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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

Strategies and Tips for Back Office Workforce Management

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Workforce Management (WFM) software has played a vital role in helping contact centers improve customer service. Those that utilize WFM have discovered how it has boosted the accuracy of forecasts and schedules, and calculates necessary resources based on historical data and other variables that would be very difficult to assess any other way.

However, contact centers are also impacted by such back-office functions as sales, marketing and shipping, which may fall outside the purview of the company’s WFM solution. But that doesn’t have to be the case.

More companies are now discovering the benefits of WFM for the back office, which delivers more precise data and analytics on typical back office operations. Now, it’s possible to achieve the same level of transparency and statistical accuracy on any manual tasks, processes and work times. Please also see our previous post on this topic.

When the back office is in sync with the front office, the result is a streamlined operation that is better for management, contact center agents and customers.

Want some tips for back office WFM strategies? Check out this article by Call Centre Helper, which offers more information on how to set up a consolidated view of all functions, and how to involve key personnel throughout the organization in this effort.

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Tips for Proactive and Reactive Contact Center Management

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Precise planning can make the difference between contact centers operating at optimal efficiency, and those with personnel and resources that are not properly utilized.

A proactive approach is necessary to formulate such detailed plans, especially when working with a workforce management solution such as Monet’s WFM Live. Here are 3 tips that should help make staffing more efficient and reliable:

  • Plan outbound calls for case management as non-call work
  • Run roster performance simulations several days in advance 
  • Hire flexible part-time and full-time agents
When it’s Important to be Reactive?
So does that mean being a reactive analyst is somehow less important? There are times when it is vital to ensure schedule coverage and streamlined workflow. Once again, having the right technology in place can make all the difference.

How can you spot an effective, reactive analyst? He or she is the one who:
  • Creates employee templates for standard agent types (such as customer service 9-5, cross-skilled overnight, escalations & level 2 afternoon shift) to build a roster that achieves different coverage patterns quickly
  • Schedules meetings in advance with a meeting planner function during times when coverage is acceptable  
  • Facilitates schedule change requests and agent shift swaps 
  • Creates roster shifts when there are coverage gaps for agents to bid on. Agents submit requests which supervisors can approve, to fill and re-balance  the “required vs. assigned” figures 
All of these services are more easily and accurately provided with the right tools. Find out more about how Monet can help managers and analysts achieve their service goals.


To get more tips and best practices, please contact us or check out our workforce management resource library.

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Workforce Management for the Back Office

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Give almost any company an unlimited budget, and it will probably succeed. Unfortunately, few companies can rely on such generous resources. The challenge for today’s businesses, including contact centers, is to get the most out of what’s available.

Contact center managers have become experts at doing more with less, and prioritizing goals. This means keeping the primary focus on customer service in the front office. Too often, that leaves the back office, which also performs several vital functions, at a disadvantage.

Is it possible to bring the same tools that benefit the front office to the back office, and stay within budget?

Workforce Management is the Key
Fortunately, the same workforce management (WFM) solution that has made your front office more efficient can have the same impact on back office tasks. Workforce Management helps contact centers better align and manage their resources so that service levels continue to be met, while costs are controlled.

Back-office tasks are often manual and complex, making it difficult to automate, manage and forecast workload. With WFM, contact centers can improve service levels. And with WFM in the cloud, the company further reduces both costs and headaches, as it avoids the upfront expenses and IT requirements of traditional workforce management software.

With workforce management for the back office, it’s possible to:

  • Improve forecast accuracy of manual back-office tasks and activities
  • Deliver more efficient resource planning and scheduling to consistently meet service levels and control costs
  • Increase employee productivity by monitoring adherence, backlog and other metrics in real-time, allowing for more immediate actions
  • Track and analyze key metrics to optimize service quality and back-office performance
Let’s take a closer look at what is possible with the right tools in place and extending contact center workforce management to the back office:

Forecasting
Use back office WFM to run simulations that will 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
WFM can incorporate all call types and other 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

Real-time updates are as critical here as they are in front office management. WFM can help to require and assign agents instantly, and display surpluses and shortages for each time period of the day.

Exception Planning
While exception planning is often a challenge, there are workforce management solutions with integrated exception calendars to simplify this task. Now managers will always know when agents are off, or in training meetings.

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.

All of these capabilities can make a critical difference in back office operations. But while adherence was previously referenced, it deserves closer attention, as staffing remains the single biggest cost facing any contact center. Schedule adherence in real time allows managers to compare planned agent activity to actual activities throughout the day, to determine whether staffing decisions were appropriate for any given shift.

When every minute counts, WFM can monitor and record the real-time status of agents in the call center, and deliver alerts when agents are out of adherence, so schedules can be adjusted accordingly.

Choosing a Back Office WFM Solution
Different contact centers may have different priorities, but (in addition to those previously described) here are some of the attributes that should be part of your next workforce management solution.

Multi-Channel Efficiencies
The same WFM solution that forecasts, schedules and assigns resources for your front office should provide the same functionality to the back office.

Clear and Organized Dashboards
It should be possible to track and monitor key performance metrics for both front office and back office from one dashboard. Doing so delivers greater insights in resource needs and allocation, resulting in better customer service.

Intra-Day Visibility

Visibility into backlogs, workforce availability, employee activities and efficiencies throughout the day makes it easier for a contact center manager to take a proactive approach in managing back-office activities.

Integration

The system should easily integrate with the contact center’s ACD or PBX systems, through pre-built adaptors. Adherence and call history should be enabled when these systems are able to talk to each other in real time.

WFM in the Cloud
Compared with traditional workforce management software, a cloud-based WFM solution allows companies to:

Reduce upfront costs: Eliminate the significant investment just to get started, which would typically require the purchase of hardware, databases, and software licenses, as well as additional costs for installation and IT staff to support the system. Cloud-based WFM saves both time and money because there are no infrastructure costs.

