Monday, January 28, 2013

Call center schedule exception handling made easy

Every day call centers have to deal with exceptions and find a way to minimize the impact on their schedule and service level. There are either planned exceptions such as planned time-off and planned training sessions, or mid-day exceptions that are typically not planned. Let's take a look at some examples and describe how to deal with those.
Call center schedule exceptions handling
Example: Schedule a meeting with multiple agents
while minimizing impact on service levels
  • Agents call in late
  • Agents leave early for emergency
  • Agents leave early with vacation time
  • Agents in training session
  • One on one meeting with supervisor
  • Multiple agent meeting with supervisor
  • Agents staying late for overtime
Many Workforce Management systems have integrated exception planner, that make scheduling agent exceptions such as time off and one-time or recurring training meetings a simple process.  For example Monet WFM Live provides a color-coded availability calendar that displays a real-time summary of time off, making it easy for managers to see whether to grant an agent's time off request.

Complete schedule integration ensures the center will be appropriately staffed if the time off is approved and that you will continually meet service levels. Exceptions can be scheduled far into the future or recorded as recurring exceptions. The Exception Planner has also support for mid-day exceptions too, taking them into account when choosing shifts and scheduling breaks and lunches. A manager can easily schedule an agent to attend a training meeting from 11:00 - 1:00 on the second Friday of every month, or set up a rotating schedule where agents have different days off on alternate weeks. The exception calendar enables managers to see how existing exceptions affect their staff availability. They can select any set of dates from the year and see agent requirements and availability, along with the number of exception hours, broken down both by agent and exception type. This tool is particularly useful when deciding whether or not to grant a vacation request.

Efficient and effective management of exceptions is crucial to achieve and maintain your service level. If you would like to learn more, feel free to watch a demo about intra-day schedule management or contact us.

Friday, January 25, 2013

What is cloud-based workforce management software?

workforce management software in the cloudCloud computing is a web-based delivery model that enables users to connect with applications on-demand from any computer with Internet access. A cloud-based workforce management solution provides the highest ROI and savings of any WFM strategy due to its low upfront investment and low operating costs. Cloud-based WFM software puts call centers in unprecedented control, enabling dramatic cost savings and making scheduling far more efficient. Compared with traditional workforce management software, a cloud-based WFM solution allows companies to:
  • Reduce upfront costs: Eliminate the significant investment just to get started. From purchasing hardware, databases, and software licenses to the high costs of installation and IT staff to support the system, the traditional model simply doesn’t make sense. In stark contrast, cloud-based workforce scheduling software saves both time and money because there are no infrastructure costs.
  • Get started faster: Rather than having to ramp-up to a six- to twelve-month (or more) implementation, WFM solutions enable companies to start managing their workforce in the cloud within a matter of weeks. And, since the solution is web-based, integrating the software with existing systems reduces time and costs.
  • Connect anywhere:  The software is hosted by the workforce management firm so companies can access the software anywhere—whether on the other side of town or the other side of the world. All they need is a computer and a standard web browser.
  • Minimize ongoing costs: Cloud-based WFM software doesn’t just save money during the implementation phase. Companies save time and money in the long-term as well. The WFM firm supports all maintenance of the system, including free software upgrades and troubleshooting. Companies also benefit from the ability to quickly customize or add modules via a single, web-based interface.
  • Pay-as-you-go: One of the most attractive features of the solution is the pricing model. Companies only pay for the capacity and infrastructure that are actually used, typically based on number of users. This usage-based, pay-as-you-go subscription pricing approach not only saves businesses money,  Web-based workforce scheduling software also enables them to quickly scale to manage the demands of changing call center sizes.
Cloud-based WFM software lowers the initial infrastructure costs and ongoing maintenance costs of traditional WFM software. This on-the-fly WFM solution also gives call center managers the tools to schedule the right number of agents at the right skill level at the right time, increase overall schedule adherence, boost service levels, and improve both agent and customer satisfaction. To learn more about this topic, please download our What is cloud-based Workforce Management whitepaper.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Business Value of Workforce Management Software - Part 2

