Monday, November 28, 2011

How to Improve Agent Schedule Adherence in a Call Center


Adherence: Are You In or Out of It?

One of the biggest challenges of running a call center is making sure that employees stick to their schedules. A strategic approach to improving agent adherence is crucial for call centers struggling with the challenges of rising costs, lower revenues, and frustrated customers. The following whitepaper summarizes five strategies to help boost agent adherence in your call center.

In addition to the five strategies, the whitepaper also explains how WFM software helps call centers implement those adherence strategies more effectively.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Important call center metrics: Shrinkage

What's shrinkage?
Shrinkage is the time (or percentage of time) agents are not productive due to breaks, meetings, training, vacation, illness, absenteeism, etc. Most of these events can be build into the schedule, however there is one aspect of shrinkage that cannot be really planned for and it is related to adherence. Adherence is a measurement of the time agents are scheduled to work compared to the time they actually work. If agents leave early, start later or take longer breaks than specified in their schedule, it causes shrinkage that has an immediate impact on service levels and other call center metrics due to under-staffing.

How to reduce shrinkage?
Well, it's not realistic to totally eliminate "unplanned" shrinkage, however, in most cases in can be reduced to an acceptable level. One major reason for "unplanned" shrinkage is out-of-adherence. Often, call centers don’t have the necessary visibility into what happens at any moment in time and what is supposed to happen based on the published schedule. If you are still struggling with adherence issues, please read this educational whitepaper “Strategies for improving call center schedule adherence", and you will learn about proven practices on schedule adherence that have resulted in increased availability and reduced shrinkage.

Monday, November 14, 2011

3 Ways to Simplify Call Center Scheduling

1. Focus on a more accurate forecast
Focus on forecast accuracy first to avoid under-staffing, minimize crisis situation, and constant shuffling around of agents! Try to get the best possible forecast baseline for your schedule:
  • Identify historic and future call volume “driver” (special days, events, promotion, etc.)
  • Run various forecast scenarios
  • Include all customer service related activities into forecast (call and non-call)
  • Include all communication channels (call, email, chat, etc.)

2. Involve your agents into the process:
Inform your agents about forecasting/schedule procedures, ask them about their preferences, and explain the need for flexibility. Open communication should help create an open and more fun work environment, while also achieving more effective schedules:
  • Survey about preferences and personal needs
  • Work with them to match with needs of the business
  • Provide incentives for “being flexible” (e.g. bonus or slightly higher pay)

3. Automate repetitive tasks

Automate repetitive forecasting/scheduling tasks to gain more time for monitoring, coaching, and training. Automate reports and make it a routine to compare forecasted with actual call volume, adherence and schedule effectiveness to learn "what worked, and what didn't":
  • Automate inclusion of call history into forecasting procedures
  • Automate forecasting and schedule scenarios with simulation
  • Create a dashboard with your daily performance goal to streamline intra-day monitoring and management
Please see our post about call center forecasting and scheduling best practices to learn more details about this topic.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How to improve intra-day call center forecasting and scheduling

Fluctuation in call volumes throughout the day is still one of the key challenges in managing a call center. Common questions are: How to update the forecast, how to create a new schedule, and how to staff for this throughout the day? Is there a way to plan for this? Typically, there are two scenarios:
  • There are events that the call center should have known about, but didn’t for various reasons (e.g. was not informed about a campaign, didn’t plan for the event, etc.). Most of the call volume related impact can be avoided through planning – see #1.
  • There are events, mostly external driven , that cannot be planned for (e.g. sudden product issues, weather, catastrophes). Call volume fluctuations due to these external events cannot be planned for, however, constant monitoring and quick action can lower the impact on service levels and customer satisfaction – see #2.

1. Anticipate and plan: Spend time and effort to achieve a more accurate forecast in order to minimize surprises.
  • Learn from the past, anticipate events that might cause call volume fluctuation and stay in constant communication with other departments of your company to avoid call volume “surprises”.
  • Analyze call history to spot “triggers” and anticipate factors that impact call volume
  • Stay in touch with other departments (sales, support, marketing) to make sure you know in advance about events. Educate them about the implication of “surprises” on service levels and customer satisfaction

2. Monitor and act: Establish a dashboard or set up alerts that notify you about unusual or fluctuating call volumes.
  • When you notice that the actual call volume is different from the forecast, you should analyze deviation and trend lines for both, call volume and average handle time.
  • Apply this trend to the next period or rest of day by recalculating the forecast for each interval
  • Then you need to move things around (breaks, training, etc) to adjust the schedule as well.
Finally, investigate to find the cause for the deviation and learn from it. This might help you be better prepared next time, and you might even be able to "build it" it into the forecast. For a short demo of intra-day management and exception handling please visit our website.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Workforce Management Software Comparison - What Features are Important?

Call center workforce management software automates key tasks that have an immediate impact on the bottom line through more accurate call volume forecasting, optimum scheduling and daily performance tracking. The following is a list of key capabilities to consider when comparing workforce management software:

Forecasting: Ability to run simulations to calculate a precise forecast for future call volume, agent requirements and average handle time for any time interval of the day, based on historical data from ACD.

Scheduling: The scheduling engine should incorporate all call and non-call activities to generate staffing schedules that optimize a wide range of factors, including agent availability, work rules, skills, holidays, breaks, service levels and center budgets.

Intra-day Management: Graphical display of agents' schedules that can be manipulated by dragging and dropping breaks, lunches and other exceptions make it easy and fast. Real-time updates can be made to required and assigned agents instantly, and display surpluses and shortages for each time period of the day.

Exception Planning: Integrated exception calendar simplify scheduling of agent exceptions such as time off and one-time or recurring training meetings.

Real-time Adherence: Compares planned agent activity to actual activities throughout the day, as well as real-time views of forecasted and actual call volumes, handle times and other key performance indicators.

Configuration & Administration: Ability to build an unlimited number of center splits or agent groups, each with its own set of service objectives and guidelines. Manage multiple sites and time zones. Set hours of operation by day of week, and service level goals down to 15-minute intervals if desired.

Performance Analysis: Easily report and analyze all agent activities including their schedule adherence and key performance indicators. Managers can review service level results, costs and revenue.

ACD Integration: Collect data from your ACD and build a historical database. Capture your center's workload and work time statistics in real time.