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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 Workforce Management to Engage Employees, not Control Them

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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?

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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

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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

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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?

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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

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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.

Flexibility
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.

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

Simulation
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

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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

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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

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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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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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