workforce management

Why Your Contact Center Needs Remote Agents

When agents are twiddling their thumbs because calls aren’t coming in, it costs the contact center money. When a barrage of calls come in and wait times skyrocket, the customer experience drops. Having the correct capacity of agents without over-staffing is a tug-of-war that every contact center has had to play.

Even with insightful analytics, you can’t perfectly predict how much activity your contact center is going to have. There will be unexpected lulls and spikes in activity regardless of what the numbers prepare you for.

The goal of flexible WFM is to increase the contact center’s agility while maintaining a high level of customer service.

Traditional vs. Flexible Workforces

One way to increase workforce flexibility is to have a number of remote agents who are able to work from home. Here’s how that can help:

Hold Times

Agents in a traditional contact center can easily get overloaded with calls, leaving a lot of customers on hold. Call abandon rates increase while service quality decreases. Remote agents are often able to deliver quicker call resolution.

Ramp-Up Time

Ramp-up time in a traditional contact center can take weeks, but on-demand remote agents are able to ramp up in just a few hours.

Scalability

If there’s an unexpected rush of communication or a shift has to be covered in an emergency, the resources at a traditional contact center can’t always scale as quickly as needed. With the support of a remote workforce, though, agents can cover gaps in even a non-standard schedule at the last minute.

Encourage Customers to Use Other Channels

Unexpected spikes are going to happen. As you continue managing spikes, particularly the ones you can predict, create a contingency plan for the spikes you don’t see coming. One way to do this is to encourage customers to use other channels, like chat, email, SMS and social media.

This can limit the number of incoming calls and may also lower the number of times a customer reaches out to customer service before being helped. For example, if you have a team of agents providing social media support, they can connect with a customer after the first complaint and possibly solve the issue before is escalates.

Even contact centers that have always had rigid staffing measures can see the benefits of a flexible model, which saves resources during downtime and allows for adjustments on-the-fly.

4 Ways to Create a Flexible Workforce Management Plan

There’s an increased need for better work-life balance, greatly due to the millennials who are now part of the workforce. Meeting these needs means that contact centers have to be more flexible when it comes to workforce management (WFM). Here are four ways to create a more versatile schedule.

  1. Approach your goals with flexibility. Scheduling is a direct result of your contact center’s needs, which in turn are the results of your goals. Your goals are going to shift, though, and by not preparing for this, you won’t be able to effectively shift schedules, either. Get comfortable with fluid goals that account for product or service launches; new types of communication platforms or tools; and the impact of natural elements, changing seasons and cultural events.
  2. Create pre-defined flexible shifts. You can’t simply ask the agent when they want to work and then expect them to create a schedule that happens to fit in with your needs. What you can do, however, is give them a few options, such as:
  • Four long shifts followed by a fifth very short shift.
  • Partial day trades, where agents can trade some of their hours from one shift.
  • Slant shifts, where they work the most hours on Monday and then decreasing shifts the rest of the week.
  • Split shifts, where the agent creates their own schedule for certain days of the week and then commits to always working other days and times every week.
  1. Let agents update their changing availability. Use WFM technology that allows your agents to update their availability when they’re able to work additional days or times. Then, if the contact center has an unexpected need for more support, you can send an email or text message to those agents to fill in.
  2. Offer your agents makeup time for time-off days. If your contact center has a slow period, you can offer some of your agents the option for unpaid time off, with the agreement that they’ll be the first ones offered extra shifts when there’s a greater need. The contact center won’t have too many agents on at once and the agent knows they can eventually make up the pay.

Flexible WFM is a necessity if you want to continue attracting valuable, skilled agents without alienating the ones who want a more fluid approach to when they work.

4 Contact Center Tips for Forecasting and Analyzing Data

Picture this: there’s a sudden spike in call volume, but you don’t have enough agents to handle it. Wait times increase and customers become dissatisfied. You get on top of the problem as quickly as possible and scale your workforce up to handle the demand. Soon, call volume evens out again, and now you’re over-staffed and draining your budget.

Improving forecast accuracy can limit these scenarios. Data, history and experience, combined with your own judgement and common sense, make forecasting much more accurate and predictable. A quality system will combine historic data with real-time data for accurate forecasting.

