WFM

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.

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.