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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

Use Call History Data for Better Forecasting and Scheduling

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Forecasts determine schedules, but what determines forecasts? There is both art and science involved in predicting future call volume and agent staffing needs, and technology can make the forecasting process more accurate. But the starting point should always be a review of call history data.

call forecasting and scheduling
Past activity is always the best predictor of future activity, especially when broken down into ever-smaller increments of time. This makes it easier to identify anomalies and prepare accordingly.

You’ll want to have monthly and weekly stats to review, and then dig deeper into daily and hourly numbers. Finally, examine work periods as short as 15 minutes. You may be surprised at the stats for these intervals, and it may help in determining when agents can take breaks, and whether personnel are beginning or ending their shifts on time.

Obviously you’ll need at least one year of historic data, but it’s better to have at least 2-3 years to spot patterns and trends that can help fine-tune future forecasting.

Pay particular attention to lower or higher numbers, which should be apparent as they tend to stand out amidst otherwise consistent call volumes. Determine the cause for the variation, whether it was a holiday or a new company promotion, and adjust your forecast accordingly for that same time period.

Many changes in traffic volume are not likely to repeat – on a day that a major news story breaks, call volume will go down. On a day when computers are knocked offline due to a technical glitch, call volume accuracy will be thrown off. Until you determine the cause, you will not be able to forecast a point estimate (the theory that a point in the future will be comparable to a similar point in the past).

Once all of this data has been reviewed, you’ll be ready to prepare a forecast, assess staff requirements and create a schedule.

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Call Center Scheduling: 5 Important Tips

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The International Customer Management Institute (ICMI) has been an invaluable resource for helping contact centers get the most out of their agents and managers. Recently, the ICMI offered five valuable tips on call center scheduling that are worth your time.

Some of this you may have heard before – but it’s so easy to get off track when sometimes it’s all you can do to keep up with the day-to-day pressures of personnel, technology, forecasts, scheduling and adherence. A refresher course is always welcome.

You can click on the link for the full story, but here are the basics:

1. Clarity
Senior management, supervisors and agents all need to be pulling in the same direction. That means clearly delineated procedures and professional values that will guide the schedule-making process, and contingency plans for when a schedule goes awry. Having these conversations first can resolve numerous issues later on.

2. Testing
Sample schedules and dry-run scenarios can be useful in testing schedule accuracy and catching problems before they impact customer service. Experiment with different alternatives until you find one that achieves all of your objectives.

3. Inclusion
Scheduling should incorporate not just calls, but all of the activities and practices associated with that process, as well as other projects that require time from your agents or managers.

4. Conflict Resolution
Scheduling is never immune to issues from agents, new product/service launches, unforeseen changes in shifts and other outside factors. How well a contact center adjusts to these scheduling challenges will indicate whether it is performing well. However, if conflicts become too frequent, that suggests a systemic issue that should be corrected.

5. Flexibility
Related to #4 above, scheduling should be fluid but not so loose as to create confusion. Adjust schedule horizons as needed if those created two weeks away frequently prove inaccurate, take agent preferences into account when possible, and have alternatives in place before they become necessary.

If you would like to learn how to implement these tips, please also watch our workforce management videos and see how clarity, testing, inclusion, conflict resolution and flexibility are "built-in".


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Managing Webchat in Contact Centers

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At a time when all of us rarely go out or even walk around our home without a telephone in hand, it’s hard to believe that the “call” aspect in call centers is now being challenged by webchat as a preferred outlet for placing orders and other basic services. This article Call Center Helper offers information on how to incorporate webchat into your contact center in a way that provides those customers with the same level of service they would receive via telephone.

contact center web chat

Should Webchat Replace Calls?
It will never do so altogether, but as webchats increase, call volumes should go down.

There seems no end to our continued reliance on online communication, particularly for those under the age of 25. So if you have yet to make special allowances for webchat communication, the time to do so is now.

Approach webchat the same way you approached phone calls when the call center opened, by establishing best practices, preferred communication procedures and goals for first contact resolution. Unlike telephone engagements, webchat is a customer contact that can be engaged by the contact center agent, so make sure agents are trained in when and how to reach out to customers.

Ultimately, what will make your webchat strategy soar is meticulous planning, which can be greatly aided by workforce management software, and all of the automated solutions you may already be using for traditional call center contacts.

Once customers come to rely on webchat, they won’t want to be kept waiting any more than a caller placed on hold. Forecasting based on webchat patterns should be reviewed and used for agent scheduling. A multi-channel workforce management strategy can keep your customer satisfaction levels high no matter how they reach you.

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The Challenge of Agent Adherence

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Agent adherence is a metric that can be measured and tracked, but knowing how your call center is doing in this area and making changes for the better are two very different things.

If an agent goes off script, training and call recording can make certain they go back to using the company-approved verbiage. Some calls taking too long? Again, coaching and strategic changes can probably shave a few minutes or seconds off the typical customer engagement.