Here’s how to improve your forecasting:

  1. Choose quality forecasting software.

Your forecasting software should gather historical data from the past two years to show you daily, monthly and seasonal patterns and trends. It should then monitor performance, document results, and continue to measure and evaluate data on a recurring schedule. Most importantly, your software should repeat this process ­– the repetition is what makes the forecasting so accurate and dependable.

  1. Look at both data overviews and specific segments.

Look at historical data, which will give you an overview of NCO and handle time. Also view data in hour, day and month formats. Continue to break data down to view it differently – turn monthly forecasts into daily forecasts, daily into hourly, and hourly into half hour views.

  1. Compare one month to the same month last year.

Point estimates are too simplistic an approach when it comes to contact center forecasting. A point in the future won’t necessarily match the same point in the past, even if it’s the same hour, day and month of the year. You have to look closely to determine if any data is out of the ordinary, and a good start is to compare this year’s month to last year’s month (i.e. January 2018 to January 2017).

  1. Don’t ignore aberrations.

Investigate data that’s exceptionally high or low to figure out if it was caused by a one-off event or if you should be prepared for a regular occurrence. Situations that affect call volume include:

  • Billing cycles
  • Business mergers
  • Change in hours of operation
  • Competitor activity
  • Holidays
  • Marketing campaigns
  • New technology implementation
  • Planned maintenance sessions
  • Weather and natural disasters

Balance customer demand with staffing numbers to keep costs low while managing wait times and ensuring customers satisfaction.

 

4 Scheduling Strategies to Help Workforce Management

Workforce management is a complex job that has to take intricate and changing details into consideration. Scheduling involves everything from anticipating trends and scheduling agents for high-volume times to taking into account individual needs, recurring activities and one-time events. Since workforce management is such an important and challenging responsibility, we wanted to share a few scheduling strategies with you.

1. Hire part-time workers.

Even if you’ve never hired part-time workers before, it’s worth talking about with your HR department, especially if you know you need more schedule flexibility. Part-time workers know that they could be scheduled for any hours or days during the week, so they may be more flexible when it comes to setting or changing their shifts.

2. Stagger start times.

You know that you need to be properly staffed during peak volume, but those times may change based on special promotions or new product offerings. By staggering start times – like having some people arrive at 8 a.m. and then creating start times for other employees at 15-minute intervals – you’ll have coverage during busy times as well as flexibility for when those peak volume times change.

3. Offer over-time and time off.

During peak times, like the holidays, encourage agents to work extra shifts by promising over-time – most people could use extra cash flow this time of year. You can balance this out by offering voluntary time off without pay during slower periods – depending on their circumstances, some agents may be happy to take a day or two off even if they’ll get a smaller paycheck. If you find yourself over-staffed during slower times, consider what you can have agents do to contribute to the contact center, like take a training course, practice cross- and up-selling, or tackle special projects.

4. Plan supervisor time.

Your agents aren’t the only ones who need to be on board during peak volume ­– your supervisors should be accounted for, too. Some contact centers will have supervisors log in to field customer calls, while others may simply be more available on the floor to quickly answer questions. Ultimately, having supervisors factored in to your schedule means that complex queries and angry customers can be dealt with swiftly.

Workforce management has a multitude of moving pieces. There’s no one correct way to approach it, but experimenting with new strategies may get you closer to a balanced schedule.

 

Fortifying the Career Path of the Contact Center Agent

Employers are experiencing a serious talent shortage, according to a 2016-2017 report from ManpowerGroup. Part of this could be because more and more employees want to work for an employer who will help them advance their career, and they’re happy to leave an employer who prevents them from doing so.

At the same time, contact centers are harnessing the power of AI and chatbots, eliminating the need for agents to perform repetitious, monotonous tasks. As a result, the agent’s role is becoming elevated. Customers want more adept service, too – when they have a complex issue, they want customized service from a knowledgeable, human agent who can creatively problem-solve and who is empowered to make important decisions. This circles right back to benefiting the contact center, because the way to stand out from the competition is to offer top-notch customer service.