Get started faster: Rather than having to ramp-up to a six- to twelve-month (or more) implementation, WFM solutions enable companies to start managing their workforce in the cloud within a matter of weeks.

Connect anywhere:  With the cloud, WFM can be accessed anywhere—whether on the other side of town or the other side of the world, with a computer and a standard web browser.

Minimize ongoing costs: Cloud-based WFM software doesn’t just save money during the implementation phase. Contact centers save time and money in the long term as well. The WFM firm supports all maintenance of the system, including free software upgrades and troubleshooting. Companies also benefit from the ability to quickly customize or add modules via a single, web-based interface.

Pay-as-you-go: Contact centers pay only for the capacity and infrastructure that are actually used, typically based on number of users. This usage-based, pay-as-you-go subscription pricing approach saves money while also delivering the flexibility to quickly scale to manage the demands of changing contact center sizes.

Conclusion
Back office workforce management offers the benefit of extending front office operational efficiency into back office processing environments. It automates manual processes, improves forecast accuracy, enables managers to view and manage resource capacity and adherence to scheduled tasks, and empowers employees to self-manage scheduling and time-off requests.

Please talk to us if you would like to learn more about back office workforce management.

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Workforce Management for the Helpdesk

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Accurate forecasting, scheduling and staffing for a Helpdesk can be a more difficult challenge than doing so for standard contact center traffic.

Many calls to contact center agents cover basic ordering, returning, questions etc. that can be handled in a few minutes. But the typical helpdesk call may incorporate several complex activities that must be handled by different people with different skill sets.

An effective workforce management solution is the key to making a helpdesk run smoothly and efficiently, so cases get closed as quickly as possible with a positive outcome.

Forecasting, scheduling and assigning activities more effectively can optimize case resolution. WFM makes this possible. Managers can match available resources to the specific requirements of each case. By integrating workforce optimization in the WFM solution, case and activity assignment is further optimized, and managers will always be confident that their resources are being allocated in the best way possible.

Best of all, the data is available in real-time, so managers will always have insight into case handling and activity assignments as they occur. Make adjustments as needed, whether that involves adding or reassigning agents, to improve turnaround time.

A helpdesk is there to take on the tougher challenges. With a Workforce Management system in place that support helpdesks, even the most difficult cases can be resolved in a way that customers will appreciate.

You can learn more about Workforce Management for Helpdesks on our website, or just contact us and we are happy to show you how it works.


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Planning for the Unexpected In the Contact Center

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“Planning for the unexpected” may sound like an oxymoron, but it’s an important aspect of contact center management.

It’s possible to do because activities that could be classified as unexpected would not be surprising to a manager – breaks, vacations, training sessions, days off. The only aspect of these activities that is unexpected is when they might happen. Planning for them is made much easier by utilizing the intra-day management and exception management capabilities of a workforce management solution.

Intra-day Management
Using a graphical display of agent schedules, a manager can drag and drop breaks, lunches and other exceptions to adjust the contact center schedule as needed. Real-time updates are instantly recorded, and any surpluses or shortages are displayed for any part of the day. When the unexpected occurs, managers will instantly know the best way to react without sacrificing customer service. 

Exception Planning
The best workforce management solutions, such as Monet WFM Live, provide a fully integrated Exception Planner, with the ability to schedule exceptions such as vacations, training meetings, jury duty, etc. These can be scheduled far into the future or recorded as recurring exceptions.

While many of these activities can be documented days or weeks in advance, the Exception Planner also supports mid-day exceptions as they occur, taking them into account while choosing shifts and scheduling breaks.


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Intra-day Workforce Management? It’s as Easy as “Drag and Drop”

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Wouldn't it be nice to check your contact center status and quickly review agent activities on a single color-coded dashboard? If you see green, you know everything is as it should be. If you see red, you know that action has to be taken, and you are then able to make real-time schedule changes that have an immediate impact on contact center performance. 

Thankfully, this isn’t one of those scenarios like “Wouldn’t it be nice if chocolate was good for you?” In this case such quick and easy status checks and schedule adjustments are certainly possible, with a technology solution like Monet WFM Live. 

When changes need to be made, the graphical schedule generated by Monet WFM Live allows managers to drag and drop breaks, lunches and other changes. The real-time updates provide an up-to-the-minute picture for agent surpluses and shortages throughout the day. 

In addition, reports, organized as easy to read charts, provide managers with the data necessary to create individualized shifts for a particular agent (based on exceptional skills, special needs or other variables), as well as extensive employee-level configuration options for non-call work assignment. 


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How to be a Proactive Workforce Management Analyst

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Proactive contact center managers focus on staying ahead of the curve. That means careful, strategic planning, calculating all of the variables and delivering accurate forecasts and schedules that are flexible enough to accommodate last minute changes.

Sounds like a challenge, but with Monet WFM, the process becomes easier, more precise and more flexible. Managers now have the capability to track intra-day trends for immediate adjustments, and for optimal schedule creation, which helps contact centers consistently meet service levels and control costs.

Here are a few additional tips that will help managers striving to become proactive.

  • Enter time off exceptions, meetings and training before the roster is generated to close gaps in roster assignments or shift placement; but if you must enter them afterward, the WFM system can automatically optimize them in a way that reduces manager overhead
  • Impromptu training sessions are easier to schedule with little to no impact by using the meeting planner function
  • Wider lunch and break windows are made possible by flexible shift profiles
  • Enter the maximum allowable time in the Exception Calendar/Time off Manager – this provides more visibility for agents and prevents schedulers from over-committing to time-off, which could impact contact center operation
These and other tips make staffing more efficient and more reliable through better results for agents, supervisors and administrators.

Can Monet help you get more from your WFM solution? Contact our Customer Success team and let’s talk.

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Workforce Management Software: Cloud or Hosted?

