7 Best Practice Tips for Contact Center Vacation Planning

If “first-come-first-serve” is your contact center’s current method of vacation planning, now is the best time of year to consider adopting a new, more proactive approach.

Here are seven best-practice contact center vacation planning tips to help you get the ball rolling:

Tip #1: Establish an annual vacation bid

Conducting an annual vacation bid (typically administered in November of the prior year) is the perfect way to create some win-win structure in your contact center. It’s good for the contact center because it minimizes year-end carry-over (or pay-out) of vacation time that was not taken during the year it was actually accrued. It’s also good for the agents because it enables them to plan ahead, have something to look forward to and actually take the time granted to them. Be proactive, increase agent satisfaction and reduce carry-over by implementing an annual vacation bid.

Tip #2: Identify vacation groups by skill set

Just like you do when bidding for schedules, you need to group "like" skilled agents together for vacation selection. If you have agents dedicated to working overnights, you probably want to set up a special group for them since it’s not likely agents working day shifts will be able to “flex” into this group.  By identifying vacation groups by skill set, you'll ensure you always have enough coverage to handle your various contact types.

Tip #3: Determine the number of vacation days that need to be accommodated for each person and vacation group

Before taking a look at your forecast to determine how many people you can “afford” to have off at various times throughout the year, start with figuring the number of days you need to minimally accommodate. Calculate how much time each person will be eligible to take in the coming year based upon his or her seniority date and add to that the number any carry-over days from the current year. Then combine that total for all the agents belonging to the same vacation group. This is the minimum number of vacation days (or “slots”) you’ll need to accommodate for each group in the coming year.

Tip #4: Determine daily vacation "slots" per vacation group

Here's the part of the process where your long-term forecast comes into play. When distributing vacation slots throughout the year, you’ll want to consider seasonality and volume distribution within the week just as you do when forecasting. One other recommendation to consider before determining daily distribution is to add a 10% buffer to the total vacation days calculated in Tip #3. By adding this buffer, you’ll give your agent’s a bit of “wiggle” room and more choice when making their selections.

Tip #5: Establish and communicate vacation bidding rules

Establishing and communicating your bidding rules is the most important part, and there's no single right way to do it. The various considerations related to bidding rules are significant and will be addressed in a future post. For now, here is a list of questions to give you some food for thought:

  • What is your method for determining the “rank” order of your agents (Seniority? Performance? Combination of the two?)?
  • Will agents be allowed to select all their time at once? Or will you break up the bidding in multiple rounds?
  • Will carry-over days need to be taken by a certain time of the year? Is there a separate bidding round just for selecting carry-over days?
  • Will you offer a waiting list? How will it be administered?
  • What process will you use for agents to communicate their vacation bidding preferences?

As is the case with all WFM processes, make sure your agents understand both the rules and the thoughts behind why they were established. 

Tip #6: Let the bidding begin!

Here comes the fun part- actually administering the bid. This can be accomplished a variety of ways depending upon your tools and the size of your contact center. However you choose to collect and process the bids, make sure you allot enough time (2-3 weeks is recommended for most centers) and establish a process for collecting bids from agents who may be out of the office. Remember: the process can be GREATLY simplified if you have an automated workforce management system with a vacation module.

Tip #7: Manage change throughout the year

When you establish a vacation planning process, you also have to establish a process for managing change, both throughout the year and on an intraday basis. This is also another topic that I’ll address in more detail in a subsequent post. For now, here are few things you’ll want to take into consideration when managing changes to vacations throughout the year:

  • Will you allow agents to cancel their vacation time without re-booking to different dates?
  • Will you allow agents to cancel vacation time once it’s already on a schedule?
  • Will agents be allowed to trade vacation days with one another?
  • How far in advance of the day will you close selections for remaining vacation slots and transition to intraday vacation approval only?
  • Will agents be able to take their scheduled vacation slots with them if moving to a new vacation group?
  • How will you administer the waiting list?

What best practices does your contact center use when administering the vacation planning process? Please share by commenting below.

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