But agent adherence is a trickier challenge, because even outstanding agents can be vulnerable to distractions and other outside factors than can impact job performance. You can create a schedule that should be sufficient, but keeping agents focused and aware throughout their shift requires additional support.

Why? It’s human nature to get distracted, and distractions can emerge not just internally but throughout the call center environment. Agents may not be aware of how these “mental check-outs” impact not just the service level they provide, but that of other agents and the entire call center.

Also, as call centers become contact centers, engaging customers through email, chat and social media, it can be more difficult to assess adherence across these multiple channels, and make sure all are getting the attention they deserve.

However, there are strategies that have helped call centers with their adherence issues. We have published a whitepaper that outlines strategies for improved agent adherence and we hope that this might help you get new ideas on how to address this issue in your call center.


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Workforce Management Software for the Masses

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Workforce management (WFM) software used to be complicated and expensive. That meant only the biggest companies with the most sophisticated IT departments could afford to make a workforce management system investment, and employ the in-house expertise to make the most out of the technology.

Call centers that peruse WFM solutions today may find that the situation has not changed. There are still products out there that require a substantial upfront investment, and integration that necessitates extensive personnel training.

However, there is an alternative that places sophisticated and effective WFM capabilities within the reach (and the budget) of smaller and midsized call centers. Best of all, it is not a scaled-down solution with limited functionality – it offers all the same bells and whistles as expensive systems, at a fraction of the cost.

That solution is workforce management in the cloud. The software is delivered over the web, and since it is provided as a subscription service, there is no need to invest in additional hardware and software, or installation. Set up and and configuration of the system is simple and is done in weeks, not months or years.

The cloud-based workforce management model also offers some performance advantages over traditional call center WFM software, especially when more than one call center is involved. Since all data is stored “in the cloud,” it can be retrieved at any call center workstation, as well as on mobile devices away from the office. With more companies hiring telecommuting employees, or working out of their home part-time, that flexibility can be invaluable as the industry continues to evolve.

Finally, the playing field has been leveled between the largest and the smallest call centers. No matter where you are located or how many agents you have on staff, the many benefits derived from WFM are within your reach. To learn more about this topic, please take a look at our workforce management whitepaper that illustrates the difference between cloud-based and on-premise based software.


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Call Center Scheduling in Real Time

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So you’ve finished your call center scheduling duties and are ready to focus on other tasks – until you discover that the average call wait time is longer than it should be, and either something was missed on forecasting or a lot of customers just felt this was the day they needed to place an order or ask a question.

Call center intra-day management for scheduling
What do you do? If you’re locked into your scheduling, you may end up with angry customers and frazzled agents.

Situations like this are going to happen. They should be rare if you’re using the call center scheduling and forecasting tools at your disposal in a workforce management (WFM) solution; however, sometimes even the best laid plans can go awry.

When they do, hopefully you can count on a call center scheduling solution with real-time updates that will allow you to adjust forecasts and schedules accordingly. When external conditions change, managers should be able to review the call center metrics, in real time, that will help the business get back on track.

By reviewing forecast vs. actual call volume and agent adherence, managers can then re-run forecasting and scheduling based on what is happening in the call center at that very moment. Then, they can update the schedule based on current conditions, and adjust staffing as quickly as possible so customer service is restored to optimum level. Please watch this short video to see intra-day call center scheduling in action.

Call center scheduling may not be an exact science, but real-time WFM will expose any glitches, so they can be corrected before they cause too many issues.

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Call Center Management Throughout the Day - What’s Important?

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Annual stats, monthly stats, weekly stats, daily stats – all of this information is important for tracking progress on quality assurance and customer satisfaction goals.

But when you review the daily stats, you may find situations where a real-time response could have improved customer service, rather than finishing a shift with a staffing issue. All it takes is a few hours to lose a lot of customers.

That’s why it is critical for call center management to also keep track of key metrics throughout the course of the day. It’s a practice made considerably easier through workforce management software. Dashboards provide visual displays of call center data, providing insight into every key WFM process:

  • Forecasts – did unforeseen circumstances render your predictions inaccurate?
  • Schedules – Too many agents this shift? Not enough? Did more agents than expected call in sick?
  • Adherence – Are one-hour lunch breaks becoming 90-minute breaks? Did an agent leaves ten minutes before his shift was over?
Workforce management dashboards provide call center management with an instant snapshot of what is happening at every moment throughout the day. Now you have the information you need to make changes before the customer experience can be affected.

To find our more, check out Monet’s intra-day workforce management demo.

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Mobile Workforce Management for Call Centers

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Mobile devices allow call center managers to stay in touch with what’s happening at their business from home or on the road. Such flexibility is an advantage, however, that doesn’t mean the workforce management features available on a mobile device have to be as comprehensive as those you can access from the office.