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As many companies have discovered in recent years, the Cloud model of delivery has numerous advantages over the traditional hosted or ASP models of the past. These offerings are often confused but, not addressing the fundamental differences, have a huge impact on your call center business.

The traditional hosted model is simply hosting a client server or web application on a server at the vendor’s or 3rd party data center. The vendor then provides an application that was not originally designed to be hosted, over the web, with a few changes, and delivers it to each customer via a single, dedicated server. It lacks a multi-tenant architecture and requires separate servers and installations for each customer. Much more costly and less scalable, it also requires support for multiple releases, which is very resource intensive. Typically, vendors who sell on-premise software may offer a hosted model for on-demand options and sometimes misleadingly call it SaaS or Cloud.

The Cloud-based model uses a totally new multi-tenant architecture that was designed to efficiently and securely deliver web-based applications at the lowest possible cost. It focuses on fast set up, low operating costs through shared services, highest security for web-based deployment and high performance and scalability through instant and seamless scaling of computer resources (also called “elastic cloud computing”). This ensures available computing capacity when you need it and only when you need it, at the lowest possible cost.

Both models are offered through subscriptions and often seem to be similar, but they are not. In previous blog post about the true cloud we list key questions you should ask vendors before making a decision.


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How effective is your call center forecasting and scheduling process?

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Forecasting and scheduling are vital components in the success of every call center management. Achieving consistent results requires a little art and a little science, but is impossible without concrete data.

For decades, that data was gathered through spreadsheets, and would take hours to compile. Even then, the results were not always accurate, or flexible enough to accommodate last minute changes or other staffing issues.

An automated workforce management (WFM) and optimization (WFO) solution can help you to implement Best Practices. You can easily improve forecast accuracy and in turn, optimize schedule assignment, making sure all the necessary resources are always in place. An integrated WFO solution allows a manager to check KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) against historical data. In a typical call center a manager will ask such questions as:

“When I see that my agents’ Average Talk Time has exceeded the target, does this result in more abandons and a poor service level?”

“If a longer talk time is causing more abandons, are there agents that are still able meet all of their quality monitoring goals while keeping a low talk time?”

By analyzing data in an integrated WFO tool, a manager can then reference what processes allowed some agents to have a lower talk time while meeting their quality targets, and then train the rest of the workforce using these processes.  At that point, a lower Average Talk Time goal may be set for the entire center, resulting in happier customers getting their calls answered more quickly and less overall abandons.

“Call Center Forecasting and Scheduling: Best Practices” details how WFO improves the likelihood of creating reliable forecasts and accurate schedules. There are also sections on how WFM impacts agent productivity, and which criteria are most important when selecting a WFM solution.

Click here to download Call Center Forecasting and Scheduling: Best Practices.


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Can You Reduce Contact Center Staffing Costs by 20%?

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Staffing is the most expensive resource in the call center budget, so any improvement in productivity can have a significant impact.

What if there was a way to cut your staffing costs by as much as 20%, while also reducing the amount of time you now devote to forecasting and scheduling?

It’s possible – just by switching from spreadsheets to a Workforce Management solution.

Spreadsheets were a great idea for call center staffing, forecasting and scheduling – last century. Today, there are faster, easier ways to handle these vital functions that are also more accurate, more agent-friendly, and more economical for call centers of all sizes.

With a WFM solution such as Monet WFM Live, managers have the flexibility to adjust to unexpected events, manage exceptions more efficiently, and reduce shrinkage by as much as 15 minutes per agent per day.

WFM Live offers a number of additional benefits as well, including:

•    Easier skill-based scheduling
•    Real-time adherence monitoring and analysis
•    Less time required for scheduling
•    Improved service levels

Isn’t it Time For a Better Solution?
Monet WFM Live represents a quantum leap forward from spreadsheets, at a cost within reach of any size call center. We invite you to watch a short workforce management video so you can see yourself how the solution might help you reduce costs in your contact center.


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Is it Time for a Workforce Management Health Check?

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Does your workforce management system provide all the benefits you need at a reasonable price? If it doesn’t, it may be time to take a closer look at your solution, and if there is something that can be done to bring it back to optimum efficiency. In other words, perhaps it’s time for a check-up that will provide answers to these questions.

1. Are you using the latest version?
Each new WFM product adds additional capabilities, improves existing functionality, and corrects issues with previous versions. With traditional software, these upgrades can also be expensive, which is why many companies delay implementation. But call centers that get their workforce management in the cloud will always be on the most recent version, as it is automatically installed at no additional cost.

2. How do employees work with this system?
WFM is designed to make the agent’s job easier, but if personnel are not properly trained, or if the system is too complicated, your call center may not be getting the most out of its potential.

3. What are its ongoing costs?
For years, the only WFM solutions worth acquiring were those that also required hardware upgrades, ongoing IT support, and yearly (even monthly) costs for maintenance and operation. Call centers still in this situation must make a decision on maximizing their investment, or perhaps switching to the more economical option of WFM in the cloud.

4. How have our needs changed?
Call centers are still evolving into contact centers. Some may expand, some may contract based on other factors. It’s vital that WFM scales with the needs of the business.

5. Is it delivering as promised?
Call centers step up to a WFM solution to access real-time metrics and reports that impact forecasting, scheduling and day-to-day operation. Is the system providing the information you need to make better decisions?


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Is Your Workforce Management Software on the Most Current Version?

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Companies that make quality products are always striving to make them better, and that’s a good thing. But when the customers for these products have to spend a lot of time and money to get these enhancements implemented, that can put a strain on a company’s resources.


With traditional, on-premises workforce management (WFM) software, vendors always seem to be rolling out new versions, fixing bugs and upgrading features. But contact centers have to pay for these new versions, through maintenance fees, re-customization projects, re-integration projects, IT resources and sometimes hardware upgrades, and even if it’s a free fix to a problem, it can disrupt productivity and result in costly downtime.

