Call Center Forecasting and Scheduling Best Practices with Workforce Management Software

Learn how Workforce Management Software helps you create more accurate forecasts and optimized schedules and automatically helps you to follow best practices – resulting in improved service levels, better cost management and improved quality of service.

Call Center Forecasting and Scheduling Best Practices

Learn how Workforce Optimization Software helps you create more accurate forecasts and optimized schedules.

Forecasting and scheduling are vital components in the success of every call center. Each plays significant roles in budgeting, customer service and agent satisfaction, so there is no room for miscalculation. Understanding an organizatio'’s unique business model as well as having a sophisticated and easy to use tool are crucial components to creating a forecast that will provide an accurate representation of staffing requirements.

The Traditional Method: Spreadsheets

According to a recent call center industry analysis, approximately 20% of call centers still use spreadsheets for forecasting and scheduling. However spreadsheets only offer a cumbersome solution to a complex problem. Modeling a multi-­‐skilled environment while enforcing abandon targets can become difficult very quickly. Leaving the complex calculations to software can reduce the workload on analysts and managers while allowing them to focus on other tasks.

Example: A manager reviews a forecast and finds an overall weekly variance of 4%. This figure is reached after a week in which the Monday forecast was 12% under call volume, Tuesday was 8% under, and Wednesday through Friday were all 8% over projections.

While 4% seems encouraging, it does not account for how customer service may have suffered on Monday and Tuesday by an insufficiently staffed call center. In this case, instances of overstaffing and understaffing canceled each other out, resulting in a favorable forecasting picture at an inefficient call center.

This manager may feel good about a 4% variance, but he or she is overseeing a business that is routinely missing service levels, likely resulting in dissatisfied customers, as well as lost business and revenues.

Consider the impact that inaccurate forecasting has on agents’ motivation, whether they are sitting idly in a cubicle or stressed to keep up with unanticipated call volume.

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. With spreadsheets, the manager faces a much more daunting challenge in tracking, monitoring and improving schedule adherence.

Best Practices with a Workforce Optimization Solution

An automated workforce optimization (WFO) solution can improve forecast accuracy and in turn, optimize schedule assignment, making sure all the necessary resources are always in place.

An integrated WFO solution allows a manager to check KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) against historical data. In a typical call center a manager will ask such questions as:

“When I see that my agents’ Average Talk Time has exceeded the target, does this result in more abandons and a poor service level?”

“If a longer talk time is causing more abandons, are there agents that are still able meet all of their quality monitoring goals while keeping a low talk time?”

By analyzing data in an integrated WFO tool, a manager can then reference what processes allowed some agents to have a lower talk time while meeting their quality targets, and then train the rest of the workforce using these processes. At that point, a lower Average Talk Time goal may be set for the entire center, resulting in happier customers getting their calls answered more quickly and less overall abandons.

Forecasting

Conceptually, creating a forecast is creating a model, and historical data is necessary for an accurate model. 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.

The selection of which historical data is most important is the key to creating a reliable forecast. This will vary depending on business type. A company with a monthly sales cycle will be different

than a seasonal business. For some forecasts data from the previous year will be critical; in some cases, call volumes from last week will be more important.

Typically, a manager may start with monthly and weekly stats, and then delve deeper into daily and hourly numbers, perhaps even examining work periods as short as 15 minutes. With WFO, it is much easier to analyze call types, call volume and call patterns. Note past variations, determine their cause, and forecast accordingly for that same time period.

Next, forecast special days or other events that impact call volume. In some cases, such as an annual holiday, the variance is likely to repeat; in others, such as temporary power outage, the same variance is highly unlikely. Additional “special day” provisions should also be made for other factors, including any company marketing campaigns or events, and perhaps even weather patterns.

All of these calculations may 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 WFO system.

Scheduling

The objective for a call center manager is to create a schedule that balances agent needs vs. call center capabilities, and accounts for shrinkage and exceptions. A WFO system provides the flexibility to automatically manage start times, end times and break times. Spreadsheets cannot match this speed and efficiency, which results in unhappy agents and higher shrinkage.

When agents can work the hours that work best for them, service levels improve. While every request may not be accommodated, 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, it encourages positive job performance that reflects satisfaction with the company. Employee turnover will be reduced as well.

However, part of best practices in scheduling also depends on hiring agents that are open to schedule flexibility. This is necessary to meet customer service targets with fewer personnel, and to avoid overstaffing.

