workforce management

Finding an Easy Formula to Do the Math is a Challenge for Contact Centers

When you google “contact center metrics,” there’s no shortage of suggestions to peruse. Lists of varying numbers of suggested metrics to be monitored pop up on the screen: 7, 13, 20, 27.  But which are the right ones for a company’s specific environment? The across-the-board metric cited is First Contact Resolution (FCR), which is a standard that just about every contact center views as critical to maintain and improve.  Similarly, Customer Satisfaction ratings, while not always quite as simple to define, are also a universal target to be monitored.

But it gets murkier from there. Many other commonly cited metrics, such as service level or average handle time, are not always directly comparable across channels; and evaluating teams that share some — but not all — queues is not always a precise process.  An ICMI study revealed that 39% of contact center leaders struggle to identify and measure key performance indicators.

A deeper understanding of metrics and how to calculate them helps a business set the right targets and reach goals to support its mission and vision. Each measure used to help determine how teams are performing needs to be understandable and actionable to individual agents, supervisors and management alike.  When all parties agree on what is important, a company can consistently track performance and see where to improve processes and training to help its agents do better.

Having this level of clarity on goals and metrics and knowing how they’re tracking towards those goals, creates employees who are more engaged with their work and empowered in their roles. A Dale Carnegie infographic shows that companies with more engaged employees outperform companies without engaged employees by 202%, and have customer retention rates that are 18% higher, according to loyalty strategy research by Colloquy.

Setting goals to measure performance can be somewhat tricky. Targets should not be so difficult to attain as to make them daunting for agents. There must be flexibility and compromise in determining how to balance between goals that appear to compete with one another, such as average handle time – where saving and time and reducing cost is paramount – and customer satisfaction, especially in cases that involve more complex interactions. When creating scoreboards to measure agent performance, businesses need to ensure that goals are instantly comprehensible and ready to act upon. They also need to make sense mathematically in tracking drivers across all contact channels including traditional, social, and mobile.  It’s helpful to use the same classification system across all interactions and equip agents to use it consistently.

Of course, simply knowing which metrics to use and how to score them is not the be-all, end-all for optimizing agent happiness. Going back to Google, one would find an astounding 147,000+ results for “benefits of a happy contact center agent”. The major areas of focus in these listings range from the obvious: “why agent satisfaction is important,” to the ubiquitous “fun things to do to keep agents happy” and the more specific evaluations of software and services to promote agent satisfaction.

Companies must be proactive in their approach to building models that are consistently accurate in predicting probabilities and outcomes in their contact centers. Models that are less than precise lead to failure to maintain desired service levels and result in cost overages. Businesses need to find innovative but proven methods to calculate the proper variables and the right things to look for in developing analyses that result in accurate forecasts.

Data abundance and complex operations make it challenging to develop, implement, and present clean, clear reports and on-target analyses. Over the next several months, agent-first solution provider Sharpen Technologies, developers of an always-on contact center platform built for the enterprise, will present a comprehensive series of complimentary webcasts on CrmXchange.

The four sessions are designed to demystify the process of determining the right metrics, show businesses how to measure and accurately analyzing contact center performance, and to implement those analyses across the operation so the entire organization stays focused on excellence. It will culminate in a discussion of how to put together the most efficacious math models for contact center executives and managers to glean actionable insights.

The first webcast in the series, “Attributes of Solid Contact Center Performance Metrics – and Attributes of Poor Ones”  will take place on Thursday, March 5.

The second,” Learn How to be Great: Helping Agents, Supervisors, and Execs Perform,” will be presented on Tuesday April 21.

The third session, “Setting Performance Goals and Scorecards,” comes up on Thursday, August 13.

The final presentation “Building Great “What-If” Models and the Resulting Analyses for the CEO” will be delivered on Tuesday, October 20.

All webcasts will be jointly presented by Ric Kosiba, Chief Data Scientist and Adam Settle. Chief Product Officer, Sharpen Technologies. Ric’s vast background of expertise goes back two decades to Bay Bridge Decisions Technologies which he co-founded in 2000. In that role, he developed the contact center industry’s first “what if” decision engine, a complex set of algorithms designed to forecast proper staffing levels. Adam is an experienced education professional skilled in Sales, Coaching, Team Building, and Training. He combines his extensive knowledge with hands-on experience as a trainer at Apple and Angie’s List.