Due to the changing workforce, smart contact centers are giving agents the opportunity to advance in their role as well as their career. As management puts trust and faith in their employees, agents feel that their long-term success is important to the company, which improves their performance and loyalty. Even if customer service agents move out of their current job and into a higher position, they bring with them in-depth customer knowledge that they gleaned during their time as an agent.

Even if an agent isn’t yet ready to move up and out of their position, they can become more essential to the contact center and more helpful to the customer by become an SME, or a subject matter expert. SMEs are the go-to agents who have deep understanding of a specific process or product. The SME can help train agents in the same field, deal with escalating calls, and enrich the self-service knowledge base. They may also be asked to work closely with other departments at the contact center, like marketing or product design.

If you’re unsure of where to start when it comes to elevating your workforce, start by asking agents what they’re most interested in. Let your employees shadow parts of the business that they want to know more about, then hold a meeting with the employee to learn about their experience. If your employee shows a strong interest in a different or more advanced area, speak with management to find out how to best accommodate the agent.

 

 

 

 

Dos and Don’ts of Contact Center Forecasting

 

Forecasting may just be the cornerstone of contact center success. The accuracy of forecasting can affect service level, average speed of answer (ASA) time and occupancy. Though contact center forecasting varies by industry, there are some core principles that just about every organization should follow.

3 Dos of Contact Center Forecasting

Do start with a historical baseline.

Your historical data is what you’ll use to predict the future. You’ll get an idea of what your forecast is going to look like. Then, you can start adding in changes as needed, like as you track productivity changes. By starting with a solid basis, you’ll have a better view of how every change impacts the forecast.

Do use forecasting technology.

The old school way of handling contact center forecasting just won’t work anymore – spreadsheets, no matter how detailed, aren’t smart enough to record and manipulate data. The more inputs you have that affect the forecast, the more you’ll need to rely on modern, smart technology that will communicate results in a way that you can act on.

Do understand that accuracy will change with time.

The farther out you forecast, the less accurate your forecast is going to be. A forecast for the next 30 days is going to be more accurate than a forecast for the next 90 days. Accepting that this is a reality and being transparent about it when discussing forecasting with management will give you credibility.

2 Don’ts of Contact Center Forecasting

Don’t create a target based on a blanket statistic.

If an executive says something along the lines of, “At my last contact center, we had 95% accuracy – let’s aim for that,” it’s important to know why that won’t translate to your contact center. A sweeping statistic like that doesn’t account for details like the specific metric measured or the frequency at which it was measured.

Don’t get hung up on averages.

Averages can be misleading because they can make things seem more placid than they are. Forecasting requires information that will help management make real decisions, not information that’s been watered down so that it’s easier to understand.

Contact center forecasting combines science with creativity. Processing data is the easy part. Figuring out how to add subjective changes requires more creative thinking. Knowing what to expect and what to avoid from the get-go is the best place to start.

Dos and Don’ts of Contact Center Forecasting

Forecasting may just be the cornerstone of contact center success. The accuracy of forecasting can affect service level, average speed of answer (ASA) time and occupancy. Though contact center forecasting varies by industry, there are some core principles that just about every organization should follow.

3 Dos of Contact Center Forecasting

Do start with a historical baseline.

Your historical data is what you’ll use to predict the future. You’ll get an idea of what your forecast is going to look like. Then, you can start adding in changes as needed, like as you track productivity changes. By starting with a solid basis, you’ll have a better view of how every change impacts the forecast.

Do use forecasting technology.

The old school way of handling contact center forecasting just won’t work anymore – spreadsheets, no matter how detailed, aren’t smart enough to record and manipulate data. The more inputs you have that affect the forecast, the more you’ll need to rely on modern, smart technology that will communicate results in a way that you can act on.

Do understand that accuracy will change with time.

The farther out you forecast, the less accurate your forecast is going to be. A forecast for the next 30 days is going to be more accurate than a forecast for the next 90 days. Accepting that this is a reality and being transparent about it when discussing forecasting with management will give you credibility.

2 Don’ts of Contact Center Forecasting

Don’t create a target based on a blanket statistic.

If an executive says something along the lines of, “At my last contact center, we had 95% accuracy – let’s aim for that,” it’s important to know why that won’t translate to your contact center. A sweeping statistic like that doesn’t account for details like the specific metric measured or the frequency at which it was measured.

