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How to Prepare your Contact Center Workforce for the Unexpected

Posted: by: Chuck Ciarlo

“Planning for the unexpected” may sound like an oxymoron, but it’s an important aspect of contact center management.

Of course we can’t see into the future. But sometimes making an educated guess at future events is an important part of the contact center manager’s job. The crucial functions of forecasting and scheduling can help to eliminate uncertainty, by using available intelligence to predict the resources that will be necessary for customer volume.

Unexpected, or Just Poor Planning?
Whether a contact center experiences relatively steady calling patterns or frequent periods of uncertainty, a workforce optimization solution is the key component of forecasting future call volume. The access it provides to historical call history can help managers navigate the scheduling challenges posed by seasonal promotions, special offers and new, aggressive marketing tactics.

These regular practices, of drawing upon 1-2 years of call history, and uncovering call patterns that can predict future patterns, is the best way avoid unexpected circumstances. Such calculations are rendered more precise by including non-call activities as well, such as breaks, training, after-call work and internal communication.

A workforce management solution can also employ skill teams (skill sets, or skill groups) based on each agent’s capabilities to handle certain skills/queues/competencies.  This allows the forecast process to select the best skills combinations for either blank shifts to be filled later, or to place existing agents. It’s another way to plan ahead for whatever the next shift or day brings.

Visibility into agent activity is another priority. The contact center is made up of many employees. While the overall performance is driven by processes, and efficiencies, it is the individual performance of each employee that drives the engine. Knowing that, it is obviously very important and critical to have better visibility into the performance and activities of each agent.

Surprisingly, many contact centers still have not installed the tools that makes this possible, such as adherence dashboards, reports, status alerts and an AUX Setup to track overuse of ACW, lunches, breaks, or other non-productive or limited statuses.

What about factors outside the company and the contact center? Historical data may not exist for some of these, but it’s too simple to categorize them as “unexpected” and hope for the best.

Perhaps you don’t know exactly what the weather will be like tomorrow or next week, but you should recognize how it can impact call volume. If it’s bad, more customers are likely to stay home and shop. If it’s sunny and clear, call volume may be reduced.

How will call volume be changed by an election day, or a championship series with a team in your city? How is the national economy faring? Are the products or services your company sells more in demand when times are good, or when a recession looms?

Running multiple simulations and gauging the outcomes can better prepare contact centers for almost anything that comes along. Most surprises can be avoided this way.

When You Can’t Predict Everything
Still, unexpected events do occur: One of the top agents calls in sick at the last minute. There’s a glitch in the system that could not have been foreseen. There’s an increase in call volume that was not anticipated by the historical data. While a proactive approach to forecasting and scheduling always pays dividends, there are times when a manager will have to be reactive to a situation no one could see coming.

When this happens, it’s vital to have the tools to monitor activities and receive alerts, so managers can react quickly and make changes as necessary (and make sure those changes are communicated to all personnel). The two best weapons available to meet these challenges are utilizing the intra-day management and exception management capabilities of a workforce management solution.

Intra-day Management
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, from lunch breaks to training sessions, helps to maintain service levels.

When the unexpected occurs, managers will instantly know the best way to react without sacrificing customer service.  Using a graphical display of agent schedules, a manager can drag and drop breaks, lunches and other exceptions to adjust the contact center schedule as needed. Real-time updates are instantly recorded, and any surpluses or shortages are displayed for any part of the day.

Exception Planning
The best workforce management solutions, such as Monet WFM Live, provide a fully integrated Exception Planner, with the ability to schedule exceptions such as vacations, training meetings, jury duty, etc. These can be scheduled far into the future or recorded as recurring exceptions.

While many of these activities can be documented days or weeks in advance, the Exception Planner also supports mid-day exceptions as they occur, taking them into account while choosing shifts and scheduling breaks.

Conclusion
The first step in planning for the unexpected is differentiating between those occurrences that are truly unexpected, and those that are not.

For some events you can plan ahead by learning from the past, using ACD call history, running scenarios in forecasting, training people on multiple skills and creating flexible staffing schedules. Such precautions make it easier to overcome certain challenges as they occur.

For other events that cannot be anticipated because they happen outside your control (such as call volume spikes or a flu bug infecting multiple agents) real time intra-day alerts to dashboards and mobile devices quickly notify managers, so they can make changes that will have an immediate impact.


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