Workforce Optimization

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.

 

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.

 

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.