In almost all cases, forecasting, staffing and scheduling will be done on a desktop or laptop, where the full range of metrics that would influence such decisions are accessible. With a cloud-based solution, there is some mobility and flexibility already "built-in", since workforce planning and scheduling can be done on any computer or even a tablet from anywhere with Internet access. 

So, what is the more realistic usage scenario for mobile workforce management for contact centers? When you’re on the road, or in an airport, or taking a day off to attend your son’s soccer game, and you just need to check in or obtain a status report, there’s no need to have every workforce management feature on your phone or tablet. As long as you get automated alerts and key metrics, and take action on any adherence issues that require immediate attention, that should be all you will want or need from mobile capabilities. We think that mobile WFM for contact centers is based on two main use cases:

  • Automatically getting alerts of key metrics (e.g. adherence, service level, call volumes, etc.)
  • Immediately taking action by logging into the web-based WFM solution from wherever you are
We would like to hear from you about your mobile workforce management needs. Please contact us, we are looking forward to talking to you.

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How to Schedule your Call Center Workforce

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Workforce management (WFM) software lends accuracy and consistency to the scheduling process in a call center. Given the impact that scheduling has on call center performance, doing it right is necessary for call centers to save time and money. Plus, when scheduling can be handled more quickly, it frees up time for managers to focus on other responsibilities.

Once configured, WFM should provide real-time data by call center or by department, that covers every aspect of the scheduling process.

Start with forecasting, which helps to determine how many agents will be needed on a given shift on a given day, taking into account special days such as holidays or the first day of a new company sales promotion.

Next, factor in employee availability, with data on vacation schedules, approved days off, and matching individual skills to forecasting and scheduling preferences. The goal is to have the correct number of agents in place for the expected workload on that shift – no more, no less. Too many agents on a shift means wasted resources; not enough means longer call wait times and frustrated customers.

During the shift, tracking metrics keep tabs on agents that leave early, show up late, or take longer breaks than allowed.

Unfortunately, once schedules are set they are not immune to revision. Last minute changes are often unavoidable, but WFM should resolve any issues before they can impact performance. If an agent can’t make it to work, WFM should identify a replacement with a comparable skill set, determine his or her availability, and expedite the change.

Other issues related to scheduling, such as employee shift swaps and separate rotations for trainees, can also be coordinated through WFM. Once generated, schedules should be easily accessible to all concerned parties so there’s never any confusion. To see call center scheduling in action, please follow this link to watch a series of videos about forecasting, scheduling, staffing, exceptions handling and intra-day management.


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Workforce Management Solution 101 - what's important?

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While different call centers have different needs, it’s hard to imagine a call center that could not benefit from a workforce management (WFM) solution. Whatever the specific goals of your business – lowering costs, improving efficiency, better customer service – workforce management can help to achieve them.

But how should you select a WFM solution? Here are the key capabilities to look for, and why they are important.

  • Call Volume Forecast – by using historical data and real-time ACD integration, the system should produce accurate forecasts that will impact scheduling.
  • Schedule Creation – The system should be able to create schedules based on shift patters, skill levels and other criteria.  
  • Intra-Day Changes/Exceptions – No two days are alike in any call center. WFM should be able to consider variables and perform ‘on the fly’ scheduling when needed. It should also be able to measure agent adherence on both typical and atypical days. 
  • Real-time Metrics - Getting alerts when something is not working as planned, and tracking performance and adherence metrics in real-time on a dashboard are critical.
  • Implementation – How long does the system take to install, and how long before it begins to pay for itself? Will additional hardware or software purchases be necessary? How long will it take to train agents on its proper usage? Anything too complex may end up having the opposite effect on efficiency. 
  • Cost – Calculate both upfront and ongoing costs of installation, implementation, integration, maintenance and support.
Our brief workforce management software selection guide provides more details and helps you ask the right questions to find the best solution for your call center.

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Do You Measure Your Agent Schedule Adherence? Is it 70, 80 or 90%?

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Schedules only work if employees stick to them. Most will but as call center managers have discovered, even a small drop in adherence can severely impact both productivity and costs. Many call centers are now pro-actively focusing on improving schedule adherence for increased service levels and reduced costs. Raising the adherence from 80 to 85%, or from 90% to 95% can result in huge cost differences. For example, in this Adherence whitepaper there is the case of a 300 employee call center and the assumption that each employee is 10 minutes our of adherence every day, resulting in $250,000 per year.

Fixing adherence issues is one of the quickest ways to avoid angry customers and rising costs. But first, you must determine your current adherence level. Yes, there will be math involved – but these are numbers that are vital to know.

Here’s the formula:
[phone time + other work related activity time] / ([shift time] - [lunch/dinner] -
[break] + [exception time] + [overtime]) = schedule adherence

Once you’ve got the results, you can add up the money now being wasted and put a stop to it.