Register now at no cost for the individual presentations or the complete series. Each webcast is at 1:00PM ET. If you cannot attend the live presentation, a link to the recorded session will be available within 24 hours.

An Online In-Depth Education Program Without the Cost and Inconvenience of Traditional Live Conferences

While there are numerous quality live conferences in the CX/contact center space that delve into workforce optimization, attending these events often entails a series of complex decisions. First, you must determine if it includes enough seminars that are relevant to your specific needs and exhibitors with the right solutions to advance your program. Then, you need to obtain approval and funding, plan the details of the trip and make sure all your responsibilities are covered while you are away. While some consider traveling to an event a welcome break from routine, others find it a time-consuming, expensive disruption that they simply can’t justify.

The need for ongoing education in this critical operational area continues to grow. Over the past 12 years, an increasing number of workforce planning professionals have found a flexible, no-cost, no-travel alternative in CrmXchange’s annual online Best Practices in Workforce Optimization virtual conference, produced in conjunction with the Quality Assurance and Training Connection (QATC) and the Society of Workforce Planning Professionals (SWPP).

Over the past two years, the event has been expanded to provide even more in-depth education. For 2019, it will take place the first two weeks of November, with the first week (November 4-8) focusing on QA and Analytics and the second (November 11-15) examining strategies for Workforce Management and Performance Optimization.

The enhanced conference content reflects the evolution of how contact centers now approach workforce planning responsibilities. It used to be handled in independent groups, with one team handling quality assurance, another conducting training, and yet another developing agent schedules. Supervisors often tried to do coaching with no input from other functional areas, while managers simply ran and reacted to reports. But this disconnected approach no longer works in today’s complex, omnichannel contact center environments. Workforce Optimization is a wide-ranging field that now encompasses all these elements as a unified discipline. And the CrmXchange virtual conference provides WFO professionals with the year’s most convenient and comprehensive opportunity to gain greater insights on the latest technologies, tactics and best practices.

Attendees have the opportunity to meet in real time with industry experts and colleagues who can answer their questions and offer business solutions tailored to their contact centers, without the cost and time away from the office of an on-site conference. Anyone can attend learning sessions the same way they would in an on-site conference.

The format allows entire WFO teams to share newly acquired knowledge throughout an organization. Team members can attend live sessions together or attend different session tracks. All sessions will be recorded and available on demand for one week after the conference – giving those who could not attend the initial presentation the opportunity to view the sessions later.

In addition, attendees can visit the virtual exhibit hall to download product videos, and obtain product information, press releases, white papers, and much more. Sponsors, including Calabrio, CallMiner, NICE, NICE inContact and Verint, are ready to share the latest innovations that may benefit your contact center.

And while you can’t sit down over a drink after hours, you can still chat with presenters and peers in the virtual lounge, a specially designed virtual networking forum for registered members of this online event. Learn what others are doing, meet colleagues, pose questions, and offer your own insight.

The Best Practices in Workforce Optimization virtual conference kicks off on Monday, November 4 at 12 noon ET with a high-interest keynote address Building a Customer Experience Movement which examines the true elements required to create a culture-changing CX program that is built to last. It will be presented by Nate Brown, Co-Founder of CX Accelerator, a virtual community of customer experience professionals.

Join the thousands of industry executives who have already benefited from this powerful complimentary two week online conference Register now and check out the broad ranging agenda.

4 Essential Components of Your Workforce Optimization Software

Delivering a positive customer experience is no small feat ­– there are a lot of moving parts that have to work together, with workforce optimization (WFO) being a major component. When considering which WFO suite to go with, keep the following four must-haves in mind.

  1. Integration with Existing Systems

The WFO system you use should be compatible with the rest of your contact center. Cloud WFO solutions are typically the easiest to integrate ­– they can be custom-fitted to your contact center, prepped and tested before going live, and even run along with your current WFO solution as you make the switch so there’s no downtime.

  1. Creation of Reliable and Adaptive Schedules

With the right WFO solution, scheduling becomes much easier. Your WFO software should generate schedules with enough agents to cover daily shifts, accounting for agent requests like certain days or times off, flex shifts, or work-from-home shifts. At the same time, your software should review shift data to accommodate for high and low patterns, which will affect things like breaks and training sessions. Your WFO solution should also be flexible enough to adapt when something unforeseen occurs that requires a quick change in the workforce.

