better predict call volumes.

  3. How to forecast special days: There are certain days that are difficult to forecast, or are important for the business. Here are some tips on how to deal with those.

  4. How to do "intra-day" call forecasting: One of the biggest forecasting challenge is related to unpredictable call volume fluctuations - here are some "intra-day" tips.

  5. How to forecast for multiple channels: As more communication channels open up (phone, email, chat, social media) you have to add those to your forecasting scenarios.

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Spreadsheets for call center forecasting and scheduling?

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The overwhelming majority of ongoing call center expenses are related to staffing (up to 70%). Having the optimum number of staff at the right time in the right place is essential to call center success and profitability. Over-staffing results in needless spending for unnecessary staff, while under-staffing will lower service levels, increase staff turnover and impact your revenues. Two key questions to ask:

  • Can a call center really "afford" to use spreadsheets for forecasting and scheduling, since there is so much at stake?
  • Does workforce management software provide measurable improvements resulting in savings that exceed the cost of the solution?

Here are three things to consider when you evaluate the situation in your call center:

1. More efficient scheduling and agent usage: The savings associated with more efficient scheduling includes reducing overall staff hours and need for overtime and identification of over-staffing. Call centers using WFM systems generally experience a minimum reduction of 2% for staff hours with an average potential savings in the 5 – 10% range.

2. Automation of scheduling tasks: Manual or Excel-based spreadsheet forecasting and scheduling consumes much of a supervisor’s time in many call centers. With WFM it is generally expected that at least 25% of the time currently devoted to manual input can be saved and used for coaching, training, etc.

3. Improved schedule adherence: Many hours of work time are wasted due to excessive non-productive interruptions. A WFM system can provide historical and real-time information on agent schedule adherence and exceptions, for better management and control of staff, reducing workforce shrinkage by 10 to 20 minutes per agent per day. Please read our whitepaper "Strategies for Improving Schedule Adherence" to learn more. Also, there is a related blog post that talks about the "cost of out-of-adherence".


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How to Improve Agent Schedule Adherence in a Call Center

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Adhe
rence: Are You In or Out of It?

One of the biggest challenges of running a call center is making sure that employees stick to their schedules. A strategic approach to improving agent adherence is crucial for call centers struggling with the challenges of rising costs, lower revenues, and frustrated customers. The following whitepaper summarizes five strategies to help boost agent adherence in your call center.

In addition to the five strategies, the whitepaper also explains how WFM software helps call centers implement those adherence strategies more effectively.


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Important call center metrics: Shrinkage

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What's shrinkage?
Shrinkage is the time (or percentage of time) agents are not productive due to breaks, meetings, training, vacation, illness, absenteeism, etc. Most of these events can be build into the schedule, however there is one aspect of shrinkage that cannot be really planned for and it is related to adherence. Adherence is a measurement of the time agents are scheduled to work compared to the time they actually work. If agents leave early, start later or take longer breaks than specified in their schedule, it causes shrinkage that has an immediate impact on service levels and other call center metrics due to under-staffing.

How to reduce shrinkage?
Well, it's not realistic to totally eliminate "unplanned" shrinkage, however, in most cases in can be reduced to an acceptable level. One major reason for "unplanned" shrinkage is out-of-adherence. Often, call centers 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. If you are still struggling with adherence issues, please read this educational whitepaper “Strategies for improving call center schedule adherence", and you will learn about proven practices on schedule adherence that have resulted in increased availability and reduced shrinkage.

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3 Ways to Simplify Call Center Scheduling

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1. Focus on a more accurate forecast
Focus on forecast accuracy first to avoid under-staffing, minimize crisis situation, and constant shuffling around of agents! Try to get the best possible forecast baseline for your schedule:

  • Identify historic and future call volume “driver” (special days, events, promotion, etc.)
  • Run various forecast scenarios
  • Include all customer service related activities into forecast (call and non-call)
  • Include all communication channels (call, email, chat, etc.)