As a result, many contact centers may not be working with the latest version of their software system, preferring to postpone another complex, costly upgrade.

Of course, if upgrades were free, automatically implement over night and did not disrupt the workday, there wouldn’t be any holdouts. And that is exactly how upgrades are delivered with Workforce Management in the cloud. When they are ready to deploy, it happens automatically, during the overnight hours, and without adding a penny to the monthly subscription fee paid by the contact center.

Those not in the cloud might say, “We’ll get there eventually.” But in the meantime, how much productivity may be sacrificed with a system that is out of date?

Also, consider the advantage to call center users when upgrades are introduced incrementally, so any new functionality is more easily digested and soon becomes routine. Contrast this with a call center that schedules major upgrades every 2 or 3 years, which often require a much steeper learning curve to get up to speed on the new system.

These are just a few of the many reasons cloud solutions are set to grow six times faster than all software in 2014, according to IDC. But if you shop around for cloud vendors, please make sure you don't fall for a WFM cloud pretender - click the link to learn more.  

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Forecasting and Scheduling When Call Volume is Inconsistent

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At some call centers, periods of call volume stability are followed by days or weeks where the numbers will fluctuate more noticeably. And that’s the best-case scenario.

With other contact centers attached to companies where new special offers, seasonal promotions and other aggressive marketing tactics are employed, fluctuations are more commonplace and even more difficult to predict. How can a manager create an accurate forecast and schedule in these circumstances? Here are 5 tips that might help.

1. Analyze call history
Very few events in a call center are completely unique. Whatever is happening this week or next week has happened before, and by using 1-2 years of call history, it is easier to anticipate the impact of an approaching event, based on what happened when a similar event occurred previously.

2. Run scenarios
Forecasting simulations based on 2-3 potential outcomes can help managers analyze routing policies and incoming call volume. That leads to more accurate forecasts and schedules.

3. Include all activities
Call-related activities are the primary data source, and it’s important to get a handle on incoming call load, average handle time, etc. But non-call related activities such as breaks, training sessions and meetings must also be considered – something that is much easier to do with an automated system (as opposed to spreadsheets).

4. Track internal and external events.
You know about the big sale coming up, and what that is likely to do to call volume. You can see the holiday approaching on the calendar and can foresee its impact by what happened last year. But there are other factors that will be unique to the day for which you are forecasting and scheduling. For instance, if the weather is supposed to be bad more customers might shop from home, which would require more call center resources.

5. Stay flexible
The more rigid the schedule, the more likely it will fall short of expectations. Built-in flexibility allows managers to be prepared for unforeseen fluctuations.


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The Limitations of Call Forecasting in Excel Spreadsheets

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How accurate are your call center forecasts? If they’re consistently missing the mark, then chances are the business is constantly dealing with overstaffing or understaffing, customer service issues and budgeting problems.
Thus, forecasting becomes one of the most significant daily challenges on a manager’s schedule. But it’s a challenge that becomes manageable with a workforce management (WFM) solution that handles much of the processing and calculations automatically.

Unfortunately, many call centers are still working with Excel spreadsheets to create forecasts. And these spreadsheets simply do not have the same functionality as WFM solutions. Below is a list of key points, but if you would like to get the full story, please download the whitepaper: The Real Cost of Spreadsheet Based Forecasting and Scheduling.

What aren’t you getting with spreadsheets?

  • Call volume history – this can play a significant role in determining forecasts and schedules, and WFM delivers it automatically.
  • Simulations – by running automated simulations, managers can discover flaws in a forecast and correct them before it’s too late. Excel does not provide that capability.
  • Coverage of other customer contact points – today’s call centers are really contact centers, accessible not just by phone but email and online chat as well. Forecasting staff needs for all of these channels is difficult with spreadsheets, but manageable with WFM.
  • Forecasting by call type – predicting the types of calls coming in makes it easier to staff a shift with the agents best qualified to handle them, and to make sure you don’t have too many or too few at the same time. Not possible with Excel, but simple with WFM.
For some contact centers with very limited call volume fluctuation, a spreadsheet may suffice. But how many of these businesses experience the same call flows all the time? Better to be prepared for whatever tomorrow has in store, with an automated workforce management solution.

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Workforce Management Software vs. Scheduling Spreadsheets

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“That’s the way we’ve always done it.”

How often do you hear these words in an office, when managers would rather stay with what is familiar than change to something that will make their lives easier and their business run more efficiently?

Why else would so many contact centers still use spreadsheets for scheduling, rather than switch to an automated workforce management (WFM) solution? The advantages to doing so are many – and will be obvious from the first day with the new system in place:

  • Flexibility – Spreadsheets are fine for fixed schedules, but what happens when the schedule refuses to stay fixed (which, let’s face it, is most days)? With WFM, it’s easy to manage flexibility with start, end and break times. Result? Less idle agents, and better customer service.
  • Skill-based Call Routing – Customers appreciate when their calls are received by the agents most qualified to handle them. Inclusion of skills is handled automatically by WFM, so it’s easier to fill each shift with fewer agents, but with those who have the requisite specialties to handle every customer encounter. Spreadsheets can’t keep up.
  • Tracking Adherence – With a spreadsheet a few limited spot checks are possible, but WFM delivers real-time adherence monitoring and analysis. That results in lower shrinkage and improved service levels.
  • Exceptions – They happen every day, but they complicate the spreadsheet process to the point where most requests will be turned down. Agents at a call center with WFM will find their exception considerations handled more graciously. That means happier agents – and happier agents mean happier customers.
  • Saving Time – With WFM, managers can save as much as 25% off the time they devote to creating schedules with spreadsheets. That’s 2 hours from every 8-hour day.
Spreadsheets simply cannot compete. If you’re still using them, isn’t it time for a change? If you are still not convinced watch this video about a call center supervisor explaining the difference.