Don’t get hung up on averages.

Averages can be misleading because they can make things seem more placid than they are. Forecasting requires information that will help management make real decisions, not information that’s been watered down so that it’s easier to understand.

Contact center forecasting combines science with creativity. Processing data is the easy part. Figuring out how to add subjective changes requires more creative thinking. Knowing what to expect and what to avoid from the get-go is the best place to start.

 

10 Ways to Optimize Contact Center Scheduling


Contact center scheduling is one of a manager’s more difficult tasks. Forecasting and scheduling requires everything from data analysis to keeping track of employee preferences and availability. Agent turnover, new communication channels and fluctuations with call volume make the process even more complex. Here are 10 bite-sized tips for optimizing contact center scheduling.

  1. When hiring new agents, have an idea of your schedule blind spots and then only consider applicants who have matching availability.
  2. Your top agents should be available during normal working hours (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) in the time zone of your primary customer base.
  3. Let some of your agents choose their own schedule. For example, you can give them the option to work longer hours on fewer days or to change their start and end times based on contact center need.
  4. If you’re finding it difficult to get enough agents in the contact center during peak times, consider using incentives, like flex scheduling, a competition and reward system.
  5. On top of call metrics, you should also analyze non-call activities, including after-call work, training and coaching time, and break length, to get a well-rounded idea of forecasting and scheduling.
  6. Use your contact center software’s dashboard to monitor real-time reporting. You’ll be able to change schedules on-the-fly. For example, you can make adjustments to break times, meetings and training classes to adapt to current needs.
  7. Don’t schedule agents based on availability alone – also account for skill level, specialization and types of communication that need to be handled.
  8. Allow your agents to swap schedules, so long as the agent they’re switching shifts with has the same skill set. Giving employees schedule flexibility can improve focus and company loyalty.
  9. Keep a reserve of agents on-call so that you can have extra help at the ready in case contact volume quickly increases. Make it possible for these agents to work from home instead of requiring them to come in.
  10. The right schedule will only work well if it’s adhered to. Monitor for adherence and handle issues that you notice before revamping the schedule.

By not paying close attention to contact center scheduling or relying on outdated techniques and processes, you run the risk of negatively impacting your team while raising costs. Though a definite challenge, managers should approach forecasting and scheduling in an organized, vigilant way.

4 Pillars of Contact Center Workforce Management

Workforce management (WFM) in the contact center has the goal of achieving and then maintaining efficient operations. Ultimately, WFM means having the right agents working when they’re needed most. Moreover, it’s about properly managing service level and having efficient speed of answer times while using the minimum necessary labor hours and without sacrificing customer service. With quality WFM, you can reduce costs as well as agent turnover and improve the customer experience at the same time. Here are the four pillars of WFM that your contact center needs in order to thrive.

1. Forecasting

Forecasting is when management looks at past data in order to predict future workload. The more data there is to analyze, the more reliable the forecasting will be. In an omnichannel contact center, analysis and patterns have to be collected from all channels, including phone, chat, email and social media. Emerging trends – which aren’t going to be part of past data – also have to be considered. Forecasting software can create a simulated schedule so managers can see how effective it will be before officially implementing it.

2. Scheduling

Once forecasting is complete, the schedule can be made. Forecasting will tell managers what type of workforce they need and when, but scheduling is what combines forecasting with agent availability, preferences and specializations. Average handle time has to be considered as well, including both the time of the communication itself as well as after-call tasks.

3. Flexibility

Though you’ll create a specific schedule, it’s always advisable to be flexible. Allow your agents to trade shifts, take flexible time off and work from home on certain days. Of course, you also have to account for breaks, lunches and local labor laws. In the end, the final schedule should be a mixture of forecasting, your preferred schedule and agent preferences.

4. Performance Management

In order to make sure your contact center is always covered, monitor agents for schedule adherence. Not only will this tell you if your agents are sticking to the schedule that you both decided on, but it will also show you opportunities for non-contact work, like coaching, training sessions and meetings. Also, if the schedule is being adhered to, you may realize that demand is high and overtime is needed.

 

Though advanced software and automation can help streamline WFM, it’s still an incredibly intricate part of running a contact center.