2. Involve your agents into the process:
Inform your agents about forecasting/schedule procedures, ask them about their preferences, and explain the need for flexibility. Open communication should help create an open and more fun work environment, while also achieving more effective schedules:

  • Survey about preferences and personal needs
  • Work with them to match with needs of the business
  • Provide incentives for “being flexible” (e.g. bonus or slightly higher pay)

3. Automate repetitive tasks

Automate repetitive forecasting/scheduling tasks to gain more time for monitoring, coaching, and training. Automate reports and make it a routine to compare forecasted with actual call volume, adherence and schedule effectiveness to learn "what worked, and what didn't":

  • Automate inclusion of call history into forecasting procedures
  • Automate forecasting and schedule scenarios with simulation
  • Create a dashboard with your daily performance goal to streamline intra-day monitoring and management

Please see our post about call center forecasting and scheduling best practices to learn more details about this topic.


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How to improve intra-day call center forecasting and scheduling

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Fluctuation in call volumes throughout the day is still one of the key challenges in managing a call center. Common questions are: How to update the forecast, how to create a new schedule, and how to staff for this throughout the day? Is there a way to plan for this? Typically, there are two scenarios:

  • There are events that the call center should have known about, but didn’t for various reasons (e.g. was not informed about a campaign, didn’t plan for the event, etc.). Most of the call volume related impact can be avoided through planning – see #1.
  • There are events, mostly external driven , that cannot be planned for (e.g. sudden product issues, weather, catastrophes). Call volume fluctuations due to these external events cannot be planned for, however, constant monitoring and quick action can lower the impact on service levels and customer satisfaction – see #2.


1. Anticipate and plan: Spend time and effort to achieve a more accurate forecast in order to minimize surprises.

  • Learn from the past, anticipate events that might cause call volume fluctuation and stay in constant communication with other departments of your company to avoid call volume “surprises”.
  • Analyze call history to spot “triggers” and anticipate factors that impact call volume
  • Stay in touch with other departments (sales, support, marketing) to make sure you know in advance about events. Educate them about the implication of “surprises” on service levels and customer satisfaction


2. Monitor and act: Establish a dashboard or set up alerts that notify you about unusual or fluctuating call volumes.

  • 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.
  • Apply this trend to the next period or rest of day by recalculating the forecast for each interval
  • 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. For a short demo of intra-day management and exception handling please visit our website.


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Workforce Management Software Comparison - What Features are Important?

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Call center workforce management software automates key tasks that have an immediate impact on the bottom line through more accurate call volume forecasting, optimum scheduling and daily performance tracking. The following is a list of key capabilities to consider when comparing workforce management software:

Forecasting: Ability to run simulations to calculate a precise forecast for future call volume, agent requirements and average handle time for any time interval of the day, based on historical data from ACD.

Scheduling: The scheduling engine should incorporate all call and non-call activities to generate staffing schedules that optimize a wide range of factors, including agent availability, work rules, skills, holidays, breaks, service levels and center budgets.

Intra-day Management: Graphical display of agents' schedules that can be manipulated by dragging and dropping breaks, lunches and other exceptions make it easy and fast. Real-time updates can be made to required and assigned agents instantly, and display surpluses and shortages for each time period of the day.

Exception Planning: Integrated exception calendar simplify scheduling of agent exceptions such as time off and one-time or recurring training meetings.

Real-time 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.

Configuration & Administration: Ability to build an unlimited number of center splits or agent groups, each with its own set of service objectives and guidelines. Manage multiple sites and time zones. Set hours of operation by day of week, and service level goals down to 15-minute intervals if desired.

Performance Analysis: Easily report and analyze all agent activities including their schedule adherence and key performance indicators. Managers can review service level results, costs and revenue.

ACD Integration: Collect data from your ACD and build a historical database. Capture your center's workload and work time statistics in real time.


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Call center management tips - part 2

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This is part two of our series "call center management tips" with strategies, practical tips, and best practices on how to manage your call center more effectively and efficiently. This post focuses on how to improve call center schedule adherence and agent motivation:

Schedule Adherence

Agent motivation

In the following weeks we will write more about call center metrics, intra-day forecasting/scheduling and real-time adherence - stay tuned.


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Twitter for Call Center Managers

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In case you have not seen Monet's Twitter profile please check it out. You can find useful and practical call center management related topics from various publications and sources:

  • Tips and tricks about forecasting and scheduling
  • Events about call center management
  • Best practices for call center managers and supervisors
  • The latest on cloud computing and call center technology

If you would like to stay up-to-date on call center management topics, please follow us at
www.twitter.com/monetsoftware.

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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:

Forecasting


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 Salesforce.com. 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 Salesforce.com. 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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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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