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Workforce Management

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Planning for the Unexpected In the Contact Center

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

“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”

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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?

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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?

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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%?

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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?

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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?

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

“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

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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.

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

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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?

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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.

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.

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

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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:

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.

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

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

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

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?

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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?”


“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?

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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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Workforce Management and Scheduling

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

workforce management
When you examine how many of the challenges inherent in operating call centers are connected to scheduling and workforce management, it becomes obvious that a consistent, reliable scheduling solution is essential to meeting customer service goals.

The problem, of course, is that scheduling encompasses a lot of moving parts, and requires the precise allocation of human and technological resources. And even when managers find a formula that works, thus achieving a perfect balance of call handlers with times of higher and lower tempo activity, it is not immune from last-minute changes and variables. All it takes is a few agents calling in sick just before the shift starts to render these perfect calculations worthless.

But for every issue that may arise, there is one solution – workforce management (WFM) software. It works because it addresses scheduling challenges before the shift begins, allows for faster reaction times to changes during a shift, and compiles data after each shift that can be used for future forecast and schedule creation.

Before the Shift
The majority of time devoted to scheduling takes place before the day or shift in question. This is when the call center manager will create a forecast for a specified time, then create a schedule based on that forecast.

This is when data will be reviewed based on historic trends dating back months or years. WFM compiles this data, factoring in quantitative judgments that make it easier for managers to build a proper schedule. Forecasts can be created based on both best case and worst-case scenarios, which will reveal opportunities to further improve efficiency.

Other factors to consider when creating a schedule include skill-based routing – to make sure calls are received by the agent best qualified to take them, and agent preferences that should be accommodated whenever possible to boost company morale.

Some call centers still rely on spreadsheets to track scheduled time, agent availability, and such daily occurrences as work breaks and training sessions. The same tasks can be accomplished more quickly and more accurately with WFM software, particularly at call centers with more than 25 agents.

During the Shift
This is when the best-laid plans sometimes fall apart. It’s also when WFM software proves its superiority over spreadsheets. One of its best features is intra-day management, a graphical display of real-time call center activity that lets managers check their schedule accuracy.

If the forecast and schedule is out of sync, customer service is suffering and so is the call center budget. Fifteen minutes a day may not seem like much, but if agents are out of adherence that long every day, the result can be tens of thousands of dollars in additional staffing costs.

Acknowledging adherence issues and addressing them on tomorrow’s forecast is not enough. With intra-day management, managers can review agent schedules and change them by dragging and dropping breaks, lunches and other exceptions. Surpluses and shortages are displayed for each pre-set time period throughout the day, so managers instantly know which resources are available and how they are being utilized.

After the Shift
There is value to the data collected from every shift. WFM software tracks agent performance, achievement of key performance indicators and schedule accuracy, as well as costs and revenue.

Choosing a Workforce Management Solution
There are several factors that can influence the selection of a WFM solution. While all of them will increase efficiency and service levels, it’s important to achieve these goals while also reducing costs and accelerating ROI. Keep these criteria in mind before you start the selection process:

A WFM solution should include accurate call volume forecasting from historical data and ACD integration, flexible schedule creation that incorporates foreseen and unforeseen variables, agent exceptions, intra-day changes to both forecasting and scheduling, and performance management reports.

Implementation and Integration
Does the system work with a call center’s existing hardware? If so, how long will it take to implement, and for agents to get comfortable with the system?

Incorporate upfront costs, ongoing monthly or maintenance costs, and any hidden costs in the budgeting consideration. Can the system be used over the web without equipment purchase? Weigh the advantages of an on-premises solution vs. a Cloud solution.

Besides forecasting, scheduling and adherence, other key WFM metrics that should be able to be reviewed via dashboard include call answer times, first call resolutions and transfer rates. The more metrics that can be tracked, the easier it is to zero in on issues that impact customer service – and the easier it is to correct them. 

How unified will the user experience be across solution components? Will the dashboards show everything necessary to monitor a call and discover how and where corrections should be made?

Can the solution grow with the call center? Can modules be added without additional hardware costs?

What happens if the first system purchased doesn’t pan out? Can it be returned without incurring any financial risk?

What will the return on investment (ROI) be, and how quickly will the call center recoup that initial investment?

For more information, please download this Workforce Management Selection Guide which provides a more detailed check-list and criteria to consider when choosing a WFM system.

WFM Live From Monet Software
The call center is the perfect dance of call volume, agent availability and productive interactions – at least that is the goal for every call center manager. The challenge, however, is turning those goals into reality when trying to implement call center scheduling tools. Workforce Management (WFM) Live from Monet Software can help.

Monet solves contact centers’ two biggest business issues: meeting service levels and controlling payroll costs. Monet’s workforce management software is cloud-based and delivered as a service, avoiding a large upfront investment and painful hardware and software implementation.

Plus, the system is fully integrated into Monet’s Workforce Optimization Suite, which delivers web-based applications for call recording, quality monitoring and performance management a low monthly fee with minimal capital investment.

A simple set up (within 30 days in most cases) has agents and managers up and running quickly, with a level of functionality that meets or exceeds industry standards. Forecasting, scheduling, real-time adherence, ACD integration, intra-day management, exceptions handling, supervisor collaboration, reporting and more, all delivered within a secure, scalable and reliable system.

