Friday, April 18, 2014

Monet WFO Live Receives Product of the Year Award 2014

When people in the communications and technology industries need to know what’s happening, they turn to TMC.net, a reliable source of news and information with a readership in the millions. So when these experts name their Product of the Year, it’s an opinion that carries a lot of weight.
For 2014, TMC’s Product of the Year is ours. Monet WFO Live, our cloud-based call center workforce optimization solution, was chosen for this distinction by TMC’s flagship publication, Customer magazine. 

"On behalf of both TMC and Customer magazine, it is my pleasure to honor Monet Software with a 2014 Product of the Year Award," said the company’s CEO, Rich Tehrani. "Its workforce optimization solution Monet WFO Live has proven deserving of this elite status and I look forward to continued innovation from Monet Software in 2014 and beyond."

Those who have tried Monet WFO Live already know how it earned this reputation for excellence. It delivers a unified workforce optimization suite that transforms call center management from a reactive to a pro-active approach. Customers can create accurate forecasts, efficient schedules, record and monitor calls for quality, training and compliance purpose, and track cross-functional performance metrics, all with one integrated cloud-based platform.

Read more about TMC’s Product of the Year winners in the January/February issue of Customer magazine, or read the press release for more details.


Friday, April 11, 2014

Unified Workforce Optimization in the Cloud

Any kind of business is more successful when all of its divisions and employees are working together toward the same goal.

With larger companies, including call centers, this can be easier said than done. Different divisions have different priorities, and while all of them may be similar in conception (better customer service, improved efficiency, lower costs, etc.), these efforts can always be improved (and can occasionally be hindered) by the data and employee input from other parts of the organization.

This is particularly true of workforce optimization at a contact center. Such businesses are comprised of managers devoted to forecasting and scheduling, executives who review recorded and monitored calls to gauge customer service, and others who set goals for the organization based on agent and customer feedback.

Rather than take a siloed approach, where each system works independently without reciprocal operation with other divisions, WFO can provide easy access to cross-functional data that helps align teams, so they can work more effectively on common objectives. And access is immediate regardless of employee location, just one of the many benefits of a cloud delivery system.

With the centralized administration provided by unified WFO, there is no need to devote additional time and budgeting to costly integration projects, which can be effective but may not be scheduled more than once a month, if that. The fully integrated workforce optimization framework automatically delivers important call center insights, metrics and alerts on an ongoing basis. Now managers can make more informed decisions and react more quickly to internal or external trends. Result? A more optimized call center performance. We invite you to watch this fun contact center video that shows how supervisor Mary switched from spreadsheets to a unified workforce optimization solution.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Cutting Contact Center Costs by 20% – in 2 Easy Steps

If your contact center is still using spreadsheets, you might lose money. Two of the key drivers for cost savings are schedule adherence and optimization of daily agent rituals like breaks and lunches. Spreadsheets are extremely limited in the impact they can have on these crucial challenges.

Schedule Adherence
With spreadsheets only limited spot-checking is possible. When you can’t monitor adherence in real time, there is bound to be higher shrinkage and either over- or understaffing. Result? Missed service levels, and wasted resources. By switching from spreadsheets to workforce management software, real time adherence and monitoring is possible. That restores service levels to projected levels, while reducing shrinkage by as much as 15 minutes per agent day. You can even get alerts on your mobile device if agents are out-of-adherence based on custom thresholds. 

Optimizing Downtime
How managers schedule lunches and approved breaks, and how well agents adhere to the time allowed for them, can have a tremendous impact on staffing costs and productivity. At most call centers, these shrinkage rates fall somewhere between 20% and 35% with an effective WFM solution, depending on the size of the business. And when shrinkage rates fall, productivity and profits increase.

When workforce management software is deployed in a way that increases schedule adherence and optimizes downtime, the savings to an average call center can add up to 10% or even 20%.

Find out more in this customer case study and learn how a contact center of a credit union reduced costs and improved service levels with workforce management software.

Monday, April 7, 2014

100 Agents and Still Using Spreadsheets for Scheduling?

Many small and midsized contact centers still rely on spreadsheets for daily forecasting and scheduling. It’s an imperfect system that could be improved by workforce management (WFM) software.

However, what’s surprising is that some larger contact centers, those with 100 agents or more, are also still using spreadsheets for scheduling. Here, the inefficiencies of the system are multiplied, resulting in much lower customer service (under-staffing) and higher costs (over-staffing) - often both, based on the time of day.

When an increase as low as 1% in productivity can significantly impact the contact center budget, it is imperative to identify areas where efficiency can be improved.

One of these areas is flexibility – the limitations of a spreadsheet result in fixed schedules that can produce higher shrinkage and overstaffing. But with WFM it is easier to manage start times, end times and breaks with an ease of flexibility that dramatically improves service levels.

Managers can also consult more detailed and accurate call histories with WFM, resulting in better forecasts. Scheduling is also faster – some managers can save as much as 25% of the time once devoted to filling in spreadsheets – that time can now be used for additional agent training or to attend to other matters.

