10 Tips for more Effective Call Center Management

This whitepaper offers tips and best practices on call center management. Learn how to improve service levels while gaining more cost control and better utilization of resources.

Ten Tips to Weather the Challenging Economy in your Call Center

In these challenging economic times, every call and every dollar count. In working with our customers, we established a list of tips for 2009 to not only keep your call center running efficiently, but keep service levels increasing, customer base and revenues growing. We would like to share this checklist with you and hope it proves to be useful in your daily call center operations.

1. Implement a flexible shift model

As we all know, the number of calls and the arrival patterns vary from day to day. Despite this, starting times, lunch breaks, end times, etc. are often fixed over the week, resulting either in overstaffing (higher costs!) or understaffing (lower service levels and revenues!). That's why more and more call centers switch from a fixed to a flexible shift model. The advantages are obvious, but how do you implement and manage a flexible model?

Gradually implement a flexible shift model by introducing it to some of your agents (existing and/or new hires) first, and over time move the whole center to a flexible shift model. This change can increase your service levels by 1 to 2 percent, and result in a similar percentage of savings in personnel costs.

2. Keep track of your shrinkage

Many companies underestimate the sheer volume of shrinkage (paid time but not available for calls). For example, in a 30 agent contact center, 20 minutes shrinkage per agent equates to 10 hours per day in shrinkage. If those agents are being paid $12 per hour plus benefits, equaling $15 per hour, it means you are losing $150 per day, $750 a week or $39,000 per year. While it is not possible to recover all lost time, imagine you can reduce shrinkage from 20 to 10 minutes, resulting in a $20,000 savings alone, plus improved service levels. That is only the tip of the iceberg if you also consider lost sales due to shrinkage, which again, can easily add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. How can you reduce shrinkage? There are three key elements:
  • Better match call volume with agent availability through a flexible shift model (see #1)
  • Increase forecast and schedule accuracy by including additional parameters (see # 6)
  • Monitor and improve schedule adherence (see #3)

3. Improve Schedule Adherence

Once you produce optimized schedules, it will be important for agents to stay on schedule, taking their breaks and lunches on time and returning on time, reducing shrinkage. What should you do to improve schedule adherence?
  • Inform and Educate: Agents need to understand the relevance of schedule adherence, how a mere 10 minutes here and there impacts other agents and the entire call center performance.
  • Measure and Manage: Measure and track adherence using workforce management tools and solutions, tracking adherence in real-time and running reports. Share these adherence reports with your agents and discuss how they are doing. It is important to give regular feedback regarding adherence statistics.
  • Incentives: Reward agents that adhere to their schedule (95% within adherence scores) through recognition within the team and tie bonuses to good scores. It is also critical that all agents are aware of the consequences for out-of-adherence behavior; this establishes their responsibility towards the success of the call center.

4. Cross-train agents

If you have agents trained to handle multiple skills and use skill-based routing, you can reduce the number of agents needed to handle your call volume. The productivity gain from giving each agent two skills can easily be 10-15%. The importance of multi-skilled agents is that they form overlapping groups. For example, having one group that can handle calls type A and B while another group takes calls type C and D, can be substantially improved by adding a group that is able to handle calls type B and C (or one of the other three combinations). This model provides a lot of flexibility that is especially useful in times of fewer resources and changing call volumes and patterns.

5. Compare ACD logon time to time-clock entries

In our discussion about reducing shrinkage and improving adherence we discovered various ways of improving overall call center performance. Related to this discussion is the topic of ACD logon time. You need to make sure agents are logged in and ready for calls coordinating with the clock time. You may even consider using the ACD agent log-in and log-out times for payroll – dependant on the culture and procedures you have established.

6. Smarter scheduling

A schedule driven by forecast and basic agent requirement might work, but won't boost performance and productivity. When developing your schedule you should also consider the following elements:
  • Include all agent activities: When trying to determine agent requirements to meet a desired service level, if not all agent activities are being factored in, it will lead to understaffing and lower service levels including abandoned calls. When developing your forecast and schedule make sure to include breaks, multiple skills of agents, training, time-off, and a realistic buffer for shrinkage.
  • Rank your agents: Creating a schedule by agent rank can be very effective in reducing costs and increasing sales. You can rank agents according to call completion time, call per hour or other performance measures including sales and order size.
  • Match personality and team: Studies have shown that a good relationship with colleagues drives motivation and performance in call centers. Your schedule should leverage this by teaming up the "right people".

7. Keep top talent on your team

Accommodate scheduling needs and provide schedule visibility to your call center team members. Top agents will be more likely to stay loyal and productive because of their understanding of how their requirements and your schedule can match up.

8. "Check out" your spreadsheets

Call centers that still use spreadsheets to manage their workforce pay dearly every day due to inefficient schedules, overstaffing or missed service levels. Spreadsheets might work for 5 to 20 agents based on a fixed shift model. However, as soon as you want to realize the benefits of a flexible shift model, reduce shrinkage and improve and track schedule adherence you need a more flexible and accurate call forecasting and scheduling solution. Here is what you should look out for when evaluating WFM (workforce management) solutions:
  • Ease-of-use – using a WFM solution should be easier and faster not harder
  • Complete functionality – Forecasting, flexible scheduling, roster, intra-day management, reporting, agent collaboration and real-time adherence
  • Time-to-implement – Get a realistic picture of how long it takes to go live
  • Cost – Compare total-cost-of-ownership including purchasing, implementation, internal costs, operations and upgrade and maintenance costs when comparing offerings.

9. Think big for small or medium size centers

It may be ironic, but smaller or medium-size call centers are more difficult to manage because every agent and every call has more effect on the overall performance. If you have a 20 agent center and one agent does not show up you have a "5% resource problem" immediately. However, this is an important opportunity for positive improvement such as more accurate forecasting; a flexible schedule and better schedule adherence, which will have a huge positive effect on costs, services levels and service quality. Analyze where you can improve and use appropriate tools or software solutions and you will realize major improvements.

10. On demand solutions reduce cosk and risk

2009 is the year of extremely tight budgets and the mandate "to do more with fewer agents". Specifically, small to medium-size centers have shied away from workforce management software because of the capital expenditures and resource requirements. Well, this has changed over the last 12 months! On demand or software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions have also evolved in the call center and help you increase operational efficiency without the capital investment, IT resources and long and painful implementation times. Also, you can "try before you buy" some on demand workforce management solutions. These solutions can be live in a few days, allowing you to realize benefits after a couple of weeks – something that traditional software implementation could not offer.

This checklist was brought to you by Monet Software. Monet provides the most cost effective Workforce Management Solution for small and medium-size call centers to accurately forecast call volumes and effectively schedule and manage performance of their agents, resulting in increased service levels and reduced payroll costs. With Monet's on demand solution customers get started and see results within days, while avoiding large upfront investments, and time consuming and expensive hardware and software implementation projects.

For more information about Monet WFM Live, the on demand workforce management solution, please call 1-310-207-6800 or send an email to info@monetsoftware.com.

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