What Causes Adherence Issues?
Are some agents taking too many breaks or absences? Is the schedule too rigid? Are employees showing up late and leaving early? Address these issues with agents, and make sure they realize how important schedule adherence is to the call center – and to their job.

This need not be a confrontational situation – one method that has worked at call centers is the setting of adherence goals, with rewards offered to agents that aid in their achievement. Monitor progress whether the goals are achieved or not, and keep the lines of communication open.

The Role of Workforce Management
A workforce management solution can play a key role in agent adherence. First, you don't have to calculate adherence, the system does that for you. Second, real-time tracking and monitoring makes it easier to adjust forecasts and schedules right when there is an adherence problem. Third, adherence reporting helps you analyze data from the past, identify potential issues that impact adherence and the opportunity to discuss with your team.

For more information, please download the Monet white paper Strategies for Improving Schedule Adherence.


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Workforce Management Videos for Call Centers

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We have just uploaded new workforce management videos to our demo center and would like to invite you to take a look. The videos cover the whole spectrum of workforce optimization, including forecasting, scheduling, staffing, adherence tracking, call recording, quality monitoring and performance management.

Workforce Management Videos - Monet Software

The videos show how a unified Workforce Optimization solution connects all aspects of scheduling, skills, adherence, quality, metrics and compliance to better meet customer needs and deliver more effective customer service. They further demonstrate how to identify patterns and analyze metrics at various levels for training and quality assurance purpose and establish quality standards and best practices. In addition, you will learn how to combine quantitative and qualitative information for a complete assessment of contact center performance. For example, if your dashboard alerts you of a potential issue, you can start a live monitoring session to get to the root cause and develop tailored training and coaching programs to address it. An integrated WFO suite allows you “connect the dots” to get the whole picture that allows you to impact the bottom line. Please take a moment to watch the workforce optimization videos and feel free to contact us if you have any questions or would like to discuss how your call center could benefit from a unified WFO solution.

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Special Days: The Challenges of Forecasting and Scheduling

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Accurate forecasts are vital to customer service and budgeting, and avoiding additional issues that occur when the center is overstaffed or understaffed. Forecasting methods must take into account changing business needs, seasonal volumes and external events that are outside the company’s control.

Special days provide another challenge. But it’s a scheduling and forecasting challenge that is manageable with a workforce management solution that handles much of the processing and calculations automatically.

But the process starts with a manager, and an effort to explore how a change in call volume or service level goals on one day, or within one week, will affect the call center. You already have the information necessary to achieve this in past call history data that covers previous similar periods. Always review both the similarities and potential variables.

Next, break down your forecast into monthly, weekly or daily intervals, with special allowances made for the “special day” effect. For some call centers, Valentine’s Day is a special day of increased orders. Forecasting efforts will already have calculations in place for February, and for the day of the week that Valentine’s Day falls upon. But then the impact of the holiday must be assessed, as well as the times of that day where call volume may be increased.

Additional “special day” provisions should also be made for other factors, including any company marketing campaigns or events, and perhaps even weather patterns; if it’s raining outside, will more customers call and place and order instead of going out and buying a gift?

Fore more information about different forecasting models and simulations tools, please watch this call forecasting video. No one every said predicting the future was easy. But workforce management can remove much of the guesswork and improve the accuracy of schedules and forecasts.


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How Accurate is your Call Forecast?

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Call center staffing and scheduling will be largely determined by forecasting of the call volume. Thus, when a forecast is errant, it can cause serious repercussions in customer service.

However, even in the best call centers there will never be 100% accuracy in forecasting. The number of variables from day to day, and week-to-week, as well as unexpected scheduling changes, can all affect how a workday varies from projections. When this happens it is important to drill down to find the reasons for the variations, and factor them in to future forecasts.

Measuring the level of accuracy in your call center forecast requires more than just calculating workload percentages. Take a typical week where the Monday forecast was 12% under actual call volume, Tuesday was 8% under, and the remaining three weekdays were all 8% over. When those numbers are run the result would be an overall weekly forecast variance of 4%.

Sounds pretty good – but it doesn’t recognize how customer service may have suffered on Monday and Tuesday by an insufficiently staffed call center. Or even more, how Monday morning between 9am and 11:30am there was even a bigger The lesson here is to be aware how instances of overstaffing and understaffing can cancel each other out, resulting in a forecasting picture that looks more favorable than it is.

Forecasting can be rendered more accurate through the use of a simple standard deviation approach, and by examining intra-day forecast accuracy as well as just how close the daily or weekly numbers compared to the forecast.