  1. Real-Time Schedule Adherence

In order for management to know if an agent’s daily activity is in line with contact center objectives, you’ll need to see reports about schedule adherence. Your WFO solution should monitor and record real-time adherence, tracking log in and log out times, plus lunch breaks and other types of breaks. For contact centers that have out-of-the-box needs, like after-hours coverage, your WFO solution should let you create custom guidelines.

  1. Accurate and Robust Reporting

WFO (and just about everything else at your contact center) revolves around reports ­– otherwise, it’s very difficult to know what’s going on in your business. Even the best managers can’t be everywhere all the time, which is why they rely on reporting. The data that’s gathered will help you figure out where changes need to be made and what type of training needs to occur moving forward. Comprehensive reports will help you make the right workforce decisions.

The philosophy of WFO ­– shifting the workforce for the sake of optimal productivity ­– has been around for a long time, but actually embracing this philosophy by seeking out the tools to achieve it is still new for many contact centers.

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.

 

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.

Contact Center WFM: Dealing With Toxic Employees

Meeting contact center staffing needs goes beyond the science of predicting when you’ll need employees – it’s also about choosing people who are right for the contact center. What happens when all goes well during the hiring phases, but once hired an employee becomes toxic?

Accepting That You Have a Toxic Employee

Toxic employees are much different than difficult employees. They cause psychological pain and often influence others with their behavior. They often find their bad behavior fun and engage in certain behavior simply to find out if they can get away with it. Take note of how your other agents are reacting. Do they seem to have a slump in energy? Are they frustrated most of the time? Do they complain that they’re constantly being put-down?

Determining the Cause of the Behavior

Is the employee not happy with an aspect of their job or are they facing difficult circumstances in their home life? Are they upset with one or more co-workers? If there’s a reason for why they’re acting a certain way, it’s possible that they just need some help in order to improve, saving you the trouble of having to find a replacement.

Explaining the Behavior

Sometimes toxic agents are oblivious to how much destruction they’re causing. Explain to them what their behavior is and how it’s affecting the rest of the contact center. Guide them on how to improve. Make sure that they understand the consequences if they don’t change. Will they lose a privilege that they enjoy, like setting a flexible schedule or getting an end-of-year bonus? The initial consequence doesn’t have to be that they’ll lose their job (though that may be a possibility down the line).

Cutting the Cord

In the end, if the employee will need to be let go, it will require some sort of documentation. Even if you’re confident that the situation will improve without having to fire the employee, document everything from the beginning. A pattern of behavior has to be established by providing as much material as possible. This will protect you in the event that you do need to let the employee go.

It’s not unheard of for a contact center agent to turn toxic once they’ve been hired. Traits that went unnoticed before can be exposed. Knowing the red flags of toxic behavior can help you find and replace those employees immediately.

Workforce Optimization and Scheduling Tips for the Contact Center

Workforce optimization in the contact center refers to the integrated software, technology and solutions that help with a variety of operations, including strategic planning, agent recruitment and monitoring. Scheduling plays a big role in customer satisfaction, and agent schedules are based on demand forecasting and service level goals. Workforce optimization also takes more into account than just technology.

Ask the following questions to determine if your workforce management software needs to be upgraded.

1. Do we know why we’re not meeting our service level goals and how many agents are needed to meet our service level commitment?

2. When service level needs to be improved, is our standard response to hire more agents?

3. Do we know if our agents are adhering to their schedules?

4. Do our agents know their schedules far enough in advance? Are they having difficulty planning important events because they never know when they’ll be needed at work?

5. Do we constantly reconfigure agent schedules? Are supervisors and managers spending too much time on schedule changes?

6. Do temporary changes like marketing promotions throw us off schedule?

7. Are a lot of agents idle during low call volume times?

8. Is it difficult to decide the days and times that are best for training agents? Do we end up training agents on the fly?

5 More Workforce  Tips

1. Test out a new candidate before officially hiring them. Temp agencies will place employees at your contact center for a limited amount of time. After that time period, you can opt to hire the employee or ask for a new one in their place.

2. When you do decide to permanently hire a temp, make sure they know how the job will change now that they’re a bonafide employee. Have them shadow other agents for a week so that they know what to expect.

3. Keep seasonal staff in the loop during the off-season by inviting them to company parties and copying them on important e-mails.

4. Automate repetitive tasks so that your agents can devote more time to high priority tasks. Reporting and forecasting, for example, can be automated with the right workforce management software.

5. Invest in your contact center agents by offering regular and ongoing training. Proper training is necessary if you want your agents to provide a positive customer experience.