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Call Center Management Tips and Tools

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There are innumerable responsibilities inherent in call center management, but the most significant is the delivery of satisfactory customer service. This is the only basis on which customers will assess their experience, and figures prominently in both client retention and the acquisition of new business.

Thus, one of the manager’s primary tasks is to create a model that correlates all of the call center’s operations that affect the customer experience, to best determine the drivers for effective service delivery. In most cases the result will list three major areas:

•    Call Center Personnel
•    Call Center Processes
•    Call Center Technology

While each of these categories is important in and of itself, call center management also explores whether they interact in a complementary manner, or if there is a disconnect that can result in service interruption. The most sophisticated technology will not be as effective without agents who know how to use it properly; conversely, the most qualified and courteous agent can be limited by technology that does not process calls efficiently.

Call Center Personnel
A call center agent is on the front line of the company’s customer service effort. Thus it falls to the call center manager to make sure that agents receive the proper training, are monitored regularly and receive additional coaching as needed.

Once qualified, motivated agents are in place, another key component of call center management is retaining their services, in an industry where high turnover is all too frequent. The decisions made by a manager and human resources team will have direct impact on this effort, particularly in how agents are empowered to resolve customer issues, and how much freedom they are allotted within the forecasting and scheduling practices of the call center.

In general, organizations that have fewer empowered employees have higher turnover. This suggests that agents prefer having more responsibility, without being directed by company policy to transfer a high percentage of calls to a specialist or supervisor. If training is implemented correctly, agents should feel comfortable dealing with a broad range of customer issues.

Turnover is to be avoided not only from a customer service perspective, but also because of the higher costs associated with recruiting and training new personnel. Call centers with higher average tenures tend to also have lower turnover. These numbers are also lower in organizations that offer opportunities for advancement and preferred schedule shifts.

And while money is also a factor, turnover is impacted more by work environment than compensation. Call center management must take into account whether the call center is a pleasant, professional and supportive place to work.

Call Center Processes
Processes specify, in simplest terms, how things will be done. A partial list of these functions would include:

•    Forecasting and scheduling
•    Problem resolution
•    Root cause analysis
•    Scripting and call guidelines
•    Reporting
•    Agent performance management
•    Hiring and training of agents
•    Coaching and agent development
•    Compliance with government and industry regulations
•    Quality assurance


It is the manager’s responsibility to implement internal processes that effectively utilize all of a call center’s resources and operations.

While “process” implies a system that is put in place and then demands rigid adherence, managers must be aware of shifts in needs or attitudes and be willing to change accordingly. Such flexibility can affect customer satisfaction and employee turnover.

Call Center Technology
The right call center workforce solution, perhaps more than any other component in a center’s operations, can deliver the customer service results that a manager strives to achieve. It has a profound and direct link to both the effectiveness of employees and the efficiency of every call center process. The right technology can make service delivery faster and more flexible, while achieving more consistent results day after day, month after month, and year after year.

Investment in new or upgraded technology should be made with the customer’s needs in mind. Will this investment impact capacity? Will it shorten average wait time? Will it route calls to the most qualified agents? Will it deliver the call recording and monitoring capabilities necessary for effective coaching and training?

System complexity must also be taken into account, as the capabilities of sophisticated technology can be limited by an agent’s ability to understand them and utilize these assets to their full potential.

For smaller call centers with limited budgets and resources it’s imperative to select the right technology solution that is both cost-effective, and also provides the same benefits and advantages traditionally enjoyed by those with larger IT budgets.

Cloud computing offers companies the option of transferring their IT operations into a virtual environment, where they can develop, deploy, and manage applications, and pay only for the time and capacity that they need. For a smaller call center, this means the ability to significantly lower upfront costs, while maintaining the option of scaling up as needed.

There are environmental benefits to cloud computing as well. Information can be stored in a climate that minimizes energy usage (and lowers energy costs). And because servers can be shared in a virtual environment, the result is fewer servers and a reduction in the power required to operate and cool them. This helps to minimize a company’s carbon footprint.

The Never-Ending Quest
Once personnel, processes and technology are in place, call center management demands that each be reviewed to maintain standards and improve customer satisfaction. Doing so will require the gathering of both objective data (measurement of KPIs) and subjective data (feedback from customers through surveys and focus groups, as well as quality monitoring).

The closed-loop structure offers a guideline for quality management, and helps the manager to establish links between technology, processes and personnel, so that everyone is working from the same approved procedures, and with the same goals in mind.

Step One: Formulate the Plan
What do you, as the manager, want the call center to achieve? What are the goals for the next three months, six months, or year? Write them down. Solicit input from agents.

Step Two: Create a Schedule
Executing the plan will require scheduling and staffing decisions that will impact the customer experience. Having the right number of agents on every shift, based on the day, the time of day, or other factors (data collected by a call recording software system can guide these decisions) should make it easier for customers to have their calls answered without prolonged delays.

Step Three: Gather Data
Once the plan has been implemented, review the results after a sufficient period of time has elapsed. Measure the performance indicators cited.

Step Four: Close the Loop
With this data in hand, analyze and explore additional opportunities to improve customer service and retention. Then formulate a new plan based on these objectives, and repeat the process. With each journey around the loop, the call center delivers better service and better results.

Conclusion
Call center managers face enormous pressure to provide excellent customer service. The keys to success in this endeavor are hiring and nurturing qualified personnel, introducing processes that are efficient and effective, and acquiring the technology that expedites call center processes and makes it easier for employees to reach their full potential. If you have questions about call center technology, please contact us or watch any of these videos to learn more.


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5 Tips for Getting More out of Workforce Management Software

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Workforce management (WFM) software provides the best means of optimizing personnel resources through more accurate forecasting and scheduling. Here are 5 tips that can help call center managers get the most out of their workforce management system.

