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Workforce Management

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

Featured Whitepapers

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Workforce Management Hints, Tips & Best Practices

Call Center Scheduling in Real Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mobile Workforce Management for Call Centers

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

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

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

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

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How to Schedule your Call Center Workforce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Workforce Management Solution 101 - what's important?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Workforce Management Videos for Call Centers

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

Workforce Management Videos - Monet Software

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

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Special Days: The Challenges of Forecasting and Scheduling

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

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

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

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

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

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


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How Accurate is your Call Forecast?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Creating a Call Center Staffing Roster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Workforce Management Software Selection for Contact Centers

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

1. Capabilities

What can the software do for your call center? Its capabilities should include accurate call volume forecasting from historical data and ACD integration, flexible schedule creation that incorporates foreseen and unforeseen variables, agent exceptions, intra-day changes to both forecasting and scheduling, and performance management reports.

2. Implementation

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

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

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

5. Usability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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How To Improve Call Center Service Levels

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

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

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

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

3. Intra-day Adherence Tracking

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

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

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


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The Top 5 Workforce Management Challenges

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

1. Accurate Forecasting

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

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

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

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

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

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


Read More About The Top 5 Workforce Management Challenges

Agent Schedule Adherence Visualized

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

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

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

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

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


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Call Center Schedule Exceptions

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

There are four types of exceptions:

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

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

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

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

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

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







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

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Multi-Channel Agent Skill Scheduling for Contact Centers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Read More About Multi-Channel Agent Skill Scheduling for Contact Centers

Call Center Schedule Rotations: The Basics

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Call Center Agent Shift Swapping

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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5 Tips for More Accurate Call Center Forecasting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Call center schedule exception handling made easy

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Every day call centers have to deal with exceptions and find a way to minimize the impact on their schedule and service level. There are either planned exceptions such as planned time-off and planned training sessions, or mid-day exceptions that are typically not planned. Let's take a look at some examples and describe how to deal with those.

Call center schedule exceptions handling
Example: Schedule a meeting with multiple agents
while minimizing impact on service levels
  • Agents call in late
  • Agents leave early for emergency
  • Agents leave early with vacation time
  • Agents in training session
  • One on one meeting with supervisor
  • Multiple agent meeting with supervisor
  • Agents staying late for overtime
Many Workforce Management systems have integrated exception planner, that make scheduling agent exceptions such as time off and one-time or recurring training meetings a simple process.  For example Monet WFM Live provides a color-coded availability calendar that displays a real-time summary of time off, making it easy for managers to see whether to grant an agent's time off request.

Complete schedule integration ensures the center will be appropriately staffed if the time off is approved and that you will continually meet service levels. Exceptions can be scheduled far into the future or recorded as recurring exceptions. The Exception Planner has also support for mid-day exceptions too, taking them into account when choosing shifts and scheduling breaks and lunches. A manager can easily schedule an agent to attend a training meeting from 11:00 - 1:00 on the second Friday of every month, or set up a rotating schedule where agents have different days off on alternate weeks. The exception calendar enables managers to see how existing exceptions affect their staff availability. They can select any set of dates from the year and see agent requirements and availability, along with the number of exception hours, broken down both by agent and exception type. This tool is particularly useful when deciding whether or not to grant a vacation request.

Efficient and effective management of exceptions is crucial to achieve and maintain your service level. If you would like to learn more, feel free to watch a demo about intra-day schedule management or contact us.

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What is cloud-based workforce management software?

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Cloud computing is a web-based delivery model that enables users to connect with applications on-demand from any computer with Internet access. A cloud-based workforce management solution provides the highest ROI and savings of any WFM strategy due to its low upfront investment and low operating costs. Cloud-based WFM software puts call centers in unprecedented control, enabling dramatic cost savings and making scheduling far more efficient. Compared with traditional workforce management software, a cloud-based WFM solution allows companies to:

  • Reduce upfront costs: Eliminate the significant investment just to get started. From purchasing hardware, databases, and software licenses to the high costs of installation and IT staff to support the system, the traditional model simply doesn’t make sense. In stark contrast, cloud-based workforce scheduling software saves both time and money because there are no infrastructure costs.
  • Get started faster: Rather than having to ramp-up to a six- to twelve-month (or more) implementation, WFM solutions enable companies to start managing their workforce in the cloud within a matter of weeks. And, since the solution is web-based, integrating the software with existing systems reduces time and costs.
  • Connect anywhere:  The software is hosted by the workforce management firm so companies can access the software anywhere—whether on the other side of town or the other side of the world. All they need is a computer and a standard web browser.
  • Minimize ongoing costs: Cloud-based WFM software doesn’t just save money during the implementation phase. Companies save time and money in the long-term as well. The WFM firm supports all maintenance of the system, including free software upgrades and troubleshooting. Companies also benefit from the ability to quickly customize or add modules via a single, web-based interface.
  • Pay-as-you-go: One of the most attractive features of the solution is the pricing model. Companies only pay for the capacity and infrastructure that are actually used, typically based on number of users. This usage-based, pay-as-you-go subscription pricing approach not only saves businesses money,  Web-based workforce scheduling software also enables them to quickly scale to manage the demands of changing call center sizes.
Cloud-based WFM software lowers the initial infrastructure costs and ongoing maintenance costs of traditional WFM software. This on-the-fly WFM solution also gives call center managers the tools to schedule the right number of agents at the right skill level at the right time, increase overall schedule adherence, boost service levels, and improve both agent and customer satisfaction. To learn more about this topic, please download our What is cloud-based Workforce Management whitepaper.

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The Business Value of Workforce Management Software - Part 2

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In our previous blog about the value of workforce management software we talked about the business challenges, now, let’s take a look at the key value drivers of WFM software compared to the manual/spreadsheet approach:

    Value and ROI of workforce management software
  • Reduces administrative time: Automated WFM drastically reduces the administrative time spent on forecasting and scheduling, data gathering of call history, and creation of management reports. Most call centers see a reduction by a large percentage  after implementation.
  • Slashes shrinkage and optimizes schedules: WFM precisely measures the sources of agent shrinkage and provides tools to reduce its occurrence. Managers can create staffing schedules that optimize a wide range of critical success factors, such as agent skills and availability, breaks and holidays, skill types, historical and predicted call volume, budgets, and service levels. Skills-based scheduling and routing processes enable call center managers to assign skill levels and types to individual agents, and then automatically route a specific type of call to a specific agent who will best be able to resolve the customer’s issue quickly and more effectively. In addition, they can take advantage of flexible start and end times.
  • Precisely forecasts demand: Automated WFM solutions use historical data to accurately predict the number of agents needed to handle the center's volume in real-time, and allow managers to predict future call volume, handle times, agent occupancy, first call resolution rate, and other service levels. Managers can also run multiple forecast/schedule scenarios, and have the ability to better forecast special days such as holidays and other scheduled time off. It also enables managers to forecast agent requirements based on service level agreements, as well as refine forecasts and performance goals based on collected data. More accurate forecasts ensure more efficient schedules, which prevents under or over-staffing.
  • Increases productivity and service quality: WFM software gives managers the ability to compare forecasts with available agent schedules to find time-pockets throughout the day where agents would sit idle, and then use that time for training, coaching, and meetings.
The bottom line? Lower expenses, higher revenues and productivity, and improved service levels and customer satisfaction. A manual/spreadsheet approach simply doesn’t measure up.

What About ROI and Payback Time?
The large return on investment and fast payback time make WFM software the clear choice when compared with any other method of managing a workforce, forecasting call volumes and creating schedules. A workforce management solution helps call centers realize a high ROI by:
  • Providing more accurate forecasting and scheduling to reduce agent under-staffing and over-staffing
  • Improving agent schedule adherence to reduce shrinkage
  • Enhancing supervisor efficiency by spending more time coaching and allowing agents to use the software’s self-service scheduling features
  • Reducing overtime expenses of agents by monitoring intra-day statistics and anticipating when additional agent resources will be needed
  • Decreasing agent turnover by enabling agents to manage their own schedules and empowering them to improve performance by reviewing their individual metrics
For more information you can also download the "how to calculate cost savings for workforce management software" whitepaper.

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The Business Value of Workforce Management Software - Part 1

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Persuading senior management to change “business-as-usual” call center systems can be a difficult undertaking. The management team often faces both internal and external factors that make it resistant to change. A challenging economic environment also puts pressure on all areas of the organization to implement solutions that reduce costs and increase revenues—all while improving performance and productivity. As each solution competes for investment dollars, only a select few offering the highest ROI will obtain funding.

