workforce management

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.

4 Best Practices for Contact Center Workforce Management

Workforce Management (WFM) in the contact center means giving employees the jobs that best match their skillset while taking scheduling and timing into account. The main goal of WFM is to benefit contact center operations, including customer service. Ideally, contact center WFM will be fluid, allowing management to continually evolve techniques and consistently achieve excellent results.

1. Automate Shift Bidding

Tools are available to automate shift bidding, eliminating the confusion that comes with asking individual agents about schedule preferences. Self-service scheduling lets agents request preferred schedules and ask for time off. Automation also controls how much priority is given to tenured or senior agents so that shifts are assigned based on performance and quality scores. This works toward the goal of motivating agents to improve their performance. Additionally, contact centers can allow shift trading and also enable agents to work from home, particularly during the holidays.

2. Manage Vacant Workstations

With the number of varied shifts in a 4-hour contact center, it can be difficult to manage real estate and efficiently utilize workstations. Software  can provide capacity management in real-time. Forecasting tools and suggested seating plans show you how many seats are empty at a specific time and where they’re located.

3. Improve Social Media Intelligence to Reduce Agent Turnover

According to The North East Contact Center Forum, one of the main reasons why contact center agents leave their jobs is because they don’t receive enough coaching and feedback. Schedule regular mandatory training sessions, particularly for multi-channel instruction. Far too many businesses have a social media presence, yet lack the skills and knowledge to actually provide customer service across multiple channels. Contact center agents should be taught how to respond to social media mentions so that customers can get the answers they’re looking for. Acknowledging a customer’s presence online isn’t the same as providing customer service.

4. Track Unavailable Time

Tools that track unavailable time show where the agent’s time is spent aside from working directly with a customer or being involved in customer-related tasks, like wrap-up. While agents may have a wrap-up target to meet, they don’t always have to adhere to unavailable time targets. Contact centers can require agents to log out for non-call activities, then track those specific activities, since training and projects should be tracked differently than breaks.

CRM Software and Workforce Optimization

The more efficient a workforce, the better customer relationships will be managed and the more profitable the company will be. According to Forrester Research, just 31% of brands carefully monitor customer interactions for quality. In 2015, contact centers will see better CRM software with features that will enable the brand to target, observe, and improve key performance indicators (KPIs), while also letting companies watch metrics in real time. Collected data will show companies where there are deficiencies in the systems and agents.

Fundamental Benefits of Contact Center Software

According to Klipfolio, a contact center has three primary goals: to reduce handling times, to increase productivity, and to satisfy service level agreements. At the base level, all CRM software should have the following four benefits:

  1. Measure: CRM software should turn agent metrics into reports to give management a clear overview of the successes and deficiencies in the contact center.
  2. Reduce Costs: When call volume increases, CRM technology should help agents handle more calls. Or, it should support a smaller number of agents in handling the same call volume.
  3. Scale Volume: Contact centers should be able to reply on intelligent software to handle an increasing number of interactions, including more calls overall and more calls per agent.
  4. Train More Efficiently: CRM software should include scripting and review to make sure agents always have correct information to deliver to customers.

Monitoring Metrics in Real Time

Contact center dashboards should allow for the monitoring of critical metrics in real time in order to help agents and managers handle challenges before they turn into disasters. Problems need to be addressed in real time, even if that means collaborating with other agents or departments.