1. Include all Activities 
The more specific the plan, the better the chance of its success. That’s why it is imperative to include meetings, breaks, coaching sessions and all non-call activities into WFM calculations. To learn more about this, please read our whitepaper Seven Tips for more Effective Scheduling.

2. Continuous Learning
A WFM software vendor will provide initial training during installation. However, managers should request additional information based on the specific needs and objectives of the call center. With a quality system like Monet WFM, there will always be ways that the system can be further leveraged to achieve better results.

3. Think Outside the Box
The old adage about expecting the unexpected certainly applies to call centers, given the high turnover in agent personnel and the abundance of unforeseen factors that can throw a schedule into turmoil. While a manager cannot anticipate every possibility, use the WFM system to run “What if?” scenarios, analyze the results and then forecast, schedule and plan accordingly.

4. Work in Real-Time:
Customer communication happens in real-time, so the WFM system should also be used in real-time to its fullest potential (for adherence, alerts, dashboards, etc.) to ensure optimal performance. Now, when changes inevitably occur throughout the day, managers can respond more quickly. Fore more information, please download our whitepaper Strategies for Improved Agent Adherence.

5. Include Agents in Planning Process
Agent preferences should also be considered and incorporated whenever possible into forecasts and schedules. Many WFM systems, such as the one offered by Monet, also offer an easily accessible and streamlined procedure for shift swapping and bidding, that can motivate agents to better performance.

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Cutting Contact Center Costs by 20% – in 2 Easy Steps

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If your contact center is still using spreadsheets, you might lose money. Two of the key drivers for cost savings are schedule adherence and optimization of daily agent rituals like breaks and lunches. Spreadsheets are extremely limited in the impact they can have on these crucial challenges.

Schedule Adherence

With spreadsheets only limited spot-checking is possible. When you can’t monitor adherence in real time, there is bound to be higher shrinkage and either over- or understaffing. Result? Missed service levels, and wasted resources. By switching from spreadsheets to workforce management software, real time adherence and monitoring is possible. That restores service levels to projected levels, while reducing shrinkage by as much as 15 minutes per agent day. You can even get alerts on your mobile device if agents are out-of-adherence based on custom thresholds. 

Optimizing Downtime
How managers schedule lunches and approved breaks, and how well agents adhere to the time allowed for them, can have a tremendous impact on staffing costs and productivity. At most call centers, these shrinkage rates fall somewhere between 20% and 35% with an effective WFM solution, depending on the size of the business. And when shrinkage rates fall, productivity and profits increase.

When workforce management software is deployed in a way that increases schedule adherence and optimizes downtime, the savings to an average call center can add up to 10% or even 20%.

Find out more in this customer case study and learn how a contact center of a credit union reduced costs and improved service levels with workforce management software.


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100 Agents and Still Using Spreadsheets for Scheduling?

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Many small and midsized contact centers still rely on spreadsheets for daily forecasting and scheduling. It’s an imperfect system that could be improved by workforce management (WFM) software.

However, what’s surprising is that some larger contact centers, those with 100 agents or more, are also still using spreadsheets for scheduling. Here, the inefficiencies of the system are multiplied, resulting in much lower customer service (under-staffing) and higher costs (over-staffing) - often both, based on the time of day.

When an increase as low as 1% in productivity can significantly impact the contact center budget, it is imperative to identify areas where efficiency can be improved.

One of these areas is flexibility – the limitations of a spreadsheet result in fixed schedules that can produce higher shrinkage and overstaffing. But with WFM it is easier to manage start times, end times and breaks with an ease of flexibility that dramatically improves service levels.

Managers can also consult more detailed and accurate call histories with WFM, resulting in better forecasts. Scheduling is also faster – some managers can save as much as 25% of the time once devoted to filling in spreadsheets – that time can now be used for additional agent training or to attend to other matters.

There are many additional advantages as well, from reducing the number of agents needed for a particular shift to improving agent morale by making it easier to match employees with the hours and shifts they prefer.

Find out more in the Monet whitepaper “The Cost of Spreadsheet Based Forecasting & Scheduling.”


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Six Steps to Improved Call Center Staffing

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Of all the factors involved in operating a successful, cost-efficient call center, staffing may be the most significant. Out of every dollar spent in call center costs, about 75 cents is related to labor. That makes these decisions pivotal to the operation of the business.

While different call centers have different priorities and different functions, the challenge of staffing remains relatively consistent regardless of size or specialty. These six steps can help a call center manager successfully traverse the staffing minefield.

1. Gather and Analyze Data


The most accurate and reliable guide to staffing, as anyone who studies workforce management can tell you, is to look back at past performance and call center history. Review the reports generated by the automatic call distributor for data on average handle time, number of incoming calls and other key performance indicators.

To create a staffing schedule for, say, the first week of April, the obvious place to start is with the data for the first week of April of the previous year, and the year before if that information is available. The more historical data used, the better the chance of an accurate forecast. Variations should also be considered – where does Easter fall this year? Will that impact call volume? Will more students be on spring break?

When consulting previous weeks/months/years of information, the two numbers that will most strongly impact forecasts are call volume and average handle time, either calculated per hour or per half-hour.

2. Crunch the Numbers for a Workload Calculation


There are three methods typically employed by call centers to translate historical data into a staffing forecast:

Point Estimate 
With this system the call center relies on a basic apples-to-apples comparison of a future point in time with that same point in the past. For example, forecasting next June 15 based on traffic numbers from June 15 of last year. While this is a good starting point, it will not be precise as it does not account for more recent calling trends or new products or promotions.

Averaging
With this method a manager would average relevant past numbers to predict call volume, preferably while relying more heavily on recent data (by creating a formula that uses these numbers more prominently). However, this may still not take into account some changes or events that would have figured into older data.

Time Series Analysis
With time series analysis, historical data is calculated alongside monthly or seasonal changes, as well as more recent events and other variables. It is a more comprehensive approach that typically results in better forecasts.