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Contact Center Management for Public Sector Healthcare Agencies under the Affordable Care Act

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

Last year’s passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare, has introduced dramatic policy changes that will impact consumers, employers, insurance agencies and healthcare providers.

Today, as the rollout continues, thousands of Americans have questions about whether they can keep their current insurance, or if there might be something better available through one of the exchanges. Companies that provide employee coverage must confirm whether they are compliant with the new guidelines, and doctors and hospitals will also have to adjust to this new healthcare paradigm.

But while cable news pundits debate about whether ACA is wonderful or disastrous, many of the questions being asked about ACA are being routed into contact centers that serve both patients and providers, while also having to satisfy a high level of compliance and security regulations. 

Dealing with these numerous challenges is easier with Workforce Optimization (WFO) software. With WFO, contact centers can more accurately forecast and plan personnel needs by running “What If” scenarios and analyzing the results. Once the level of increased demand has been determined, scheduling becomes more efficient and flexible, ensuring better utilization of limited resources and improved cost management.

Of course, public sector and government healthcare agencies are often further challenged with resource constraints. Thus a flexible cloud and SaaS investment model becomes more desirable, as it allows healthcare organizations to effectively manage costs as workforce demand fluctuates. Plus, with the cloud delivery model there is:

  • Minimal upfront investment

  • Fast set up

  • An expedited learning curve for users
  • A low predictable monthly subscription

  • Security to protect data and information
  • Scalability to address fluctuations and peak hours

Contact us to learn more about how a wide range of healthcare organizations at the city, county and state level are using Monet Software for their workforce optimization needs.

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Workforce Management, Forecasting and Scheduling for Credit Unions

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

Credit unions are typically not-for-profit organizations, however, to stay in business and deliver great financial services at low fees to their members they have to micromanage every investment, in both technology and personnel, while trying to maintain a sufficient level of customer service.

Inevitably, this leads to challenges, particularly at smaller credit union call centers. Where a larger contact center might be able to absorb the traffic if one agent unexpectedly calls in sick, that same scenario can significantly impact wait times at an organization with 50 agents. An unforeseen spike in call volume can result in similar struggles to keep up with desired service levels. Both, forecasting and scheduling is often more challenging in smaller call centers than in larger centers because the performance, adherence and absenteeism of every agent has more impact. In this situation, a more accurate forecast, a more flexible schedule and increased schedule adherence become even more important.

Every type of call center can benefit from workforce management solutions (WFM), but credit union call centers often don’t choose to invest in what is seen as a costly, top-tier solution to a nagging but still tolerable problem. The resources simply aren’t there to add the kind of technology that will make forecasting and scheduling more efficient – or is it?

Cloud-Delivered Efficiency from Monet

Monet’s cloud-delivered workforce management solution doesn’t require a substantial upfront IT investment, and delivers rapid improvements within months. We’ve worked with credit union call centers of all sizes and types that have discovered the benefits of WFM. The flexibility of the system makes it ideal for small or midsize call centers, and there’s no intimidating learning curve – Monet WFM Live is easy to set up and incorporate into every day business practices. And all these time saving, cost-saving benefits are available for one low monthly subscription fee.

Credit Union Success Story
Read this  case study and learn how a Texas based credit union call center boosted its service and saved money with Monet’s WFM Live.

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15 Tips on Contact Center Scheduling

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

One of the call center manager’s most important tasks is to create a schedule that balances agent needs vs. call center capabilities, while accounting for such variables as shrinkage and exceptions.

Easier said than done? Not necessarily – the right workforce management system streamlines the process and provides more consistent, accurate data.

If scheduling is still an issue, check out these quick tips:

  1. Don’t use spreadsheets – they are incapable of producing an optimized call center schedule. 
  2. Accurate scheduling starts with accurate forecasting.
  3. Track both call activities and non-call activities for better scheduling.
  4. Make sure all scheduling procedures are clearly delineated among agents, supervisors and management.
  5. Test schedule accuracy with simulations and dry-run scenarios.
  6. Build some flexibility into schedules so changes can be made on the fly.
  7. Take agent preferences into account – if agents can work the shifts they prefer, they will likely do a better job. 
  8. Make sure you are using sufficient ACD data (at least one year) for schedule creation. 
  9. Build in a shift-swapping procedure that is easier for agents to utilize, and easier for management to monitor.
  10. Incorporate agent skill levels and specialties into schedule creation. 
  11. Try this formula for calculating schedule adherence: [phone time + other work related activity time] / ([shift time] - [lunch/dinner] - [break] + [exception time] + [overtime]) = schedule adherence
  12. Personally address agent issues such as tardiness and extended lunch breaks so they do not become habitual, and have a detrimental impact on scheduling. 
  13. Take weather conditions into account when creating schedules, as they can impact both call volume and agent availability. 
  14. List the 3 greatest challenges to schedule adherence at your contact center, then meet with agents and supervisors to address how these challenges can be resolved. 
  15. Choose a Workforce Management solution that gathers and provides the necessary scheduling information through dashboards that are clear and concise.
Fore more details, please download our Contact Center Scheduling Tips whitepaper.

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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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