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Workforce Management

Tips for more effective call center forecasting, scheduling and agent adherence

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Workforce Management Hints, Tips & Best Practices

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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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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How to simplify call center scheduling

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Do you spend too much time on call center scheduling and still don't get the expected results? That's what we hear quite often when we talk to prospective customers. Either the forecast/schedule is not accurate enough, or it takes just too long to work through the spreadsheets and data from various sources, or both. There has to be a better way. There is - please join us for our upcoming webinar "How to simplify your call center scheduling" on May 27 at 10 a.m. PST. and learn how you can simplify your forecasting and scheduling work. We hope to see you.


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Workforce management: Think big for small or medium sized call centers

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It may be hard to believe, but smaller or medium-sized call centers are more difficult to manage because every agent and every call has more effect on the overall performance. If you have a 20 agent center and one agent is not available, you have a “5% resource problem” immediately. Or in call center terms, if your goal is an ASA (Average Speed of Answer) of 30 seconds for a 25 seat center, you might be surprised that the ASA changes to 59 seconds when only one agent is not available to take calls.
So, how can you manage this more efficiently with limited resources? You need to put more emphasis on accurate forecasting; a more flexible schedule and increased schedule adherence, which will have a positive impact on costs, services levels and service quality. With new web- and cloud-based WFM solutions even smaller call centers can take advantage of sophisticated forecasting, more effective scheduling and real-time adherence monitoring without breaking the bank. Think big.


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Call center scheduling: Keep track of your shrinkage

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Many centers 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 of actual call volume with agents’ availability
  • Optimize schedule by including all relevant parameters such as breaks, training, etc.
  • Improve schedule adherence by educating your agents, monitoring performance and providing incentives.

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How to streamline supervisor / agent communication

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Lately, we are getting more inquiries from people looking for a solution that makes communication, schedule changes and exception planning between agents and supervisors easier, especially across multiple locations. Here are some key capabilities that our web-based solution Monet Anywhere provides to address this:

Manage schedule changes: Agents can request changes to their schedule. These requests immediately alert the agent's supervisor, who can review the impact of the change and approve or decline the request. If approved, the change immediately affects the schedule. Supervisors can also request schedule changes for agents, in an identical manner with supervisor and agent roles reversed.

Open shifts for bidding: The solution presents unfilled shifts to qualified agents on which to bid, allowing them to volunteer for shifts normally outside their desired working hours. Supervisors can review bids made for a shift and select the agent they wish to assign.

Multiple locations and home-base agents: Agents can securely access the solution through a web browser. Agent and supervisor communication will get easier and more efficient especially across multiple locations and remote/home-based agents.

Please contact us if you would like to learn more.


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How to select a Workforce Management Solution that fits your needs

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We have compiled a list of questions that should be helpful when selecting a workforce management solution for a small to medium sized call center:

Performance and key capabilities

  • Does it accurately forecast call volumes by leveraging data from your ACD system?
  • Can you easily run “what-if” scenarios based on shift patterns, skill levels, exceptions, etc.?
  • Can you make intra-day changes to forecast and schedule based on changing call volumes?
  • Can you track and monitor agent adherence?
  • Can you create performance management reports?

Time and resources to implement

  • How long does it take to implement the solution from start to finish?
  • How is it deployed? Do I need to buy and implement hardware or can I just use it over the web?
  • What resources (money, people, etc.) do I need to implement the solution?

Total cost of using the solution

  • Upfront costs: What are the total upfront costs for software, hardware, integration and implementation?
  • Ongoing costs: What are the ongoing costs such as subscription, maintenance, support, upgrade fees?
  • Hidden costs: Are there any “hidden” costs you should account for? (IT resources, integration costs, licenses, upgrade costs, etc.)

Usability

  • Is the solution easy and intuitive for non-IT people to use?
  • Does the solution focus on your specific call center needs?
  • What features do you really need?

ROI and financial risk

  • How much is the upfront investments? The higher, the lower the immediate ROI.
  • How long does it take until I can start using the solution to realize the benefits?
  • What is the financial risk if the solution doesn’t meet your needs? How much does it cost you to "return" it?

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Are you monitoring schedule adherence in your call center?

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In December 2009, we did a workforce management survey and asked call centers (non customers) about their practices regarding forecasting and scheduling. One question was related to schedule adherence. We were surprised that 50% did not monitor schedule adherence. Lack of schedule adherence causes inefficiencies such as increased shrinkage and declining service levels. Here are some best practices and consideration for managing adherence in your center:

  • Inform and Educate: Agents need to understand the relevance of schedule adherence, how a mere 10 minutes here and there impacts other agents and the entire call center performance.
  • Measure and Manage: Measure and track adherence using workforce management tools and solutions, tracking adherence in real-time and running reports. Share these adherence reports with your agents and discuss how they are doing. It is important to give regular feedback regarding adherence statistics.
  • Provide Incentives: Reward agents that adhere to their schedule (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.
Over the next weeks, we will share more survey results - stay tuned. However, if you are interested in learning more right now, please go to www.monetsoftware.com and send us a note.

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Are scheduling spreadsheets a low cost alternative?

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As a small or medium-sized call center you might think you can get by with scheduling and managing your staff using spreadsheets. Maybe you have avoided workforce management software because of the large upfront investment that is associated with traditional premised based WFM software vendors. However, with new subscription-based and fully hosted offerings you might ask yourself, if continuing to use spreadsheets is the best or lowest cost choice. You need to keep in mind that inefficient forecasts and schedules will cost your center every day. Take a look at the following questions and see if you might discover an opportunity for improvement in your center:

  • Can you monitor and track schedule adherence? If agents are out of adherence for 15 minutes each day in a 25 agent center, that can add up to staffing costs of $23,000 per year.
  • Can you take advantage of your call history? The use of detailed call history data and patterns might help you improve accuracy of your forecast and your schedule.
  • Can you "build-in" skill-based routing into your schedule? Having multi-skill agents in overlapping groups as part of your schedule will help improve productivity.
  • How do you handle exceptions and agent preferences? The ability to handle exceptions and personal preferences as part of your schedule will motivate your team.

So, take a look at your call center operations and staffing to see if presumably low cost scheduling spreadsheets actually cost you more than you think.


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Advantages of cloud-based workforce management software

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We often get asked about the difference between cloud-based, web-based, hosted and SaaS-based workforce management software and how it compares to the on-premise software model. In order to provide some guidance on this, we decided to offer a webinar about this topic: The 5 Advantages of Cloud-based Workforce Management Software. If you are interested in more details or have any questions please let us know or register for the webinar, which will be held on Wednesday, March 17 at 9 a.m. PST.


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Welcome to the Call Center Workforce Management blog

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Welcome to our new blog about Call Center Workforce Management. We at Monet Software are dedicated to making workforce management, forecasting and scheduling easier and more efficient for call centers. With our new blog, we would like to share ideas, tips, insights, best practices, industry and technology trends with you. We hope that this blog proves to be useful for call center executives, managers and supervisors in their daily work. 

The Monet Software team


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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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