3. Staffing Calculations


Steps #1 and #2 are used to create the forecast. Now it’s time to formulate a schedule. The call volume forecast numbers are factored into workload predictions, workload being the number derived from multiplying the amount of forecasted calls and the average call handle time.

Most managers will add additional staff to whatever number of agents is deemed appropriate, both to compensate for unexpected absences and to maintain customer service levels should call volume be higher than anticipated. The unproductive hours designated as “shrinkage” – breaks, training time, tardiness, meetings – must also be considered. At most call centers, shrinkage rates fall somewhere between 20% and 35%, depending on the size of the business. In general, larger call centers can absorb these variables more easily because of a more favorable staff-to-workload ratio.

Another factor is how busy each agent will be during a shift, referred to as agent occupancy. The goal is to achieve an optimum balance between not sitting around for extended periods of time between calls, and not having a long queue of calls waiting that might result in rushing a customer call, to the detriment of that engagement. As a percentage, 85-90% is considered an acceptable occupancy range.

4. Create Assignments


Creating a staff schedule is all about getting the right number of the right people in position to handle the customer service needs of the call center. Once the calculations from the previous step have been completed, the manager should know how many agents would be needed for the shift in question.

As some call centers operate with full-time agents and others use part-time and telecommuting employees, this is when shift lengths and resources must be defined, days off specified and personnel scheduled. Depending on the size of the call center, there may be dozens, if not hundreds, of scheduling possibilities. If skill-based routing is also a priority, this will also affect staffing decisions. Once personnel have been selected, the manager also has the option of staggering start times by 15 or 30 minutes, which can reduce instances of too many agents taking lunch breaks or other diversions at the same time during a shift.

5. Management and Adjustment


There is no way to know if a plan is going to work until it is executed. Even with the preparations and calculations already described, staff schedules will likely still have to be adjusted every day. This ongoing management of staff and schedule is referred to as performance tracking.

The main components of performance tracking are call volume, AHT and staffing levels. Deviations from forecasting predictions may require staffing adjustments, assuming enough flexibility has been built into the schedule to make the necessary changes. If not, call center service goals may be in jeopardy. Tracking the number of a calls in queue may also require some “instant forecasting” to adjust the remainder of the shift accordingly. However, over-reaction should also be avoided, lest a random surge be mistaken for a full-day trend.

6. Review, Analyze, and Adjust


The end of a shift is the beginning of preparation for the next one. The challenge of staffing is ongoing, but each day’s results deliver data to analyze that may result in ways to improve performance, both for each individual agent and the entire team.

Conclusion
Many of the most persistent challenges of staffing can be mitigated when call center managers know what to look for, when they have the information they need, when they need it, and when they can act upon it quickly.

No one every said predicting the future was easy. But an effective, automated workforce management solution can make the necessary calculations, remove much of the guesswork and improve the accuracy of schedules and forecasts. Through real-time measurement of call center metrics, agents and managers gain the data visibility necessary to deliver the service that customers expect, and can react more quickly to issues and resolve them before they impact operations.

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Introducing Workforce Management to Agents

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As call center workforce management has evolved over the decades, its methods have become more refined, more specific and more advantageous. In doing so, however, it has also become more intrusive, at least from the perspective of some agents.


When it was all hard copy spreadsheets, or even after the advent of Excel spreadsheets, its tentacles seemed more distant. But with today’s workforce management software, it really seemed like “Big Brother” had finally arrived. It can generate fear and confusion, as well as concern over being controlled by a super-computer that will monitor what they are doing every moment of every shift.

This can pose a challenge to call center management when introducing this new technology into the workplace. How can the transition be eased into a system that will change the way schedules are created, shifts are assigned, exceptions are considered and hours are calculated?

Here are two approaches that might help.
  • The first focuses on reassurance. Whether this is done individually or collectively, let the agents know that the customer service goals of the call center have not changed – just the methods for helping to achieve them. Managers should be available to answer questions and address concerns. Most agent trepidation is rooted in a fear of the unknown – once the system is explained and demonstrated, many of these fears will subside.
  • Next, stress that the benefits of workforce management software are not limited to management. Now, it will be easier for agents to request shift swaps or days off, so they can better balance work with their personal lives. Walk them through the process until it becomes familiar.
Once agents have bought into the system as well, WFM software can deliver dramatic service improvements as well as agent motivation. If you have question or would like to learn from other call centers, please feel free to contact us - we are happy to share our experience in rolling out workforce management systems.

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The Enduring Contact Center Challenge: Agent Scheduling and Agent Adherence

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After so many years, and so much attention paid, why are scheduling and adherence still a challenge at so many contact centers? One reason, perhaps, is that each of these objectives incorporates a number of moving parts, and a wide range of variables that must be calculated in advance. If these calculations are off, even by a little bit, it can bring the whole plan crashing down.

Consider the contact center manager’s ongoing challenge:

Scheduling
Inaccurate forecast? There goes the schedule. If a manager schedules 20 agents on a shift and call volume is higher than expected, average wait time increases, other KPIs are impacted, and customer service suffers. If call volume is lower, agents are at their desks with nothing to do. The customers are happy, but accounting is not – no one likes to pay agents when they aren’t doing anything.

Sudden call volume change? It can happen. Sometimes unforeseen circumstances, even a change in the weather or a news story about a company’s product, can spike calls.

Then there are exceptions, and agents who call in sick at the last minute, and other KPI predictions that don’t pan out. Any one of these can make scheduling a frustrating process.

Adherence
Do your agents understand the impact of adherence? It was covered at hiring and reinforced during training sessions, but even the best agents sometimes forget. Are those that regularly fall out of adherence held accountable? If not, they have no reason to change their behavior.

Having a system in place to track adherence would be helpful, but some contact centers have yet to make this investment.

