Not So Idle Thoughts on Recycling Idle Time

Recent talk in the industry takes exception with the concept of making idle time productive by suggesting there isn’t really much idle time to be used, that it would cause adherence issues with the call center workforce management tool, and associating it with the detrimental effects of multi-tasking (suggesting that it lowers agent performance). We see these as critiques based on some limited information. Research data, integration technology and feedback from those using technology to manage idle time tell us otherwise.

Idle time is real, and it’s plentiful.

Agents will have varying degrees of idle time, depending on the WFM solution used by a call center, total number of agents, etc. Some might say their agents have almost no downtime, while others see noticeable gaps between calls.

People who say that agents don’t have much idle time are likely responding more to the instances of idle time than to the total amount of idle time. That’s an understandable reaction given that idle time is fragmented. Since call volume is unpredictable, idle time, in its raw form, occurs in slivers of time throughout the day.  So anywhere from under 60 seconds to two minutes at a time agents sit idle. It doesn’t seem like much. But do the math and all of those slivers add up to a significant amount of time. We have survey data from multiple sources that show agents experience – on average – 11 percent of idle time every day.

That’s 49 minutes per agent. Daily.

We work with organizations that make this time productive; they use our intraday management solution to de-fragment unproductive idle time and turn it into usable blocks of time to deliver activities (such as coaching, training, communications, etc.) that help improve agent performance. They recognize that they have this time and they use it to make their agents and their customer experience better. Why not? They’re already paying for it.

Two-way communication makes for a good working relationship.

For successful intraday management and appropriate use of idle time, smart integrations between key call center technologies are required. The solution needs to follow business rules to deliver activities only when service levels permit, and allow different delivery rules relating to the priority of those activities. Centers typically use WFM solutions to schedule staff in advance based on historical call volume and other considerations.

RightTime can work in conjunction with WFM to dynamically respond to call volume, eliminating the need to “hard-schedule” many off-phone activities. RightTime integrates with WFM to import agent schedules so sessions are delivered only during acceptable time periods.  When RightTime delivers a session, an exception code reflecting that change is written back to WFM so there are no adherence issues.

Better idle time management versus multi-tasking:

Questioning the effectiveness of using idle time to complete off-phone work is valid. How it impacts agent performance depends on how idle time is used. If asking agents to squeeze in extra activities during idle time as it occurs naturally between calls, 1 or 2 minutes at a time, agents probably will have difficulties concentrating on a task that is constantly interrupted.

However, defragmented idle time works differently. It’s delivered to the agent as a larger segment of time that’s carved off for a specified task. While one or more agents are completing sessions, the remaining agents may have slightly less idle time between calls. Additionally, when implementing intraday management technology, business rules are used to provide a minimum amount of time for each type of session. Agents won’t have to switch back and forth between tasks, because they’ll only have tasks delivered to them when there’s enough time to complete said task. The impact on agent performance is quite positive. Not only do they have a solid block of time to concentrate and complete activities, they’re also doing the work that makes them better at their jobs. A win-win for performance impact.

Our customers use our intraday management technology for many different purposes: critical communications for policy updates or rapid cycle product releases, coaching, training, back-office tasks, giving agents smart breaks, and more. They’re simply recycling time rather than letting it slip away.

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