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Workforce Management

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

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Workforce Management Hints, Tips & Best Practices

Cloud Software Adoption Exceeds Expectations - Good News for Call Centers

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

If you are not in the cloud yet, you need to get moving.

That’s just one of the conclusions from a recent study that finds cloud computing is growing even faster than believed, and that those who have made the switch are enjoying the promised cost benefits, without the security concerns often cited by the technology’s detractors.

The study surveyed more than 500 organizations, including larger and smaller companies in the United States and Europe. An amazing 87% of respondents report the adoption of cloud services in the past three years. More than half said that cloud deployment was completed ahead of schedule, and 40% raved that the cloud has exceeded their expectations - see chart below. This positive result was surprising for many companies, since many have experienced in the past that IT projects almost always took longer than planned.

Source: The study was commissioned by CA Technologies and conducted jointly by Luth Research and Vanson Bourne. See link below for complete study

What about security? According to this survey, 98% said that the cloud met or exceeded their expectations in this area. That may be a surprise to those who remain hesitant about the technology for this reason.

In fact, there were indications that those in the cloud industry need to do a better job of addressing these worries, and in closing the gap between perceived and actual security risk. A Ponemon study, quoted in the survey article, reveals that some of these risks are a result of companies not adhering to recommended security practices.

Bottom line? If you have not considered cloud services yet, now would be a good time to do so. At this point the business and technology benefits are simply too substantial to ignore.

The full study is available here and you can also follow this link to learn more about cloud-based call center software.

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Learn Something New About Forecasting and Scheduling

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

Have you considered making a final break from spreadsheets, and incorporating a sophisticated workforce management solution into your contact center? If so, what is holding you back? For many, it may be a concern that WFM is too complicated, too difficult to install, too confusing to use. But what if we could prove that wasn’t the case?

Check out the short videos below, each of which covers a specific challenge faced by every call center, and explains how workforce management software makes that challenge much easier to manage. You’ll see how the software works, and how simple it is to collect the data you need to keep your call center running at optimum efficiency.

Forecasting and Scheduling Demo Center

The videos cover the following topics:

Accurate Forecasting
With WFM you’ll have monthly and weekly stats to review, plus daily and hourly numbers. You can even examine work periods as short as 15 minutes. By reviewing past activity, you’ll have a much better idea of how to predict future needs.

Efficient Scheduling
Confident scheduling comes from the knowledge that the right people are in the right places at the right times. Find out how WFM makes this task easier.

Effective Staffing
Discover how WFM optimizes scheduling for all necessary factors, including agent skill sets, staff availability, holidays, breaks and service levels.

Intra-Day Management
Scheduling an agent for a shift is not enough – WFM also provides a graphical display of variances in agents’ schedules during the workday for breaks, lunch and other exceptions.

Exception Planning
Find out how the integrated exception calendar simplifies the scheduling of agent exceptions for training, time off and other variables.

Interactive Dashboards
Watch how WFM provides actionable insights on all agent activities through dashboards, key performance indicators and real-time alerts.

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Forecasting and Scheduling During the Holiday Season

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

So many companies rely on increased orders during the holiday season to make or break their annual sales goals. Thus, the call center plays a critical role in making certain each customer call is efficiently handled during these final weeks of the year.

If that means adding agents or changing shift personnel, the time to start planning for these events is not in December, but right now.

Proper planning and forecasting is the key to handling seasonal changes in call volume. This is much easier to do with Workforce Management software. Now, you can take advantage of "special day" forecasting/scheduling, leveraging call history data to forecast the future. Plus, you can run simulations based on this data and review the results, so they can be fine-tuned as necessary.

Once generated, schedules should be easily accessible to all concerned parties so there’s never any confusion.

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.

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Call Center Hiring Tip: Interview Agents on the Phone

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

The first responsibility of a call center agent is to speak clearly, courteously and intelligently on the telephone. So it makes sense to interview prospective agents over the phone and get a preview of the skills they will need to be hired.

An interview call may typically unfold in two phases. First, gather information about the candidate’s previous experience in the industry and familiarity with the software systems and call recording technology used at the call center. When listening to the responses, focus not only what they say, but also how they say it.

Next, try a couple of role-playing scenarios. Put them in a customer-call situation with the interviewer as the customer. Go through a standard ordering or return call, and then try one as an irate customer. How do they respond under pressure?