There are many additional advantages as well, from reducing the number of agents needed for a particular shift to improving agent morale by making it easier to match employees with the hours and shifts they prefer.

Find out more in the Monet whitepaper “The Cost of Spreadsheet Based Forecasting & Scheduling.”

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Six Steps to Improved Call Center Staffing

Of all the factors involved in operating a successful, cost-efficient call center, staffing may be the most significant. Out of every dollar spent in call center costs, about 75 cents is related to labor. That makes these decisions pivotal to the operation of the business.

While different call centers have different priorities and different functions, the challenge of staffing remains relatively consistent regardless of size or specialty. These six steps can help a call center manager successfully traverse the staffing minefield.

1. Gather and Analyze Data


The most accurate and reliable guide to staffing, as anyone who studies workforce management can tell you, is to look back at past performance and call center history. Review the reports generated by the automatic call distributor for data on average handle time, number of incoming calls and other key performance indicators.

To create a staffing schedule for, say, the first week of April, the obvious place to start is with the data for the first week of April of the previous year, and the year before if that information is available. The more historical data used, the better the chance of an accurate forecast. Variations should also be considered – where does Easter fall this year? Will that impact call volume? Will more students be on spring break?

When consulting previous weeks/months/years of information, the two numbers that will most strongly impact forecasts are call volume and average handle time, either calculated per hour or per half-hour.

2. Crunch the Numbers for a Workload Calculation


There are three methods typically employed by call centers to translate historical data into a staffing forecast:

Point Estimate 
With this system the call center relies on a basic apples-to-apples comparison of a future point in time with that same point in the past. For example, forecasting next June 15 based on traffic numbers from June 15 of last year. While this is a good starting point, it will not be precise as it does not account for more recent calling trends or new products or promotions.

Averaging
With this method a manager would average relevant past numbers to predict call volume, preferably while relying more heavily on recent data (by creating a formula that uses these numbers more prominently). However, this may still not take into account some changes or events that would have figured into older data.

Time Series Analysis
With time series analysis, historical data is calculated alongside monthly or seasonal changes, as well as more recent events and other variables. It is a more comprehensive approach that typically results in better forecasts.

3. Staffing Calculations


Steps #1 and #2 are used to create the forecast. Now it’s time to formulate a schedule. The call volume forecast numbers are factored into workload predictions, workload being the number derived from multiplying the amount of forecasted calls and the average call handle time.

Most managers will add additional staff to whatever number of agents is deemed appropriate, both to compensate for unexpected absences and to maintain customer service levels should call volume be higher than anticipated. The unproductive hours designated as “shrinkage” – breaks, training time, tardiness, meetings – must also be considered. At most call centers, shrinkage rates fall somewhere between 20% and 35%, depending on the size of the business. In general, larger call centers can absorb these variables more easily because of a more favorable staff-to-workload ratio.

Another factor is how busy each agent will be during a shift, referred to as agent occupancy. The goal is to achieve an optimum balance between not sitting around for extended periods of time between calls, and not having a long queue of calls waiting that might result in rushing a customer call, to the detriment of that engagement. As a percentage, 85-90% is considered an acceptable occupancy range.

4. Create Assignments


Creating a staff schedule is all about getting the right number of the right people in position to handle the customer service needs of the call center. Once the calculations from the previous step have been completed, the manager should know how many agents would be needed for the shift in question.

As some call centers operate with full-time agents and others use part-time and telecommuting employees, this is when shift lengths and resources must be defined, days off specified and personnel scheduled. Depending on the size of the call center, there may be dozens, if not hundreds, of scheduling possibilities. If skill-based routing is also a priority, this will also affect staffing decisions. Once personnel have been selected, the manager also has the option of staggering start times by 15 or 30 minutes, which can reduce instances of too many agents taking lunch breaks or other diversions at the same time during a shift.

5. Management and Adjustment


There is no way to know if a plan is going to work until it is executed. Even with the preparations and calculations already described, staff schedules will likely still have to be adjusted every day. This ongoing management of staff and schedule is referred to as performance tracking.

The main components of performance tracking are call volume, AHT and staffing levels. Deviations from forecasting predictions may require staffing adjustments, assuming enough flexibility has been built into the schedule to make the necessary changes. If not, call center service goals may be in jeopardy. Tracking the number of a calls in queue may also require some “instant forecasting” to adjust the remainder of the shift accordingly. However, over-reaction should also be avoided, lest a random surge be mistaken for a full-day trend.

6. Review, Analyze, and Adjust


The end of a shift is the beginning of preparation for the next one. The challenge of staffing is ongoing, but each day’s results deliver data to analyze that may result in ways to improve performance, both for each individual agent and the entire team.

Conclusion
Many of the most persistent challenges of staffing can be mitigated when call center managers know what to look for, when they have the information they need, when they need it, and when they can act upon it quickly.

