Workforce Management Hints, Tips & Best Practices
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 .
Read More About Upcoming webinar: Best practices in call center scheduling
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 Reynolds from 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.
Read More About Six strategies for improved call center schedule adherence
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.
Read More About How does workforce management software impact call center staffing?
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 on a regular basis. You can also consider using incentives for "good" adherence behavior. review with your team Forecast and/or scheduling assumptions and calculations might be inaccurate: Make sure to into your schedule. include all call and non-call activities
Read More About Important call center metrics: schedule adherence
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.
Read More About How to make a call center schedule work for your staff
The following section compares the cloud- based and the on premise software model in more detail and illustrates how the different models would impact the cost, implementation, usage and success of the Workforce Management solution in your organization: Set up and implementation Cloud: Fast set up, vendor creates new account. Users access the solution through a web browser. On Premise: Takes time to purchase, install and configure both the hardware and software. Upfront investment Cloud: No upfront investment for software/hardware. Subscription fee typically includes support, maintenance and upgrades. On Premise: Large upfront investment for hardware and software, installation, configuration and implementation. Operating costs Cloud: Shared services infrastructure dramatically reduces the cost for operating and maintaining servers. On Premise: Running your own server operation, including back ups, maintenance, upgrades and hardware replacement result in higher costs. Scalability and performance Cloud: Multi-tenant architecture and "elastic cloud computing" platform allows for maximum scalability of data-intensive scheduling scenarios. On Premise: The purchased/installed server(s) in your environment limit the scalability and performance of installed software. Software upgrades Cloud: Automated upgrade procedures ensure customer are always on the latest version without the need for manual upgrade procedures. On Premise: Upgrading software is often postponed due to the vast effort and costs. New features to improve scheduling won’t get implemented. Implementation success Cloud: Vendors have a financial incentive to make customers successful, solve issues and maintain them as a long term customer. On Premise: High upfront license fees might lower motivation for vendors to help make the solution work and solve your issues; software may not get fully utilized. Usability Cloud: The new web-based user interfaces of cloud-based solutions typically focus strongly on usability and are often easier to use and faster to learn. On Premise: Traditionally, older client-server software was not optimized for usability, making it more difficult for the user to take advantage of the software features. Investment risk Cloud: Lower risk - if the customer is not satisfied with the solution they might be able to cancel the agreement or switch to another vendor. On Premise: Higher risk through a huge upfront investment that "locks" customer in, even if the solution ends up not meeting the their needs.
Read More About Workforce Management Software Comparison - Cloud versus Installed Software
We have published several tips for more effective call center scheduling on this blog over the last year. We have summarized those tips in a short Call center scheduling whitepaper. If you didn't have the chance to download it, please do. You will learn about:
Shrinkage Flexible shift-models Schedule adherence Multi-skilled agents Activities to include into schedule and more
Read More About Tips for improved contact center agent scheduling
When selecting a workforce management solution for a small to medium sized call center you should consider the following criteria: 1. Key capabilities Does it accurately forecast call volumes by supporting the use of historical data and real-time ACD integration? Can you create schedules based on ‘what-if” scenarios, different shift patterns, skill levels and other criteria? Can you easily include agent exceptions (e.g. training, time-off) into the schedule? Can you make intra-day changes to forecast and schedule based on changing call volumes ‘on the fly’ during the work day? Does it give you visibility into agent adherence in real-time? Can you produce performance management reports? 2. Time and resources to implement How long does it take to implement the solution from start to finish? When can you actually begin to get benefits from the solution? (Days, weeks or months?) Can I use the solution over the web without equipment purchase or do I need to buy and install hardware and software? How many people do I need (vendor and own company) to implement the solution? 3. Total cost of purchasing, running and maintaining the solution Upfront: What are the total upfront costs for software, hardware, integration and implementation? Ongoing: What are the ongoing monthly or annual costs such as subscription, maintenance, support, upgrade fees? Other costs: Many solutions have hidden costs that many vendors don’t mention but occur within your company such as: your IT people installing and operating the server, your people helping to implement the solution, integration costs, yearly upgrade costs, etc. 4. Usability Is the solution easy and intuitive for non-IT people to use, making sure that you get the most out of it? Does the solution focus on your call center needs? Many solutions have feature overload that are often contra-productive, especially for small and medium size call centers. 5. Risk Every solution carries a success risk within a given work environment, and you should evaluate that risk. If for whatever reason, the solution doesn’t work for you, can you “return it” or “turn it off” with no or limited financial risk? 6. ROI and payback
You purchase a WFM solution to either enhance your ability to grow business or reduce operational costs, or both. So it’s important to clearly understand how long added business or cost savings actually take to recoup the system costs. The sooner the solution begins working for you and the lower the upfront costs, the sooner you realize cost and business operational benefits.
