When is it Time to Ditch the Old Contact Center Forecast?

This blog is contributed by Ric Kosiba, Interactive Intelligence

My last post discussed the attributes of a good contact center resource plan. We hinted at another aspect of contact center planning—that it truly is itself a process—and I wanted to elaborate here. In the 1990’s, a company would put together a plan and a budget for January and use it to restrict all additional resources and spending for the next twelve months– which is why “The Budget” was so important.

Over the last 10 years businesses have recognized that as operations change, business resourcing might also change. But the question we have to ask is when does an operation change so much that it is time to alter the previously sacrosanct budget?

The short answer is this: you alter the operational plan when it becomes too risky or too costly not to. But how do contact center planners know it is time?

Here are some guidelines for evaluating when it is time to change your forecasts:

  1. Monitor the plan for variance: Important performance drivers change, and it is up to the contact center planners to monitor and determine how much the real-world varies from the “planned-world”. Items to monitor include contact volumes, handle times, agent attrition, agent sick time, outbound contact rates, sales or payment rates, and customer experience scores.
  2. Determine the impact of the variance to the network’s performance: It is important to determine whether the variance is significant. Sensitivity analysis graphs are perfect for this. These graphs show the relationship between a performance driver and performance. For instance, it would make sense to plot volumes (if there is volume variance) against service level. If the volume difference takes the company far from its goals, then something needs to change. Simulation modeling is great for providing variance graphs.
  3. Reforecast and determine the range of “possibilities”: When important metrics, like call volumes, start to vary from the forecast it means that something is changing in the real world affecting that metric (it doesn’t always mean “the forecast is off”). New forecasts can be developed, but given that the particular metric is changing, it also makes sense to put bounds around the possible changes associated with that metric. Confidence levels might help determine “the possibilities”.
  4. Determine the effects of different management responses: Significant variance to performance drivers requires a management response. Executives should be shown, via an operational simulation model, the effect of the possible alternative resource decisions. If we assume the forecasts will come back into the “normal”, but they don’t, what will be the service performance? If we decide to staff for the worst-case scenario, what will be the costs if forecasts do come back into line? These are possibilities because, well, the future is hard to predict!
  5. Choose the resourcing decision that is appropriate for your company’s risk tolerance: Is your company focused on costs? Service delivery? Revenues? Choose the resource plan and forecast assumption that minimizes your operational risk.

We are excited about this year’s educational webinar series titled, Contact Center Forecasting, Planning, and What-if Analyses. We’ll discuss the forecasting and operational risk in more detail, along with tips and tricks about how to put together a great plan. Please feel free to join us for our first webcast on February 24th.

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