Of course, the ability to forecast schedules is dependent on the ability to forecast call volume. The challenge here is the number of factors that can impact this statistic, from online marketing to economic conditions to social networking. Analyze call forecasting data to uncover trends and over time these forecasts should zero in more accurately numbers. Look at the following:

  • Forecast in 15, 30 or 60 minute increments
  • Look at daily, weekly, monthly or seasonal pattern
  • Look for "special days" (holidays, sales promotion, payday, end of month, etc.)
  • Look for external factors (weather, events, etc.)
  • Plan for "internal" events such as marketing and social media campaigns, newsletters, company news, product launches, etc.
Watch this short video to see how call forecasting tools and simulation can help. However, even with these tools it is important to continuously "learn" from your past forecasting - what assumptions resulted in better forecasts, and what assumptions did not result in a good forecast?   


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Creating a Call Center Staffing Roster

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Creating a roster is the last of three staffing decisions that impact workforce optimization.

It’s a process that begins with the forecast, an estimate of the number of calls that will be received, and the number of agents necessary to handle these calls in an efficient manner. Staffing follows the forecast, as management decides how many agents are needed for a given day or shift, and which skill sets should be represented in that shift. Scheduling is the process of matching shift profiles with forecasts to achieve service goals.

Once this data has been obtained it is time to focus on the roster, which matches employee availability to existing schedules or forecast data.  Rosters will be determined by input data measuring:

  • workload
  • work handling units (skill teams)
  • arrival patterns
  • allowable shifts (shift profiles), and 
  • employee availability.
Find a workforce management software solution that includes rostering capabilities and templates. This will expedite data entry, analysis, roster creation, roster distribution and last-minute updates. Rosters should not only track available agents, but those who are unavailable due to vacations or other factors. To learn more about this, please watch this short video about call center staffing roster creation and updating.

Another important consideration is managing resources as they relate to non-call activities, such as emails. A non-call roster can help with scheduling available agents with the right skills at non-peak hours to handle these important tasks.

Finally, rosters, like schedules, are not set in stone. Unexpected changes necessitate swapping agents, and increasing or decreasing the size of a shift based on outside circumstances. Workforce management software should allow for unlimited roster changes, so managers always have the flexibility they need to correctly allocate resources.

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Workforce Management Software Selection for Contact Centers

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When choosing the best workforce management (WFM) solution for your call center, there are a number of considerations to review based on that center’s specific needs. The goal is to increase efficiency and service levels, while also reducing costs. Here are ten important evaluation criteria for any WFM software solution.

1. Capabilities

What can the software do for your call center? Its capabilities 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.

2. Implementation

Calculate how long the software will take to implement, including installation, configuration, customization and training - weeks, months, years?

3. Integration
How well will the system work with your existing systems, for such necessities as sharing of vital data? Will this be possible out of the box, or will custom integration be required?

4. Cost
Incorporate upfront costs, ongoing monthly or maintenance costs, and any hidden costs in your consideration. Can the system be used over the web without equipment purchase?

5. Usability

How long will it take for mangers, supervisors and agents to get comfortable with the system? Is it confusing? Are there too many features that you may not need, but that can complicate usage?

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

7. Metrics
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.

8. Scalability
Can the solution grow with your call center? Can users, modules and additional functionality be added without additional hardware costs or other expensive implementation?

9. Risk
What happens if the first system you buy doesn’t pan out? Can you return it or stop using it without incurring any financial risk?

10. ROI
What will the return on investment (ROI) be, and how quickly will you recoup you investment in the system? ROI can be hard numbers (e.g. cost savings) and soft benefits (e.g. higher customer satisfaction) - both will have a positive impact to the bottom line.

We have recently updated our workforce management resource center where you can download various documents that might be helpful in your selection process.


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How To Improve Call Center Service Levels

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Service level is the one metric from which most other metrics flow. Nearly every decision that is made by call center management, from forecasting to scheduling to agent training, is motivated by the objective of making sure every call center customer receives the highest service level possible.

Here are five key factors to consider when it’s time to assess service level and how it can be improved.

1. Improve Forecast Accuracy
When the right number of agents are at their desk and can handle call volume without long wait times, customers are more likely to provide positive feedback. Forecasting through workforce management data should make certain that the workload (calls, emails, chats, etc.) gets forecasted as accurate as possible and the required staffing in in place throughout the day (and help eliminate instances of overstaffing as well).

2. Flexible Schedules
When agents can work the hours that work best for them, it will improve their performance. While it is not always possible to accommodate every request, especially when some agents work part time and others work from home, every time a day off request can be granted or an exception approved without impacting service level, the better the likelihood that agent job performance will reflect their satisfaction with the company. Employee turnover will be reduced as well. Other other hand, this flexibility for agents, also allows call center managers to ask for flexibility when the center needs more or fewer agents at a certain time. Flexibility should be a win-win for both.

3. Intra-day Adherence Tracking

Tracking schedule adherence for a shift or a day after they have ended is a missed opportunity to correct an issue more quickly. Monitoring intra-day activities, such as lunch breaks, training sessions and changes in call volumes helps to maintain service levels.