Of course, an in-person interview will still be necessary. But there’s no better way to judge the most basic capabilities of a prospective call center agent than over the phone. And for contact centers, in which agents may also be responding to customers online or via email, run through a sample scenario as well to determine their grasp of the written language.

Don’t expect perfection, as the candidate is also dealing with the anxiety of a job interview and probably will not be at their very best. But these exercises are helpful in spotting both potential for success and any red flags that should be seriously considered.

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3 Reasons to Use Workforce Management Tools

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

When you really think about it, there isn’t any aspect of the call center experience that is not enhanced by quality Workforce Management (WFM) tools. Ask any manager about their goals, and you’ll probably hear something like:

•    Better customer service and customer satisfaction
•    Higher productivity, preferably accompanied by lower costs
•    Employee motivation and transparency

Workforce Management tools can’t do it alone, but it can certainly make these goals more attainable by providing call center managers and supervisor more insights and and a better way to plan and react based on call pattern and other events.

Better Customer Service
WFM generates accurate call volume forecasting from historical data and ACD integration. It also creates flexible schedules that incorporate foreseen and unforeseen variables, agent exceptions, intra-day changes to both forecasting and scheduling, and performance management reports. When forecasting and scheduling are done right, customer service improves. Another WFM benefit is call routing, so agents with specific skills are available to take the calls they are most qualified to receive.

Higher Productivity
By creating optimized employee schedules, WFM improves productivity while reducing call center costs triggered by over-staffing or under-staffing. And in addition to forecasting and scheduling, WFM also creates data on call answer times, first call resolutions, transfer rates and other key metrics that are the key to consistent productivity.

Employee Motivation
With WFM, staff satisfaction will increase, as the system eliminates the uncertainty of manual scheduling, allowing agents to manage their own schedules and set their own schedule preferences as a reward for outstanding performance. By establishing a ranking system, agents are motivated to do a better job.

If you are still using spreadsheets and consider a workforce management system, we encourage you to read one of the following whitepapers:

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Engaging Your Call Center Team

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

When the objective is agent engagement, the one option that should always be off the table is to do nothing. But as this recent ICMI article describes, that’s exactly what some call centers do.

When you do nothing, that’s exactly what you get in return. And how do think customers react when they are forced to deal with uninspired, unmotivated and perhaps even incompetent call center personnel?
So why do some call centers take the attitude that since agent turnover is already high, it’s a waste of time and resources to invest in agents that may be gone next month?
The probable answer is that employee engagement takes more than a quick fix to get right. One technology upgrade in workforce optimization software or workforce management can solve a slew of problems, but alone it won’t create positive attitude adjustments among the agents using the system.
Here are 5 steps you can take that should make a difference. Add these to a workplace where employees are respectfully treated, and watch how agent turnover slows.

1. Ditch the Assembly Line Attitude
It’s right to expect all of your agents to possess the same job skills, or train them toward that goal; it is not right to treat them all like the same generic person. The last conversation a manager has with an agent should not be the one that took place at the job interview. Get to know them as individuals.

2. Listen to Them
Agents are on the front lines of customer service, and they will have ideas on how methods or scripts can be altered to better serve customers. Listen to those ideas and reward those that are implemented. The more an agent feels like he or she is part of the company, the more likely they are to stick around.

3. A Little Praise
The old adage about attracting more flies with honey than vinegar is absolutely true. If John is doing a good job, let him know – don’t wait for his next employee review or training session.

4. Free Stuff
Another way to recognize valuable agents is to reward them. A gift certificate to a local restaurant or movie theater can do wonders for morale, and create a healthy competitive environment among shifts as other agents strive to be recognized.

5. Manage Mistakes
Did an agent mishandle a call? It’s going to happen, especially with newer hires. This is a training moment, a coaching moment, but not a “verbally dress down the agent on the floor” moment. Nobody’s perfect. Take the necessary steps to minimize such incidents, but insults and threats are not going to result in better performance or motivated employees. 

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How Efficient is Your Call Center Forecasting and Scheduling Process?

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

While every call center is different, there are some qualities that remain consistent throughout the industry, and these are the qualities that can provide a basis for your forecasting and scheduling process. Some variations may be possible based on specific call patterns and staffing, but this guideline should be helpful in establishing a process that achieves results.

