Monday, January 30, 2012

Call forecasting and call center scheduling spreadsheets? A few considerations.

Sometimes, spreadsheets for forecasting and scheduling seem to be just fine. However, one of the biggest challenges in call centers - maintaining schedule adherence - is very difficult or almost impossible to manage using spreadsheets. In addition, there are other forecasting and scheduling tasks that can be very challenging with spreadsheets and might result in sup-optimal performance. And those tasks (listed below) are often key drivers to make your call center more productive and deliver better service to your customers.

Schedule adherence: Spreadsheets don't support this well. Studies have shown that tracking and monitoring agent adherence in real-time has a tremendous postive impact on call center performance.
Exception handling: This is a very manual process and complicated with spreadsheets. Automated exception handling of modern WFM solutions keep agents happy and results in higher productivity.
Schedule flexibility
: Spreadsheets are often limited to fixed schedules. You might not be able to take take advantage of schedules with flexible start-time, end-time & breaks to boost service levels.
Call history: Spreadsheets don't support real-time or automated data import of large amounts of data, potentially resulting in reduced forecast accuracy.
Skill-based routing and scheduling: Very complicated to manage with spreadsheets, therefore, call centers often can't realize productivity advantages of skill-based scheduling.

If you are still using spreadsheets, you should review the above list from the perspective of your call center needs and evaluate the potential for improving call center operation. You can also learn more about WFM by looking at automating forecasting, scheduling and adherence tracking.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Important call center metrics: Service Level

There is no "right" service level for a call center. The service level should be defined based on customer needs, behavior and expectation, aligned with the business goals and objectives of your company. Also, the service level is just one element that drives customer satisfaction and positive business outcome. If you answer calls very quickly but cannot address the customer issue, it might be worse than having customers wait a bit longer and get their issues resolved in one call. However, this post focuses on the service level component:

How is the service level calculated? It is defined as the percentage of calls that get answered within a specific time period. Example: 80% of calls should get answered within 20 seconds.

What causes service level issues? There are many reasons that have an impact on services levels, here are just a few:
  • Calls take longer than planned (product issues, training issues, unexpected events, etc.)
  • Forecast inaccurate (higher call volume or different call pattern)
  • Schedule sub-optimal (doesn't include all activities, lack of flexibility, etc.)
  • Call fluctuations during day that could not be planned for
  • Low schedule adherence (often the biggest problem of missed service levels)
  • Exceptions (unscheduled meetings, staff absenteeism, etc.)
How to improve service level?
  • Goal: First, it is important to define a realistic service level that is in line with your overall business objectives and the specifics and needs of your customers and their inquiries.
  • More accurate forecast: It all starts with an accurate forecast - both the overall volume and the arrival patterns throughout the day. Having call history data available, being able to run different scenarios and breaking it down to 15 or 30 minute increments helps to improve accuracy over time
  • Better aligned schedule: There are many aspects to consider when creating a schedule. A previous blog post about call center scheduling 101 talks about those in more detail.
  • Flexible schedule: Building in some flexibility into your schedule is not easy, but can help dramatically. Flexibility regarding start and end time, breaks, training, etc. helps cover periods of irregular call patterns, while still running a cost efficient operation.
  • Schedule adherence: Again, this is one of the biggest issues, but at the same time, has a big potential to improve service levels. You can read more about improving schedule adherence in this whitepaper.
  • Measure: As you know, you can only manage what you can measure. Add the service level as one of you key metrics to your "dashboard" and also track dependencies to discover the issues that have a negative impact on your service level.
  • Learn: As you measure and monitor you will learn more about what causes problems and over time, you will be able to better plan or even avoid service level issues.
  • Educate: Make service level discussions part of team meetings/training session and have your team share their experience. Compare the measured services level with the perception of customers; have agents share their experience of customer behavior and expectations. For example, a service level that looks great on paper might not be perceived well by customers, or the other way round, a presumed low service level might not be an issue with customers because they feel they get great service.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Contact center scheduling and forecasting overview

Scheduling contact center staff is the "art and science" of having the right number of employees, with the right skills at the right times to meet anticipated call volumes (and other communication channels such as email, chat , social media). And all this has to happen with a targeted service level and at minimal costs. Contact center forecasting and scheduling is a critical task and poor planning and execution can have a negative impact on revenues and cost, customer satisfaction and also employees motivation. Key tasks of contact center scheduling include the following activities:

1. Call Forecasting - Calculation of call volumes based on key parameters:
  • Call history data
  • Call patterns (day, week, season, etc.)
  • Special day patterns (holidays, etc.)
  • Other event or business drivers that might impact call volume/pattern (sales campaign)

2. Staffing requirements - Calculation of staffing needs based on:
  • Service level, ASA and average handle time
  • Type of calls (required skills)
  • Anticipated workload

3. Schedule - Creation of a schedule for every day based on your unique needs:
  • 15 or 30 minute increments
  • Consideration of all activities (call and non-call)
  • Flexibility regarding start/end times, breaks, etc.
  • Multi-skill routing

4. Schedule Adherence - Monitoring and managing adherence as team effort:
  • Inform and educate about adherence importance and impact
  • Measure and manage adherence throughout the day (real-time adherence)
  • Provide incentives for adherence

5. Exception handling - "Stuff happens", be prepared to manage exceptions and changes throughout the day:
  • Changes in call volume or arrival pattern (campaigns, external events, etc.)
  • Staffing or scheduling issues (training, sick, absenteeism, etc.)
  • Business related exceptions

6. Measure Success - Define what "success" means for you center and measure & adjust accordingly:
  • Analyze hourly/daily/weekly reports
  • What worked, what didn't? Investigate causes for under-performance
  • Apply "learnings" into future forecasting/scheduling process

Every contact center is different, but one of the most challenging tasks from the above list for every center is most likely schedule adherence. If you would like to learn more, please download our whitepaper "How to improve schedule adherence in your call center" and discover new ways that might work for your contact center.