In our previous blog about the value of workforce management software we talked about the business challenges, now, let’s take a look at the key value drivers of WFM software compared to the manual/spreadsheet approach:
    Value and ROI of workforce management software
  • Reduces administrative time: Automated WFM drastically reduces the administrative time spent on forecasting and scheduling, data gathering of call history, and creation of management reports. Most call centers see a reduction by a large percentage  after implementation.
  • Slashes shrinkage and optimizes schedules: WFM precisely measures the sources of agent shrinkage and provides tools to reduce its occurrence. Managers can create staffing schedules that optimize a wide range of critical success factors, such as agent skills and availability, breaks and holidays, skill types, historical and predicted call volume, budgets, and service levels. Skills-based scheduling and routing processes enable call center managers to assign skill levels and types to individual agents, and then automatically route a specific type of call to a specific agent who will best be able to resolve the customer’s issue quickly and more effectively. In addition, they can take advantage of flexible start and end times.
  • Precisely forecasts demand: Automated WFM solutions use historical data to accurately predict the number of agents needed to handle the center's volume in real-time, and allow managers to predict future call volume, handle times, agent occupancy, first call resolution rate, and other service levels. Managers can also run multiple forecast/schedule scenarios, and have the ability to better forecast special days such as holidays and other scheduled time off. It also enables managers to forecast agent requirements based on service level agreements, as well as refine forecasts and performance goals based on collected data. More accurate forecasts ensure more efficient schedules, which prevents under or over-staffing.
  • Increases productivity and service quality: WFM software gives managers the ability to compare forecasts with available agent schedules to find time-pockets throughout the day where agents would sit idle, and then use that time for training, coaching, and meetings.
The bottom line? Lower expenses, higher revenues and productivity, and improved service levels and customer satisfaction. A manual/spreadsheet approach simply doesn’t measure up.

What About ROI and Payback Time?
The large return on investment and fast payback time make WFM software the clear choice when compared with any other method of managing a workforce, forecasting call volumes and creating schedules. A workforce management solution helps call centers realize a high ROI by:
  • Providing more accurate forecasting and scheduling to reduce agent under-staffing and over-staffing
  • Improving agent schedule adherence to reduce shrinkage
  • Enhancing supervisor efficiency by spending more time coaching and allowing agents to use the software’s self-service scheduling features
  • Reducing overtime expenses of agents by monitoring intra-day statistics and anticipating when additional agent resources will be needed
  • Decreasing agent turnover by enabling agents to manage their own schedules and empowering them to improve performance by reviewing their individual metrics
For more information you can also download the "how to calculate cost savings for workforce management software" whitepaper.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Schedule adherence alerts - do you get status alerts in real-time?

Schedule adherence tracking and monitoring is important, tracking in real-time is even more important. But, do you get alerts if agents or teams are our of adherence or have a different status than what they should be in? Getting notification in real-time allows you to make changes that have an immediate impact on the call center performance. The faster you can react, the easier it is to achieve and maintain your targeted service level.

Wouldn't it be great to get status alerts based on the various activities and exceptions you have set up? Wouldn't it be nice to define custom states and exceptions that are aligned with your unique call center requirements? Wouldn't it be nice to get either pop-ups, email or text message alerts based on thresholds you set up?

Call center schedule adherence status alerts

There are many scenarios and use cases for an adherence status alert system as you can images, here are just a few examples:

Agents not adhering to schedule: There could be various reasons for out-of-adherence and an alert can help call center managers and supervisors to find out how to improve the situation.


Agents return late from break or lunch: If this happens often, it might have a big impact on your service level. An alert will help solve that problem and establish more discipline. 

Call duration is too long: If a supervisor or subject matter expert is needed when calls exceed a certain threshold, Monet can alert that person to assist on the call.

Agents forgot to log out: A frequent issue that can occur if agents must manually log out at the end of their shift.  This alert will tell the supervisor that an agent has forgotten to log out of the ACD so they can take action. 

If you are interested in learning more about adherence status alerts, please contact us and we are happy to provide you more information and show you a demonstration.

Friday, January 18, 2013

How to deliver a great customer experience

How to improve customer experience
It shouldn’t be a secret for companies that it is crucial to truly understand customer needs and then deliver products and services that meet or exceed those needs. However, you have probably noticed first-hand in your own consumer and buying experience that a lot of companies are still too much product instead of customer-focused. As the CEO of my company, Monet Software, I have established a one-word mission statement and that is “Customer”.  There is the old saying which still rings true: “take care of your customers and they will take care of you”. It’s easy to say, but often hard to implement and execute. In this article, I will share with you five simple but effective recommendations that have worked for us and other successful companies.