1. Collect and analyze data, including call type, call volume, and call patterns.

2. Use this data to forecast call center workload (by day, by hour, even by quarter-hour).

3. Forecast special days or any other events that influence call volumes. These may include company promotions and events, holidays, seasonal fluctuations or other unique trends.

4. Calculate and plan resources requirements. These will be specified once you have defined acceptable service levels on ASA, AHT and other factors.

5. Review additional staffing considerations, including cost, personnel skills and specialties, flexibility, availability and occupancy.

6. Create a schedule that balances agent needs vs. call center capabilities, and accounts for shrinkage and exceptions.

7. Manage daily operation based on the created schedule. Track key metrics and adherence, and adjust forecast/schedule based on actual call volume and pattern.

8. Review, report and analyze, then repeat the process starting with step #1.

We invite you to watch any of the forecasting and scheduling videos to visualize these process steps.

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How Do You Handle Today’s Schedule Exception?

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

It’s a situation that a call center manager faces every week – in larger call centers, it probably happens every day. You prepare to start a shift and realize that one or more agents forecasted and scheduled to work will not be coming in today. What should that manager do?

If he (or she) is using spreadsheets for scheduling, panic might be a good first step. But with the right workforce management (WFM) software, not only is the crisis averted, it never becomes a crisis at all.

Choose a WFM solution with an Exceptions feature that streamlines the tracking process on no-show employees. Once the missing agent is noted, the list of assigned employees is automatically adjusted accordingly.

This same capability also covers agents who miss part of their shift, either through a training session, a special project, or just because they were late. And for those enterprising agents that work overtime, their efforts are recorded automatically as well.

Such data is about more than just staffing; it’s about measuring productivity, and making sure the records accurately reflect how many agents were taking calls at any specific moment of any specific day. By getting those numbers right, it’s much easier to create forecasts and schedules that match caller demand and other call center needs.

For instance – perhaps you have discovered that customers waited an average of 60 seconds longer for an agent between 1pm and 1:30 on a Wednesday. A spreadsheet might just show 20 agents working that half-hour. But WFM data will show that two agents didn’t start their shift until 1:10, since the lunch service was slow at Olive Garden that afternoon. Now you know that only 18 agents were at their desks, which likely accounted for the delays.

With a few clicks, a workforce management system delivers information about employee status and availability, and the schedule exceptions that are critical for accurate future planning. For more information, please watch this video about schedule exception planning and management.

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The Story of Scheduling Spreadsheets in Call Centers

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

What does a call center supervisor think of using spreadsheets for scheduling,  analyzing statistics on call volume and other key metrics? As our new video shows, it’s a system that has its limitations, and has now been surpassed by workforce optimization (WFO) software.

Supervisors always have a lot on their collective plates, so the sooner they can get the information they need for accurate forecasting and scheduling, the faster they’ll be able to move on to other issues. Of course, they also need to have confidence in the schedules they have created – and that becomes easier as well with data as detailed and extensive as what WFO provides.

From tracking call history, adherence and performance, to call recording capabilities, WFO makes almost every aspect of the supervisor’s job more efficient.

Click on the video to meet Mary, a call center supervisor facing many of the same challenges that may be present at your call center. Did WFO work for her? Then, click on the link at the end of the video to view a more detailed demo of how WFO can make a difference at your call center.


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What Customers Expect From a Call Center – and How to Deliver

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

What’s the short answer to what customers want from a call center? Everything. People are busier than ever these days, and technology has made them accustomed to placing orders, changing orders, canceling orders, asking questions and registering complaints with near-instant efficiency. It’s a challenging task to meet such lofty expectations, but by delivering on the most important points, your call center should receive consistently positive feedback.

1. Fast Access
No one likes to be kept on hold, listening to music that is regularly interrupted by a “Your call is important to us” recording. Using Workforce Management for accurate forecasting and scheduling improves the odds of having enough agents in place to answer each call quickly.

2. Courtesy
Customers expect call center agents to be pleasant and understanding – even when they are calling to complain. Every agent’s training should include the skills to remain calm under stress and speak with a smile in the voice. A friendly greeting and a “thank you for your business” before hanging up should be mandatory.

3. Limit Questions
Many customers call a call center to ask questions about a product or an order. They don’t want to be peppered with questions in response. Obviously an agent will have to collect some information, but if a call has to be transferred, it can be frustrating for a customer to have to repeat that information again, especially if they have already entered it once before even speaking to an agent. Whenever possible, call center technology should display accurate, up-to-date customer information on the agent’s computer so many of these questions can be eliminated.