Read More About Checklist for evaluating workforce management software solutions
Accurate forecasting is critical to successfully managing your workforce. In order to meet call demand without under-staffing or over-staffing, you need methods that precisely predicts how many agents are needed to handle the center's contact volume. However, predicting the “future” is challenging. Based on a DMG report in 2010, survey participants listed the following five forecasting challenges: Need to forecast for multiple skill sets Changing business needs negate usefulness of historical volume data Volume driven by external events, not controlled by company Volume is seasonal varies greatly Volume patterns change frequently, making projections difficult
Here are some tips and best practices that might help you: Develop "what if" scenarios to explore how a change in call volume or service level goals during a specific day or week would affect your center. Read more about “ How to forecast special days ” Create regular intra-day forecast updates throughout the day, and calculate a new forecast based on what has already occurred to establish trends that will help you in future decisions. Read more about “ Intra-day forecasting ” Forecast and schedule based on response time and "urgency” of the various channels, such as calls, emails and chat. Read more about “ Forecasting for multiple channels ”
Read More About The importance of accurate call center forecasting
What is real-time adherence? Real-time
agent adherence compares planned agent activity to actual activities
throughout the day, as well as real-time views of forecasted and actual
call volumes, handle times and other key performance indicators.
Managers and supervisors can compare agents' actual activities against
their schedules, review a breakdown of adherence by activity, and
manage exceptions. The also see when agents are available for calls and
when they take their lunches and breaks based on predetermined
schedules. Why is real-time adherence important? A
key component to managing adherence is shrinkage, which is the time
for which agents are paid during times when they are not available to
handle calls. Shrinkage can dramatically affect your center's ability to
meet service levels. Real-time adherence provides you the capabilities
and tools to manage and reduce shrinkage. Monitor agent status in real-time Receive instant alerts for out-of-adherence states View agent exceptions in real-time and approve or deny right away Monitor and analyze key performance indicators and trends to reforecast, reschedule, and adjust staffing Track and compare forecasted and actual center statistics Schedule overtime or time off during high and low call volume situations Evaluate adherence and take action to improve performance
To learn more about this topic, please read this whitepaper "
Strategies for Improving Schedule Adherence
Read More About What is real-time schedule adherence, and why is it important?
With more electronic media such as email, chat, twitter, etc. being used
in customer communication in addition to calls, the question of
forecasting and scheduling resources for those channel becomes more
important. Here are 3 suggestions that might help you better manage
multiple channels in your service center:
1. Forecast and schedule based on response time and "urgency” of the various channels:
2. Two models for forecasting workload for non-call channels:
Use transaction history for each channel: If you have historical numbers, you can forecast based on those: =># of emails, average work time for email, efficiency => 100 emails/day, 5 min per email, 8.3 hours => Apply efficiency factor: 90% => 9.25 hours If you don't have exact numbers, you can use a shrinkage factor: e.g. 10% for email work
3. Potential approaches for scheduling
blended: Agents work all channels as work arrives. The danger of this
is that agents burn out and is therefore not recommended. Banded
work: Schedule time blocks based on agent availability throughout the
day. Find time "pockets" in the core schedule where agents are available
Read More About How to forecast and schedule for multiple channels - calls, emails, chat
How to keep your talent? Make sure you accommodate scheduling needs and provide schedule visibility to your call center team members. Top agents will be more likely to stay loyal and productive because of their understanding of how their needs and your schedule can match up. Here are some ideas and suggestions: Involve your agents: Survey about preferences and personal needs and work with them to match those with the needs of the business. Rank your agents: Creating a schedule by agent rank can be very effective in achieving certain goals of you business (e.g. cost or revenue goals). You can rank agents according to call completion time, call per hour or other performance measures including sales and order size.
Match personality and team: Studies have shown that a good relationship with colleagues drives motivation and performance in call centers. Your schedule should leverage this by teaming up the “right people”.
Read More About Call Center Scheduling Tip #6: Keep top talent on your team
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
Read More About Call Center Scheduling Tip #5: Include all activities into the schedule
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.
Read More About Call Center Scheduling Tip #4: Cross-training & multi-skilled agents
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
Read More About Call Center Scheduling Tips: #3 Agent Adherence
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.
Read More About 7 Tips for more Effective Call Center Scheduling: #1 Flexible Shift Model
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
Read More About Call Center Scheduling Tips: #2 Keep track of your shrinkage
In case you have missed our "cloud-based WFM" webinar, we have posted a short version as a video "Advantages of call center workforce management in the cloud" on YouTube. Learn about the key advantages of a cloud-based workforce management solution for call centers and how it compares to traditional, on-premise workforce management software.
Read More About Call center workforce management software in the cloud
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.
Read More About Call center scheduling - keep track of your shrinkage
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.
Read More About Call center scheduling spreadsheets - yes or no?
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.
Read More About How to schedule full/part time and flex workers in your call center?
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.
Read More About How to make your call center schedule more flexible?
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".
Read More About Real-time schedule adherence in call centers
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.
Read More About How to schedule call and non-call activities
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.
Read More About Agent Adherence – you can only manage what you measure