4. Call Recording and Quality Monitoring
Call recording is a key component in quality management, and can result in more efficient call handling. Recordings can be used in training sessions for new agents to bring them up to speed on best practices, and in ongoing coaching programs so agents can be sure they are “sticking to the script” and delivering the service level expected of them.

5. Improve Training Programs
Are new agents “getting it” right away? Are your trainers outsiders, or former agents who know what it’s like to perform that task correctly? How often are agents re-trained after a below-par assessment? Look for ways to improve your training programs, and an improved service level will follow.


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The Top 5 Workforce Management Challenges

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Workforce management refers to an integrated set of processes used to optimize employee productivity on both an individual and company-wide level. Any systems with such a wide range of moving parts and variables will inevitably present challenges; however, a sophisticated workforce management solution can help to anticipate these challenges and overcome them.

1. Accurate Forecasting

Forecasting on call volume and agent workload can reduce instances of over-staffing, which wastes valuable resources, as well as under-staffing that can affect services levels and customer service. Workforce management automatically processes all relevant data to deliver more accurate short-term and long-term forecasting projections.

2. Comprehensive Scheduling
Scheduling involves far more than sign-in and sign-out times. There are a multitude of call center activities that pertain to non-call activities that must also be taken into account. Choose a WFM solution that makes non-call activities part of the forecasting and scheduling process. This is especially important since customer engagement today is based on many different channels such as chart, phone, email, social media. More about this in our recent blog post multi-channel agent scheduling.

3. Adherence Tracking and Improvement 
Schedule adherence is still one of the biggest challenges for call centers. With workforce management, a call center can monitor and record the schedule adherence status of all agents in real-time. The system tracks data on every status related to this issue, from lunches to daily breaks to when agents log out. If a problem is discovered it can thus be handled quickly. In addition to a good solution, you also need to put solid processes in place, more about this in our whitepaper Five Strategies to Improve Schedule Adherence.

4. Intr-aday Forecast/Schedule Management
Intra-day management is always a challenge due to particularly complex resource considerations. An integrated WFM solution should be able to monitor intra-day workload information (planning, controls, deployment strategies) that will produce pre-emptive rather than reactive actions for managers.

5. Exception Handling
Workforce management should manage and process exceptions in a way that communicates all necessary information to all parties concerned, accepts or rejects each exception instance based on company criteria, and make certain everyone is on the same page so there is no confusion on the part of the agent or management.

We also invite you to watch any of the short videos about how a workforce management system can help overcome those challenges.


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Agent Schedule Adherence Visualized

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Monitoring call center agent adherence to a rotation schedule is yet another task that used to be handled manually, and now can be achieved in less time and with greater accuracy through a workforce management solution.

With workforce management, a call center can monitor and record the schedule adherence status of all agents in real-time. The system tracks data on every status related to this issue, from lunches to daily breaks to when agents log out.

By having this information easily accessible on a workforce management dashboard, managers can quickly compare the agent’s actual daily activity to the objective intended by the company. One can even create custom states and guidelines to address atypical needs for a specific call center, such as after-hours work.

Once guidelines are customized and set as to which states (or statuses) should be included or not included in a schedule adherence measurement, the system does the rest. The different states are color-coded and can easily be monitored from a dashboard. It is now simple to review each agent’s efforts and classify their work time as within schedule adherence, or find out where he or she is coming up short. Too much time spent away from assigned functions can impact the call center’s productivity.

Accurate time management can be a challenge, as minor exceptions and changes happen each day. Perhaps an agent is scheduled to go on an approved break, but cuts into that time to complete a call that takes another 10 minutes. An effective workforce management solution can be configured in such a way as to record this time extension, and not count the lost break time against that agent. For more detailed information about how to implement effective strategies for schedule adherence, please click the link to download our whitepaper.


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Call Center Schedule Exceptions

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Handling exceptions is a key component to workforce schedule compliance. Exceptions must be managed in a way the minimizes their impact on productivity and availability, since both will have a negative impact on service levels and also quality of service.

There are four types of exceptions:

Pre-planned
These would include vacation days, training days and work time spent on other necessities such as team meetings.

Unplanned
Sick days and downtime due to technical issues would qualify as unplanned exceptions.

Unplanned but pre-approved
These are schedule deviations initiated by management to maintain performance levels.

Unplanned and not pre-approved
These tend to be reactionary, caused by meetings that run long or added coaching sessions.

Regardless of the exception type, the goal remains the same – customer service consistency and meeting company goals for schedule adherence.

call center schedule exception calendar - Monet Software
Call Center Schedule Exception Calendar







 
This can be achieved with workforce management software, which provides real-time adherence data that streamlines call center schedule exception tracking, making it easier for managers to maintain service levels, to know which agents are excepted at any given time (and the reason for the exception, whether it’s a day off or time spent in training) and to review reporting data. The solution should also provide an easier method for shift swapping, with management approval.