4. Knowledgeable Staff
Customers expect their questions to be answered. As most will relate to the company’s products, services and policies, agent training should prepare call center personnel for responding to these queries. Occasionally, when a more unexpected question is asked, an agent should have access to communication with other agents or a manager who can deliver an answer quickly.

5. A Successful Resolution
Ultimately, the most important result to strive for with each customer call is a successful outcome – an order placed, a question answered, or a problem solved. Well-trained agents and quality call center technology, working together, improve the likelihood of a successful resolution.

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Schedule Adherence Automation

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

We offer a wide range of free resources on our website, including whitepapers on several important subjects related to call center technology and the call center industry. From the number of downloads, it is apparent that schedule adherence is a key topic of interest for many call center managers.

However, many of these managers also indicate that they have no Workforce Management (WFM) solution in place, and are still relying on spreadsheets. Without WFM, the vital practices of tracking, monitoring and improving schedule adherence is much more difficult, if not impossible.

With an automated solution in place, a call center manager has the capability to streamline schedule adherence goals and practices. Here’s how it works when you have the right tools for the job:

  • Forecasting – through simulations based on historical data, you can create a reliable schedule.
  • Schedule Creation – adherence is improved when a schedule takes into account agent availability, skills, holidays, breaks and other variables.
  • Intra-day Management – when adjustments are necessary, WFM provides real-time updates so schedule goals are met regardless of changes.
  • Real-time Adherence – this is the fastest way to compare forecasted data with actual daily activity. The results will aid in future forecasting and scheduling, toward the goal of more consistent adherence.
  • Performance Analysis/Metrics – how do you know which agents are doing their part for schedule adherence and which may require additional guidance or training? WFM dashboards and real-time alerts provide the answers.
To find out more, read our schedule adherence strategy brief, or review the whitepapers available on our call center resources page.

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Use Workforce Management to Engage Employees, not Control Them

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

In a previous blog post, we discussed how customer satisfaction could be positively impacted by call center employee satisfaction.

Workforce Management (WFM) can play a prominent role in engendering employee satisfaction. That certainly hasn’t always been the case. When such technologies were first introduced, they were perceived as a means to control a call center workforce, to make sure they were producing as expected, and to keep an electronic eye on them at all times.

But in today’s call centers, agents and managers have discovered how workforce management improves communication, transparency, accountability and schedule flexibility:

  • Skill-based Scheduling allows managers to better match agents with the types of calls they are most comfortable and experienced in handling.  This boosts both employee confidence and customer service.
  • Flexible Schedules are more easily managed with WFM, so agents can balance obligations in their personal lives with work responsibilities. 
  • Online Collaboration between agents and supervisors makes it easier for agents to bid for shifts, and to handle changes as needed. 
  • Exception Calendars keep all call center personnel informed and prepared for issues, while giving agents a way to better deal with emergencies and other unplanned activities.
  • Reporting and Transparency Tools provide more accurate assessments of agent performance, so they can be monitored and reviewed fairly.
All of these capabilities help call centers to engage agents in the planning and management process, and that makes for happier agents. Please take a look at our workforce management learning center to learn more.

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Are You Still Using Spreadsheets for forecasting and scheduling?

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

Based on a recent call center analysis, we discovered that approximately 20% of call centers still use spreadsheets for forecasting ad scheduling. Those that do are missing out on the convenience, efficiency, flexibility and functionality of workforce management.

Spreadsheet based forecasting and scheduling

Is there an optimal use for spreadsheets? Perhaps – for a call center where the call flows are the same every hour of every day. Unfortunately, such a call center does not exist. When call volume changes, spreadsheets are insufficient.

Here are 5 ways that WFM represents a quantum leap forward in forecasting and scheduling:
  • Flexible Schedules – spreadsheets are fine for fixed schedules – but call center schedules rarely stay fixed. A WFM system provides the flexibility to manage start times, end times and break times.
  • Call History Forecasts – the most accurate call forecasts are those that rely on call history data. This can be done manually with a spreadsheet, but it’s much faster and more accurate to work with real-time and historic call data collected by a WFM system.
  • Adherence Tracking – tracking and schedule adherence are difficult, if not flat-out impossible, with just a spreadsheet. Spot-checks are fine as far as they go, but without the real-time tracking provided by WFM there is a higher risk of over/under staffing, shrinkage and missed service levels.
  • Forecast Simulation – WFM allows for more detailed and accurate forecast simulations.
  • Exception Handling – All exception considerations are handled automatically through WFM. Spreadsheets cannot match this speed and efficiency, which results in unhappy agents and higher shrinkage.
To find out more about why WFM is the better solution, even for smaller call centers, sign up to receive a free whitepaper.