Encouraging schedule flexibility does not need mean agents must have a wide range of shifts they are willing to take. Even a small window of flexible start time can provide notable amounts of optimization, in both service achievement and business cost.

Consider a $15 hourly rate; if the agent is working a static shift from 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM, but call volume doesn’t pick up until 9:00 AM, service suffers at a cost to the business. If that agent had a 1 hour start time window, from 8:00 AM – 9:00 AM they could be scheduled later in the day, resulting in a better service level and a savings in staffing costs. If the requirement changes day to day, the flexible agent can continue to provide benefit to the business as needed by starting at a time that will not cost the business to staff them when they aren’t needed, and by making sure they are helping to achieve service targets when they are.

This level of agent flexibility can be encouraged through incentive programs, with more amenable agents receiving preferred shift start times or higher compensation. Call centers should also have a clear system in place for training agents to be able to take one defined set of call types to the next. The ultimate goal is to have every agent capable of handling every type of customer call. Thus, performance remains consistent no matter how schedules may fluctuate.

Once a manager has calculated and planned resources requirements (by reviewing forecasting data and defining acceptable service levels on ASA, AHT and other factors), intra-­‐day adherence tracking is another significant component of a best practices approach.

Adherence Tracking

Tracking adherence following a shift or a day is a missed opportunity to correct any issues more quickly. Such tracking is practically impossible with just a spreadsheet. Spot-­‐checks can be beneficial, but without the real-­‐time tracking provided by WFO there is a much higher risk of over/under staffing, shrinkage and missed service levels. It also provides insight, through dashboards and real-­‐time alerts, into which agents are meeting their schedule obligations, and which may require additional guidance or training.

WFM and Agent Productivity

Workforce Optimization (WFO) can play a prominent role in engendering employee satisfaction, particularly in the areas of schedule flexibility and online collaboration between agents and supervisors. In addition to more efficient skill-­‐based scheduling, which improves both employee confidence and customer service, the reporting and transparency tools offer more accurate assessments of agent performance.

How to choose a WFO Solution that is right for you?

Different call centers have different priorities, and these should be reviewed so any WFO solution will increase efficiency and service levels, while also reducing costs. Here are some of the more significant evaluation criteria for any WFO software solution.

Capabilities

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.

Implementation

Calculate how long the software will take to implement, and how quickly it should begin paying dividends.

Integration

How well will the system work with the call center’s existing hardware, for such necessities as sharing of vital data? Will custom integration be required?

Cost

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

Usability

How long will it take for 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?

Unification

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

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.

Scalability

Can the solution grow with the call center? Can modules be added without additional hardware costs?

ROI

What will the return on investment (ROI) be, and how quickly will any software investment be recouped?

Conclusion

Accurate forecasts are vital to call center 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.

Those still using spreadsheets for these functions are missing out on the convenience, efficiency, flexibility and functionality of workforce management. The calculations necessary for optimal forecasts and schedules are very difficult to do with Excel. Workforce Management has sophisticated algorithms and processes that tell a call center how many people they will need and when they will need them. With WFM, managers can get back to managing people, instead of spending hours on Excel planning forecasts and schedules.

If you have further questions about forecasting, scheduling or the capabilities of Workforce Optimization, please call us now at 1-310-207-6800 or email us at info@monetsoftware.com.

About Monet Software

Monet Software is a global provider of workforce optimization software solutions for call centers. Monet’s cloud-­‐based solution, Monet WFO Live, is an affordable and easy to use call center optimization software solution, which includes workforce management, call recording, quality assurance and performance management. Call centers will start improving service levels and reducing center costs without the upfront expenses and IT requirements of traditional workforce software. With Monet WFO Live customers get all the benefits of Monet’s WFO platform:

  • Affordable: Low monthly fee, minimal capital investment, no hidden costs
  • Fast set up: Get started within 30 days, easy to learn and use
  • Complete functionality: Workforce Management, Call Recording, Quality Assurance and Performance Management
  • IT friendly: Secure and cloud-­‐based, minimal IT management
  • Proven results: Improved service levels, increased productivity and compliance

Corporate website: www.monetsoftware.com
Workforce management blog: http://blog.monetsoftware.com
Call recording and monitoring blog: http://call-recording-blog.monetsoftware.com/

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