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Multi-Channel Agent Skill Scheduling for Contact Centers

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Call centers are contact centers now, which means customers are interacting with agents through a range of channels including emails and live online chat. According to some studies, more than 25% of all customer interactions are now conducted via methods other than the telephone.

One of the goals of any 21st century contact center is to offer the right mix of channels and find an accurate method for multi-channel forecasting and scheduling of agents. The customer experience should be equally positive regardless of how communication is made. 

The challenge is how to offer consistent standards of customer engagement through multiple touch points.The solution is an optimized integrated platform that encompasses data on workforce management, agent skill sets, metrics, scheduling and reporting.

Tips for Multi-Channel Skills Scheduling
Multi-channel scheduling begins with a specification of service goals based on the types of channels the call center must handle, followed by agent skill assessment within each of these channels.

Once these standards are set, scheduling will require accurate calculation of the Average Handle Time (AHT) for each contact channel. This is easier to do with calls than with emails or chats where agent can handle multiple chats at the same time for example. A workforce management system takes these differences into consideration. With this information, the call center manager has two options to choose from:

Dedicated Agent Pools
Once an agent’s skill sets are determined, he or she can be assigned to a dedicated group that focuses solely or primarily on their best channel, whether that is inbound calls, emails or web chat.

The Universal Queue
With this method, all contacts are routed to agents based on order and availability. While this is a less specialized method for handing multiple channels, it does force agents to become adept at handling the various methods of customer communication in a shorter time span.

Workforce management provides the necessary metrics on channels and personnel skills to allow managers to make the best decisions for their contact center. You can watch a short video about multi-channel scheduling and staffing to learn more about this. Agents will be placed in situations where their skills can be maximized, thus improving productivity, morale and customer satisfaction – which is also great for the bottom line.


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Call Center Schedule Rotations: The Basics

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It takes both art and science to staff a call center. Next to hiring the right personnel, scheduling plays the key role in maximizing resources and making sure calls are handled in a courteous and efficient manner. There may be some instances where an agent needs to work a specific shift on a particular day of the week, one week, and then the next week work, different shift on the same day.

Call center schedule rotations should balance available staff against predicted call volumes. Data from call recording software and workforce management solutions should provide the answers necessary to improve this process. However, there are always variables with scheduling, from shift swaps and vacation seasons when more agents are in Hawaii instead of at their desk, to unanticipated call volume swings.

This is important stuff, but the time spent working on adjusting rotations and changing schedules is also time that is not being spent on other facets of the call center, such as improving service levels and achieving the company’s operational and fiscal goals. So it needs to be done, but it needs to be done quickly.

The role of workforce management
The more a call center can rely on workforce management software to streamline rotation schedules, the more time that leaves for management to deal with other issues. Communication is the key, and call centers should choose a workforce optimization solution that includes forecasting data to help determine schedule rotations, exception handling as well as a wide range of scheduling metrics that make it easier for agents and management to adjust to changing situations in call volume.

In addition, workforce management can track how well agents are functioning within the system, and where action may need to be taken. When agents are clear on what their hours will be, when they can swap shifts and take vacations, and have that information available quickly, it should result in a positive impact on job performance and morale. It should be equally easy for management to review schedule changes and determine their impact on productivity.

For more information about schedule rotations and exception handling in a call center please click the link to watch a video,


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Call Center Agent Shift Swapping

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Shift swapping is an inevitable occurrence at every call center, and is one of the more significant agent staffing challenges that management must oversee.

In general, allowing agents to swap shifts solves more problems than it creates. With this arrangement, agents have more control over their working hours, and that flexibility can encourage employee loyalty.

However, if this privilege is abused, it can lead to staffing confusion, lower productivity, a shortage of agents for unpopular shifts, and inconsistent customer service.

Agent Staffing Solutions
While shift swapping should be offered as an option, some center without the right processes in place try to  discourage this. They achieve this by built-in incentives for agents to work the shifts to which they are assigned, and by limiting swaps to, say, three a month or five in each quarter.

Call centers should have a reliable process in place that tracks shifts and instances of shift swapping. This will not only make the process easier for agents and management, it provides managers with insight into which agents may be abusing this privilege, and how working different shifts impacts an agent’s job performance.

While some last-minute shift swaps are unavoidable, as emergencies do happen, a center should require that agents request swaps at least three or five days in advance. That way, managers can adjust schedules accordingly so productivity is not impacted. For example, if an agent who is particularly adept at handling customer complaints swaps shifts with an agent who is not as qualified in this situation, the call center may wish to bring in another agent from a different shift with that same specialty.

The ultimate objective is to satisfy the needs of the center and the needs of the employees, and to make any staffing changes as convenient as possible.