No one every said predicting the future was easy. But an effective, automated workforce management solution can make the necessary calculations, remove much of the guesswork and improve the accuracy of schedules and forecasts. Through real-time measurement of call center metrics, agents and managers gain the data visibility necessary to deliver the service that customers expect, and can react more quickly to issues and resolve them before they impact operations.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Introducing Workforce Management to Agents

As call center workforce management has evolved over the decades, its methods have become more refined, more specific and more advantageous. In doing so, however, it has also become more intrusive, at least from the perspective of some agents.

When it was all hard copy spreadsheets, or even after the advent of Excel spreadsheets, its tentacles seemed more distant. But with today’s workforce management software, it really seemed like “Big Brother” had finally arrived. It can generate fear and confusion, as well as concern over being controlled by a super-computer that will monitor what they are doing every moment of every shift.

This can pose a challenge to call center management when introducing this new technology into the workplace. How can the transition be eased into a system that will change the way schedules are created, shifts are assigned, exceptions are considered and hours are calculated?

Here are two approaches that might help.
  • The first focuses on reassurance. Whether this is done individually or collectively, let the agents know that the customer service goals of the call center have not changed – just the methods for helping to achieve them. Managers should be available to answer questions and address concerns. Most agent trepidation is rooted in a fear of the unknown – once the system is explained and demonstrated, many of these fears will subside.
  • Next, stress that the benefits of workforce management software are not limited to management. Now, it will be easier for agents to request shift swaps or days off, so they can better balance work with their personal lives. Walk them through the process until it becomes familiar.
Once agents have bought into the system as well, WFM software can deliver dramatic service improvements as well as agent motivation. If you have question or would like to learn from other call centers, please feel free to contact us - we are happy to share our experience in rolling out workforce management systems.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Enduring Contact Center Challenge: Agent Scheduling and Agent Adherence

After so many years, and so much attention paid, why are scheduling and adherence still a challenge at so many contact centers? One reason, perhaps, is that each of these objectives incorporates a number of moving parts, and a wide range of variables that must be calculated in advance. If these calculations are off, even by a little bit, it can bring the whole plan crashing down.

Consider the contact center manager’s ongoing challenge:

Scheduling
Inaccurate forecast? There goes the schedule. If a manager schedules 20 agents on a shift and call volume is higher than expected, average wait time increases, other KPIs are impacted, and customer service suffers. If call volume is lower, agents are at their desks with nothing to do. The customers are happy, but accounting is not – no one likes to pay agents when they aren’t doing anything.

Sudden call volume change? It can happen. Sometimes unforeseen circumstances, even a change in the weather or a news story about a company’s product, can spike calls.

Then there are exceptions, and agents who call in sick at the last minute, and other KPI predictions that don’t pan out. Any one of these can make scheduling a frustrating process.

Adherence
Do your agents understand the impact of adherence? It was covered at hiring and reinforced during training sessions, but even the best agents sometimes forget. Are those that regularly fall out of adherence held accountable? If not, they have no reason to change their behavior.

Having a system in place to track adherence would be helpful, but some contact centers have yet to make this investment.

What’s the Solution?
Fortunately, one solution is available to address the wide array of scheduling and adherence challenges: Workforce Management (WFM) software. It’s the fastest and easiest way to track status, progress, and real-time activity at a call center. Dashboards provide a visual display of call center data, providing insight into every key WFM process.
Watch a Demo

Forecasting
Both daily and long-term forecasts can be checked quickly through tables and charts on forecasting dashboards.

Scheduling
Review past call volumes to create tomorrow’s schedule. Find out who’s in, who’s on break and who’s on vacation.

Adherence
Adherence alerts on the call center dashboard identify instances where scheduled activities vary from the current call center status.

Metrics
Besides forecasting, scheduling and adherence, other key WFM metrics that can be reviewed via dashboard include call answer times, first call resolutions and transfer rates.

Of course, the wealth of information provided by WFM isn’t much good if it is not presented in a way that is clear, concise, and accessible to changes as needed. Choose a WFM system that allows for real-time changes to be easily implemented, that shows summaries of all agent statuses, including exceptions. If you can’t find the data you need quickly, look for another system.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Call Center Management Tips: Can you answer these questions?

Key performance indicators provide a snapshot into how a call center is functioning. They deliver numbers that denote whether customer service is outstanding, acceptable, or in need of improvement.

However, sometimes the numbers create new questions just as they answer older ones. Many call center managers have found themselves wondering:

“When I see that my agents’ Average Talk Time has exceeded the target, does this result in more abandons and a poor service level?”

or

“If a longer talk time is causing more abandons, are there agents that are still able to meet all of their quality monitoring goals while keeping a low talk time?”

Fortunately, it’s easier to find the answers with an integrated workforce optimization (WFO) solution. Now managers can check these KPIs against historical data, and figure out the answers by discovering not only what is happening, but also why it is happening that way.

How are some agents lowering average talk time while still delivering on customer service? Once these processes are discovered, they can be codified and taught to the rest of the team and put into practice throughout the call center.

Check the results in 30 days – chances are the new KPIs will indicate that this change has resulted in greater efficiency and less abandons.