What’s the Solution?
Fortunately, one solution is available to address the wide array of scheduling and adherence challenges: Workforce Management (WFM) software. It’s the fastest and easiest way to track status, progress, and real-time activity at a call center. Dashboards provide a visual display of call center data, providing insight into every key WFM process.

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Forecasting
Both daily and long-term forecasts can be checked quickly through tables and charts on forecasting dashboards.

Scheduling
Review past call volumes to create tomorrow’s schedule. Find out who’s in, who’s on break and who’s on vacation.

Adherence
Adherence alerts on the call center dashboard identify instances where scheduled activities vary from the current call center status.

Metrics
Besides forecasting, scheduling and adherence, other key WFM metrics that can be reviewed via dashboard include call answer times, first call resolutions and transfer rates.

Of course, the wealth of information provided by WFM isn’t much good if it is not presented in a way that is clear, concise, and accessible to changes as needed. Choose a WFM system that allows for real-time changes to be easily implemented, that shows summaries of all agent statuses, including exceptions. If you can’t find the data you need quickly, look for another system.

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Call Center Management Tips: Can you answer these questions?

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Key performance indicators provide a snapshot into how a call center is functioning. They deliver numbers that denote whether customer service is outstanding, acceptable, or in need of improvement.

However, sometimes the numbers create new questions just as they answer older ones. Many call center managers have found themselves wondering:

“When I see that my agents’ Average Talk Time has exceeded the target, does this result in more abandons and a poor service level?”

or

“If a longer talk time is causing more abandons, are there agents that are still able to meet all of their quality monitoring goals while keeping a low talk time?”

Fortunately, it’s easier to find the answers with an integrated workforce optimization (WFO) solution. Now managers can check these KPIs against historical data, and figure out the answers by discovering not only what is happening, but also why it is happening that way.

How are some agents lowering average talk time while still delivering on customer service? Once these processes are discovered, they can be codified and taught to the rest of the team and put into practice throughout the call center.

Check the results in 30 days – chances are the new KPIs will indicate that this change has resulted in greater efficiency and less abandons.


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Hosted ACD in the Cloud – Now What?

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In several previous blogs we weighed the benefits and drawbacks of a cloud delivery system vs. on-premises hardware and software installation. However, while these examinations focused on an “either-or” scenario, there are many call centers now employing a combination of the two options.


This is especially true with Automatic Call Distribution (ACD). Some contact centers have jumped on hosted ACD or a cloud ACD system, recognizing the efficiency advantages of skill-based routing of incoming calls. The cloud system is particularly beneficial for contact centers with a decentralized workforce, as they can be connected to the system from home or anywhere without additional hardware installation.

However, if a contact center is employing an ACD system without a proper planning of an overall cloud strategy, it may be missing out on the cost and convenience benefits gained from a more comprehensive cloud solution.

Many traditional on-site WFM and WFO systems might not take full advantage of hosted or cloud ACD. When all of these vital functions are planned and handled based on on a complete cloud solution model, the result is a more simplified, streamlined operation, lower costs, improved reliability and scalability, and 24/7 security and management.

Monet’s WFO Live, for example, incorporates workforce management tools to improve scheduling and service levels, call recording capabilities for compliance, and quality assurance to help managers better evaluate the performance of their agents and the call center as a whole. All of these functions deliver the data that makes automatic call distribution more effective.

From forecasting and exception planning to call tagging, reporting and analytics, WFO Live is a one-stop source for call center efficiency, accessed through the cloud for better convenience and lower upfront cost.

If you have questions regarding an overall cloud strategy for your contact center, please feel free to contact us. We are happy to share our cloud expertise.

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How to Convince Management to Buy Workforce Management Software

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While the economy is steadily improving according to most measurements, companies are still taking a very cautious approach when it comes to new investment. That is one reason why some contact centers have hesitated when it comes to workforce management (WFM) software.

However, making the case for this purchase should not be difficult given the inherent benefits derived from its installation, not the least of which is a net cost savings within months, and a boost in efficiency that will also have a positive impact on the yearly budget.

Saying Goodbye to Spreadsheets
Workforce management software is used instead of spreadsheets for forecasting and scheduling. These critical tasks can now be performed more quickly and more accurately, with data that is automatically collected and organized, rather than having to be entered manually into a spreadsheet.

With Workforce Management solution contact centers realize a high ROI by:

  • Providing more accurate forecasting and scheduling to reduce agent understaffing and overstaffing
  • Improving agent schedule adherence to reduce shrinkage
  • Enhancing supervisor efficiency by spending more time coaching and allowing agents to use the software’s self-service scheduling features
  • Reducing overtime expenses of agents by monitoring intra-day statistics and anticipating when additional agent resources will be needed
  • Decreasing agent turnover by enabling agents to manage their own schedules and empowering them to improve performance by reviewing their individual metrics
Cutting Costs with the Cloud
Still, even with so many potential benefits, some companies simply cannot afford the significant upfront investment required by a traditional WFM solution. But with cloud-based WFM, these costs are dramatically reduced. Plus, there are no maintenance or upgrade costs later on, and no need to have an IT professional on the payroll to handle system installation or repairs. Instead, contact centers pay a monthly subscription cost, and pay only for the capacity and infrastructure they need.

How to get started
Here are a few simple steps to take to convince management that your call center can benefit from a WFM solution:
  1. Identify the key challenges you face in your call center. What takes up too much time? What processes are bleeding money? What is the most frustrating and easily fixable thing you can do right now to make more money for the organization?
  2. Gather and analyze the data that impacts your performance and demonstrate how automated WFM will improve your call center’s performance.
  3. Create a presentation for management that shows how you can transform the company’s call center strategy with a WFM solution.
When these facts and the actual numbers involved in acquiring cloud-based WFM are presented to management, there is a much better chance of approving the investment. For additional information, please check out our whitepaper How to calculate cost savings and ROI of Workforce Management Software.

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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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