The Role of Workforce Management Software
Shift swaps are yet another function that should be handled through a workforce management solution - through a simple self-service tool that includes shift bidding. An effective system will allow agents to search for shifts to swap, and instantly know if there is a conflict with their arrangement. Supervisors will then have the ability to approve or reject the swap request, and find out if there are any issues with weekly minimum or maximum restrictions on work hours should the swap be approved. To learn more about agent shift swapping and supervisor collaboration, please follow this link to our main website.

With effective workforce management, the system that allows shift swaps should be efficient, transparent and controlled by management with the limitations necessary to maintain service standards. 


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When Call Centers Become Contact Centers - the Impact on Workforce Management

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While the “call center” designation is likely to stick around for a while, agent interaction via telephone is now just one component of customer communication. Today, the public may reach out via email, online chat or social media. All of these additional channels are ultimately beneficial, but many call centers are just beginning to grasp the impact they will have - from a customer engagement perspective, but also from a workforce management perspective.

Email/Live Chat
Written exchanges of information, whether via email or text chat, have become commonplace. However, these channels work best with simple questions and conflict resolutions where a few sentences from both participants will suffice. Once the point has been reached where the number of exchanged messages tops 5-10, it might be advisable to switch to a telephone conversation.

With online chat, it may take longer to complete a customer interaction, simply because it takes longer to type a message than to say it. However, online chat agents can manage up to five sessions simultaneously, which will impact productivity and scheduling. If five proves too many (measure response times to each customer to determine this), three ongoing sessions might be a more practical limit.

When it comes to workforce management scheduling, you will want chat agents with proven written skills. While the Internet has done no shortage of damage to the disciplines of spelling, grammar and punctuation, it is vital that any written communication from your company to customers is free of such errors.

Social Media
A Facebook page and a Twitter account are great ways for companies to announce new products and specials and exchange ideas with customers. They are less effective for such traditional call center functions as handling orders and returns or resolving disputes. However, this too is changing rapidly.

If the call center is to take the lead on establishing and maintaining a company’s social media presence, adequate resources must be made available to do so, to make certain pages are updated, questions are answered, and ongoing communications are having a positive impact on branding and customer loyalty.

That starts with creating and scheduling a social media team based on experience and training. Agents should not just be familiar with these outlets, but be well versed on the company’s social media strategy and best practices.

And, as with email and online chat, choose agents and experts with written communication skills, and when a problem arises try to route that customer back to a call-in situation where it might be easier to resolve the situation verbally.

Each of these new communication channels should get included into your overall forecasting, scheduling and staffing planning process.


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5 Tips for More Accurate Call Center Forecasting

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Unlike weather forecasting, call center forecasting can be performed with a high degree of accuracy. Workforce management solutions combine the use of historic data and real-time data, to not only improve the efficiency at a call center, but to create projections for future growth, changes and special events, so the call center can be prepared for any eventual scenario.

Here are five tips to help you make the most of you call center forecasting solution:

1. Use Historic Data
This is the obvious place to start. Historical call volume data can be used to analyze present performance and future growth trends. It can also serve to correct assumptions about what constitutes an appropriate length of a customer engagement, how many calls an agent should handle in one shift, and other factors that impact hiring and staffing procedures. Several weeks of data is usually sufficient as a starting point, but longer-term projections would require months or years of data, especially for seasonal or annual projections.

2. Run Scenarios Based on Data
With workforce management a call center manager does not have to wait for something to happen to gauge the effectiveness of call center response. Staffing and service levels can be analyzed ahead of time by creating a what-if scenario. Typical scenarios would include the start of a new advertising campaign that will increase call volume, a discount on a key product line, or a turnover in personnel that results in a higher number of less experienced agents on the same shift.

3. Leverage Past Events
How did the opening of a new retail location affect call volume to the call center? How did call patterns change during the holiday season? By reviewing past events, a call center can be better prepared for future occurrences, and adjust accordingly. This data can also impact long-term strategies for planning, budgeting and recruitment.

4. Leverage Real-Time Data
Every call to a call center is a forecasting tool. Real-time analysis of individual calls and calls handled within an hour, a day, etc. can lead to adjustments on the fly and more accurate forecasting in the days and weeks to come. Among the most important measurements here are the speed with which calls are answered, average call-handling times, percentage of calls abandoned, and number of interactions on hold.

5. Multi-Channel Forecasting
Customer communication is not handled only through a telephone anymore. With the introduction of multi-channel environments (email, fax, Internet), customers now have a wide range of options, and an equally wide range of expectations in how a company responds to their needs. While this makes forecasting more complex, it is a necessity for any workforce management solution to incorporate multi-channel capabilities. This makes it easier to discover, for example, how many customer engagements are now handled via email, how that impacts call volume to a call center, and how that center should adjust to meet its service goals.

To learn more, you can also watch one of our forecasting and scheduling videos in our new demo center.


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