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Contact Center Management Should Start With the Customer in Mind

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

What is it that contact center managers have to actually “manage”? If it were only one element, their jobs would be a lot easier. However, most are required to oversee the allocation of resources, costs and staff, all of which require multiple decisions on a daily basis. At a busy contact center, that is a full-time job.

And while all of these aspects of the operation are important, the best managers also realize that their job really begins and ends in just one place – customer satisfaction. Those who leave this responsibility to their agents are neglecting the most significant part of their business.

Too many contact center customers now hope for the best and expect the worst. Miscommunication, being put on hold for interminable amounts of time, being transferred to three different representatives to get a question answered – these are the contact center customer nightmares.

Agents play their role, of course, but it is the responsibility of management to take customer needs and the customer experience into consideration, and distribute resources, budget and staff to turn those nightmares into rave reviews. The first step toward doing so is to create a comprehensive contact center strategy. We’ll provide steps for doing so in our next blog. In the meantime, you can also download our whitepaper to learn about strategies to improve quality and customer experience.

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How to Improve Training Effectiveness In Your Contact Center

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

A recent ICMI article described how call centers and contact centers are taking a more prominent role in how a company engages with customers, with other departments and with the community at large.

If a call center exerts more influence on product development and company policies, training of call center personnel takes on even more significance, and must be amended to achieve these cross-functional purposes. When devising future training practices, keep these thoughts in mind:

1. Maximize the Impact of Quality Monitoring
A quality-monitoring program aids in agent training, but can also serve as a valuable data source that can shape company processes and organization. Make sure the knowledge gained from customers through call recording is put to more than one good use.

2. Consistency in Data Results
How has quality monitoring impacted customer satisfaction, service levels, revenues or employee satisfaction? All of these elements are interrelated, but too often managers take a micro-view when a macro-view can lead to better improvements. Do not underestimate the connections between seemingly disparate goals. Quality monitoring data can be invaluable in establishing consistency in performance throughout the call center.

3. Check Results
Once you’ve established best practices in both technology use and agent performance, make sure the guidelines that have been implemented are actually working. One way to do this is to arrange an independent evaluation of a sample of call interactions. If their results do not match yours, it may be time to make some changes.

For more information about quality monitoring strategies, please download our new whitepaper.

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What are the Key Components of a Workforce Management System?

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

When first looking at the range of workforce management systems available, it can be confusing trying to figure out which might be best for your call center. So for those in need of a quick primer, here are the most significant capabilities of workforce management, and why they are critical to the success of your business.

  • Forecasting – By using historical data, and through simulations to calculate future call volume, WFM generates forecasts for appropriate staffing, call handle time and other factors to maintain optimum call center performance for any time interval of the day.
  • Scheduling – Accurate forecasts create accurate schedules. A WFM scheduling engine should incorporate all call types and other activities. A staffing schedule is only valuable when it is optimized for all necessary factors, including agent skill sets, staff availability, holidays, breaks and service levels.
  • Intra-day Management – Scheduling an agent for a shift is not enough – WFM should provide a graphical display of variances in agents’ schedules during the workday for breaks, lunch and other exceptions. Real-time updates allow managers to compensate during surpluses or shortages for each time period.
  • Exception Planning – Choose a WFM solution with an integrated exception calendar, that simplifies the scheduling of agent exceptions for training, time off and other variables.
  • Real-Time Adherence – Use WFM to compare planned agent activity to actual activities throughout the day, while also reviewing forecasts for key performance indicators such as call volume and handle time.
  • Configuration/Administration – WFM should adjust to your call center regardless of how it is organized. Choose a system that lets you build an unlimited number of center splits or agent groups with separate service objectives and guidelines. Use WFM to manage multiple sites and time zones, and set service level goals down to 15-minute intervals.
  • Performance Analysis/Metrics – WFM provides actionable insights on all agent activities through dashboards, key performance indictors and real-time alerts.
  • Ease of Use – Technology cannot benefit a business if it is not easy to use, and if it cannot be incorporated into the center with minimal training.
  • Agent Collaboration – Communicate with agents on schedule changes, exception planning and shift bidding. WFM should also issue automated alerts and notifications to maintain schedule adherence. 
For more advice on workforce management system selection, please download our "How to Select a WFM Solution" whitepaper.