Understand customer needs: Make every effort to truly understand what your customers need, what they experience in their work or day, and what challenges they face. Talk to them, listen carefully, ask questions, observe them, look them over their shoulder at work – experience what they experience! This helps to create and deliver a solution that truly meets their needs and solve their problems. We learned from our customers that they need a Workforce Optimization (WFO) solution that integrates WFM, Call Recording, Quality Management and Performance management into one “experience”, helping them make better decisions and be more pro-active in managing productivity, service levels, service quality, and costs. And that’s what we delivered earlier this year.

Make it easy: It sounds obvious, but there are still many companies that make it complicated for customers to buy and use their products and services. Just make it easy for your customers: easy to understand your offering, easy to buy, easy to pay, easy to set up and easy to use. As a leading provider of cloud-based WFO solutions, our key focus has always been to make it as easy as possible for our customers to buy, set up and use our solutions – and that’s what our customers appreciate about our business.

Keep it simple: The world we live in is complex - business transactions, processes and communication get more complicated by the day. Studies have shown that innovative and successful companies are able to hide the complexity behind the scenes and keep things simple for the customer. Monet Software’s mantra from its inception has been to deliver sophisticated call center software, made simple. Instead of adding hundreds of features, we analyzed and prioritized the needs of our customers and focused on capabilities that are really important for call centers and their business objectives.

Focus on true customer value: True value is often not about the lowest price, it’s about delivering an affordable solution that meets or exceeds customer’s expectations and has a real and lasting business impact, such as reduced costs, improved quality, higher services levels, etc. Also, when thinking about customer value, it is important to include the end-customers of your customers into the value delivery. For example, when we think about the value of our WFO solution, we also think about how it helps our customers to better take care of their own customers.

Deliver a great customer experience: In today’s commoditized markets, the overall customer experience is often more important than the product itself. The key to a great customer experience is an outstanding customer service. There are many facets to delivering great service, but availability, responsiveness, and quality are crucial. We at Monet Software are striving to help our customers deliver great customer service to their customers. With our set of WFO tools, our customers can optimize agent schedules, identify call issues, establish quality guidelines and use agent analytics and performance management to get actionable insights and alerts to deliver a high quality and consistent customer experience, while also controlling costs. 

Please take a moment and think about how your company is delivering on the above five principles and how you can make your customers even more central to your business. (This article was also published in the print edition of Customer Magazine, Technology Marketing Corporation)

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Business Value of Workforce Management Software - Part 1

Persuading senior management to change “business-as-usual” call center systems can be a difficult undertaking. The management team often faces both internal and external factors that make it resistant to change. A challenging economic environment also puts pressure on all areas of the organization to implement solutions that reduce costs and increase revenues—all while improving performance and productivity. As each solution competes for investment dollars, only a select few offering the highest ROI will obtain funding.

This short article helps you make the business case for workforce management automation. We will discuss:
  • Business impact (manual vs. automated solutions)
  • Benefits (savings, service levels, employee morale, customer satisfaction)
  • ROI (payback time of investment)
A common misconception is that workforce management software is associated with a large investment. In fact, it delivers significant value to the top and bottom line with a minimal investment. In addition, an automated WFM solution is aligned with a company’s goals of saving money and increasing revenue, productivity, and service levels—and it even starts paying for itself within months instead of years.