This short article helps you make the business case for workforce management automation. We will discuss:

  • Business impact (manual vs. automated solutions)
  • Benefits (savings, service levels, employee morale, customer satisfaction)
  • ROI (payback time of investment)
A common misconception is that workforce management software is associated with a large investment. In fact, it delivers significant value to the top and bottom line with a minimal investment. In addition, an automated WFM solution is aligned with a company’s goals of saving money and increasing revenue, productivity, and service levels—and it even starts paying for itself within months instead of years.

Manual/Spreadsheet Processes
Many call centers that don’t use workforce management systems typically rely on spreadsheets. Therefore, let’s first look at a few of the limitations of using spreadsheets to manage a workforce. These inefficient manual systems have a huge impact on the performance of a call center in many areas every day, including:
  • Capturing data: ACD systems that provide massive amounts of data must be manually typed into spreadsheets, inevitably resulting in typing errors and wasting the valuable time of call center supervisors who could be training agents, analyzing trends, optimizing schedules, and performing other productive tasks.
  • Overstaffing and understaffing: The spreadsheet approach to forecasting and scheduling often leads to overstaffing and understaffing, which results in lower service levels and an increase in payroll costs. Customer satisfaction suffers when customers have to wait for long periods to get their issues resolved.
  • Schedule adherence: Tracking schedule adherence using spreadsheets gives managers headaches. It also needlessly wastes time and money whereas automated WFM solutions make it easy for agents to precisely follow their schedules. Shrinkage can become a huge problem for any size call center. For instance, in a call center of fifty agents, occupancy is critical. If five agents take breaks or go to lunch at the same time, occupancy decreases by ten percent and service levels go with it. An automated solution prevents this from happening by carefully optimizing agent schedules and forecasts, and sending alerts by out-of-adherence. A manager using a manual system may be tempted to hire additional agents, while the manager with an automated system has the data at his fingertips to accurately optimize future agent schedules to dramatically reduce shrinkage.
  • Spotting trends: It is difficult to spot long-term trends over weeks and months with a manual system. This data is priceless for accurately forecasting and scheduling agents in the future, special events and other seasonal patterns.
  • Agent retention: One of the many reasons agents leave is because staffing in a spreadsheet system seems random and fixed, while not considering their personal needs. Agent morale decreases and turnover increases when agents do not understand schedules and what’s expected of them.
A spreadsheet based process might work for a few small contact centers, but it is clearly costly and wasteful in terms of time, money, and productivity for many others. Call center managers typically cannot wait to get their hands on a better solution to manage their workforce. The savvy ones are eager to present senior management with an automated workforce management solution to enhance efficiency, increase performance, and realize a high ROI. We will talk about ROI drivers in our next blog post, please stay tuned. In the meantime, you can also download a few workforce management whitepapers from our call center resources library to learn more.

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Call center training schedule - how to fit into your workforce planning?

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There is never enough time in a day, right? Call center managers know that, they also know that training of call center agents is important, but when? In the morning, or later in the shift or in between? Planning and scheduling training can be a challenge. You need enough time for an effective training, while also trying to maximize available resources for taking calls. Here are some ideas and tips on how to plan and schedule trainings as part of the overall call forecasting, staffing and workforce planning process:

  • Be ready for adhoc training sessions: Have training plans and material ready for times with lower call volumes than expected. This time can then be used in a more productive way through an adhoc training. This works especially well for non-critical and non-time sensitive trainings.
  • Include training into schedule: Critical training sessions should be included into the overall scheduling process, just like any other call and non-call related activities. You can read more about how to schedule all activities in this post.
  • Find "time pockets" in schedule: Overlapping shifts and the combination of part and full-time workers often result in "time-pockets" of over-staffing throughout the day. Again, these time-pockets can be used to schedule short training sessions.
  • Interactive online trainings: Certain types of trainings can be delivered as interactive or video sessions that individual agents can use whenever there is time, right from their seat.
Every call center has different training needs and operational characteristics, the above list provides just a few ideas on how to better fit training sessions into your call center operation. However, the main idea is to consider training as a important activity that should be included into your call center staffing and scheduling process.

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