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Advanced Forecasting Methods for Your Call Center

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

The most critical and useful step in the workforce management process is forecasting.  The more precise the forecast, the more likely a call center will be to avoid such issues as over-staffing or under-staffing, while providing consistent customer service.

advanced forecasting for call centers
Forecasts are subject to a wide array of variables and challenges, which places great demands on a workforce management system. When choosing a solution for your business, make sure to review the following capabilities that will improve the likelihood of optimized schedules.

Detailed Data Analysis
The system must use work history data to anticipate future call volume, agent requirements, average call handling time and other performance indicators, not just for a particular day but also for different times throughout that day.

The necessary data is gathered through analysis of call types and routing policies, but should provide updates throughout the day when new data suggests changes are necessary.

A workforce management system should quickly generate automatic forecasts for multiple call center sites based on their unique needs.

The system should not just generate accurate forecasts, but analyze alternative scenarios based on changes in staffing or call volume. Managers can then run “what if” simulations that can help prepare the call center for such fluctuations.

For more information, please check out these videos about call forecasting and Intra-day management

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5 Reasons for Call Center Schedule Issues

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

Call center schedules are only as accurate as the data used to determine them. Usually if there’s an issue, that’s the place to begin your search. However, the problem may also be caused by other call center policies that impact scheduling data.

Here are 5 reasons why your call center schedule may not be getting the job done:

1. Insufficient Historic Call Data
This is an issue with newer call centers who cannot trace two years of calling patterns to determine future volume. But it can also be a problem at call centers for companies that undergo significant expansion or contraction, changes in product lines, or even expansion/contraction of call center resources. If last August was different than this one for any reason, that makes the challenge of forecasting and scheduling more difficult.

2. Call Related Activities
Scheduling must take into account all call- and non-call related activities, not just managing the incoming call load and the actual time on each call. Lunches, other breaks, training sessions, meetings and correspondence should also be calculated.

3. No Simulation
Forecasting simulation can help managers analyze their routing policies and incoming call volume to develop more accurate forecasts, which lead to more accurate schedules.

4. No Flexibility

The more rigid the schedule, the more likely it will fall short of expectations. Building in some flexibility allows managers to be more prepared for unforeseen fluctuations. It’s also better for call center agents, who will appreciate being able to take a few extra moments away if they need it.

5. Slow Reaction to Changing Call Volumes

Some sports cars can change direction in a few seconds. An aircraft carrier might take hours to accomplish the same task. If call volume changes unexpectedly, a call center needs to react quickly and adjust the schedule accordingly, or risk the pitfalls of overtaxed agents and dissatisfied customers.

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Managing Younger Agents in Call Centers

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

managing young call center agentsThese young adults today – if you’ve ever said that about the younger agents hired for your call center, you’re not alone. But while the so-called Generation Y come with their own management challenges, they also have a number of positive attributes, as described in this article in Contact Professional.

Sure, the Gen Y workforce is more accustomed to informal communication between management and employees, and many won’t understand the concept of company loyalty if a better opportunity comes along. But they’re smart, they take feedback well, and may be highly motivated to succeed, even if they look upon your call center as a stepping stone to future endeavors.

The article provides four tips for engaging Gen Y, but all of them are equally appropriate to agents of any age:
  • Two-Way Communication
  • Frequent Feedback and Coaching
  • Balancing Work and Life
  • Position Growth/Development
All of these goals are also easier achieved with a workforce management solution.
  • The metrics provided on call center goals and employee performance provides the substance of communication.
  • Call recordings can improve coaching sessions.
  • Scheduling can make it easier for Gen Y agents to achieve their desired work/life balance, perhaps even through working from home.
  • As call centers become contact centers, agents can be trained in new customer engagement areas, from webchat to email, thus expanding their skill set and moving them forward on their professional journey.

And if these techniques work for your Gen Y workforce, go ahead and try them on those “over-the-hill” 30- and 40-somethings in your center. They’ll appreciate the extra attention as well.

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Use Call History Data for Better Forecasting and Scheduling

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

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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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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