Manual/Spreadsheet Processes
Many call centers that don’t use workforce management systems typically rely on spreadsheets. Therefore, let’s first look at a few of the limitations of using spreadsheets to manage a workforce. These inefficient manual systems have a huge impact on the performance of a call center in many areas every day, including:
  • Capturing data: ACD systems that provide massive amounts of data must be manually typed into spreadsheets, inevitably resulting in typing errors and wasting the valuable time of call center supervisors who could be training agents, analyzing trends, optimizing schedules, and performing other productive tasks.
  • Overstaffing and understaffing: The spreadsheet approach to forecasting and scheduling often leads to overstaffing and understaffing, which results in lower service levels and an increase in payroll costs. Customer satisfaction suffers when customers have to wait for long periods to get their issues resolved.
  • Schedule adherence: Tracking schedule adherence using spreadsheets gives managers headaches. It also needlessly wastes time and money whereas automated WFM solutions make it easy for agents to precisely follow their schedules. Shrinkage can become a huge problem for any size call center. For instance, in a call center of fifty agents, occupancy is critical. If five agents take breaks or go to lunch at the same time, occupancy decreases by ten percent and service levels go with it. An automated solution prevents this from happening by carefully optimizing agent schedules and forecasts, and sending alerts by out-of-adherence. A manager using a manual system may be tempted to hire additional agents, while the manager with an automated system has the data at his fingertips to accurately optimize future agent schedules to dramatically reduce shrinkage.
  • Spotting trends: It is difficult to spot long-term trends over weeks and months with a manual system. This data is priceless for accurately forecasting and scheduling agents in the future, special events and other seasonal patterns.
  • Agent retention: One of the many reasons agents leave is because staffing in a spreadsheet system seems random and fixed, while not considering their personal needs. Agent morale decreases and turnover increases when agents do not understand schedules and what’s expected of them.
A spreadsheet based process might work for a few small contact centers, but it is clearly costly and wasteful in terms of time, money, and productivity for many others. Call center managers typically cannot wait to get their hands on a better solution to manage their workforce. The savvy ones are eager to present senior management with an automated workforce management solution to enhance efficiency, increase performance, and realize a high ROI. We will talk about ROI drivers in our next blog post, please stay tuned. In the meantime, you can also download a few workforce management whitepapers from our call center resources library to learn more.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Call center training schedule - how to fit into your workforce planning?

Call center training schedule
There is never enough time in a day, right? Call center managers know that, they also know that training of call center agents is important, but when? In the morning, or later in the shift or in between? Planning and scheduling training can be a challenge. You need enough time for an effective training, while also trying to maximize available resources for taking calls. Here are some ideas and tips on how to plan and schedule trainings as part of the overall call forecasting, staffing and workforce planning process:
  • Be ready for adhoc training sessions: Have training plans and material ready for times with lower call volumes than expected. This time can then be used in a more productive way through an adhoc training. This works especially well for non-critical and non-time sensitive trainings.
  • Include training into schedule: Critical training sessions should be included into the overall scheduling process, just like any other call and non-call related activities. You can read more about how to schedule all activities in this post.
  • Find "time pockets" in schedule: Overlapping shifts and the combination of part and full-time workers often result in "time-pockets" of over-staffing throughout the day. Again, these time-pockets can be used to schedule short training sessions.
  • Interactive online trainings: Certain types of trainings can be delivered as interactive or video sessions that individual agents can use whenever there is time, right from their seat.
Every call center has different training needs and operational characteristics, the above list provides just a few ideas on how to better fit training sessions into your call center operation. However, the main idea is to consider training as a important activity that should be included into your call center staffing and scheduling process.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

What is call center shrinkage and how to minimize it

What is call center shrinkage?
One of the most important concepts in schedule adherence is shrinkage. Shrinkage can be defined as the time for which people are paid during which they are not available to handle calls.
There are many reasons that can cause shrinkage - and it has to be taken into account when scheduling the required number of agents to meet call volumes. But the truth is that most companies badly under-estimate the sheer volume of shrinkage that besets their call centers. This comes about due to a host of potentially hidden areas of shrinkage. Many managers keep their eye on several of these, but few are able to stay on top of all of them: lateness, talking to associates, personal calls and emergencies, leaving early and taking longer breaks. The bottom line on shrinkage is the amount of minutes per day that agents are being paid to be on the phone when they are not actually working or available to receive calls or work on customer related issues.

How to track and manage shrinkage?
Shrinkage can be a major factor in failing to meet service level targets. Call centers that take shrinkage parameters into account in their forecasting and scheduling typically achieve higher service levels at lower operating costs. They often do that by including all call related activities into the forecast and schedule planning process. Here is an example of how to track and manage shrinkage as part of the workforce scheduling process:

what is call center shrinkage

For more information about shrinkage, please also read the following two blog posts:
In addition, you can download our whitepaper about tracking and improving schedule adherence - it should provide some valuable insights into the relationship between shrinkage and agent adherence.