Showing posts with label workforce management. Show all posts
Showing posts with label workforce management. Show all posts

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Still Scheduling with Spreadsheets? Put WFM on Your Holiday List

Scheduling is a vital component in the success of every call center. And concrete, reliable data is vital to achieve accurate, consistent scheduling results.

For decades, that data was gathered through spreadsheets, and would take hours to compile. Even then, the results were not always accurate, or flexible enough to accommodate last minute changes or other issues.

And yet, hundreds of contact centers continue to handle forecasting and scheduling the same inefficient way they did 20 years ago, which is why the data generated sometimes proves insufficient.

It’s time for a change, and technology has made that change possible. An automated workforce management (WFM) solution can improve scheduling accuracy, making sure all the necessary resources are always in place.

A WFM system provides the flexibility to automatically manage start times, end times and break times. Spreadsheets cannot match this speed and efficiency, which results in unhappy agents and higher shrinkage. And wouldn’t you rather spend the hours now devoted to compiling schedules to focusing on other aspects of your business – or just getting out of the office on time for a change?

If so, perhaps it’s time to add a WFM solution to your holiday list. To find out more about this important investment, read “The Real Cost of Spreadsheet Based Scheduling” to find out if you should put WFM on your holiday wish list.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Best of Workforce Management 2014

While different contact centers have different needs, it’s hard to imagine a call center that could not benefit from a workforce management (WFM) solution. Whatever the specific goals of your business – lowering costs, improving efficiency, better customer service – workforce management can help to achieve them.

If you missed any of these 2014 posts about contact center workforce management, here’s another chance to review them.

1. Video: Workforce Management and Optimization in the Cloud

With this video you can see for yourself how Monet’s cloud-based solutions can help gain more insights and improve the performance and service quality of your contact center. 

2. Call Center Forecasting and Scheduling Best Practices with WFO
The quality of call center customer service is largely dependent on accurate forecasting and scheduling. So why do so many call centers still rely on spreadsheets for this most important of daily tasks?

3. 15 Tips on Contact Center Scheduling
The right workforce management system streamlines the process and provides more consistent, accurate data.

4. The Call Center Choice: Cloud or Software?
Let’s take a closer look at the differences between a cloud-based delivery model, and one that requires on-premises hardware and software installation.

5. Six Steps to Improved Call Center Staffing
Out of every dollar spent in call center costs, about 75 cents is related to labor. That makes staffing decisions pivotal to the operation of the business.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Successful Contact Center = Successful Company

The challenge for any contact center is making every customer engagement, whether it is conducted by telephone, email or live chat, a successful one.

Yes, it’s difficult, especially when some callers are in a bad mood even before the agent says hello. But when customers are satisfied, it can make a huge difference in the company’s bottom line.

One survey, by an analytics company called ForeSee, gauged customer satisfaction with contact center services to find out how each customer’s experience impacted the company’s future success.

They found they satisfied customers are far more likely to remain customers, and to make a similar purchase again from the same company. Even more significant, however, is the willingness of a happy customer to recommend the company to a friend, family member of colleague. Thus, one customer who has a positive experience with your agents may create many new customers.

While the focus is typically on calls, equal attention should be paid to email responses, so they are prompt and helpful, and live chat sessions, to make sure participants are getting the answers they need.

“A satisfied customer,” the survey concludes, “is the key to maintaining and growing sales and profitability regardless of channel.”

The prospects of delivering those happier customers become much easier with the right technology tools in place. And now that these sophisticated solutions are available via the cloud, even smaller and midsized contact centers can provide optimal service without a huge upfront investment.

Find out more about Monet’s workforce management solutions.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Workforce Optimization Webinar

Our recent webinar about cloud-based workforce optimization received a great response. Amidst the shared information and productive discussions, those in attendance learned a great deal about the role of cloud-based WFO in improving workforce management, quality monitoring and performance management.


Watch Webinar Now
If you were not able to attend, Monet invites you to see what you missed by viewing the recorded webinar in its entirety at your convenience.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

How Accurate are your Call Volume Forecasts?

When it comes to forecasting, past activity is always the best predictor of future activity, especially when broken down via workforce management data analysis into ever-smaller increments of time. This makes it easier to identify anomalies and prepare accordingly.

The challenge, of course, is factoring in all of the variables to which forecasts are subject – it’s no wonder that creating consistently accurate contact center forecasts is both an art and a science.

But with the right workforce management system, one capable of predicting future call volume and agent staffing needs, you have everything you need to make the tasks of forecasting and scheduling more accurate and more efficient.

Here are some additional tips to get the most from your WFM solution.
  • Detailed Data Analysis: Use work history data to anticipate future call volume, agent requirements, average call handling time and other performance indicators.
  • Flexibility: Gather necessary data through analysis of call types and routing policies, and review updates throughout the day so you’ll always know when changes are necessary.  
  • Testing: Generate and analyze alternative scenarios based on changes in staffing or call volume, so you can better anticipate issues before they arise.
When forecasting is done right, the result is the right number of agents at their desks, handling call volume without long wait times. For more tips on call forecasting, please also visit our blog post from last week.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Five Tips to Help Achieve More Accurate Call Center Forecasts

Accurate forecasts produce accurate schedules. But what is the secret formula to generate forecasts that are consistently on the money?

It starts with an automated workforce management solution that delivers the necessary historical data. If that sometimes isn’t enough, here are 5 additional tips for utilizing WFM in forecasting.

1. Select More Weeks of Historical Data. 
Use the WFM system to generate additional historical data, which should more accurately average out handle times and return a more even distribution of calls when things get too “spiky.”

2. Make Granular Edits to Call Volume
After viewing a forecast, edit call volumes by queue and by interval.  This can be especially useful if you’re changing hours of operation or just need to edit smaller ranges of data. 

3. Override Agent Numbers
After viewing a forecast, use WFM to override the required number of agents, or adjusted agents, for times when you wish to reduce the degree of variance from one interval to the next. 

4. Adjust Total Day Changes
Use the Total Day changes to deliver more sweeping changes to call totals, AHT, service levels, abandon targets, and staffing numbers.

5. Edit Current Day Forecasts

Use intra-day functionality to edit the current day’s forecast, so it matches the current trends of collected data for today. 

These steps would be difficult, if not impossible, with spreadsheets or a home-grown system. If you are ready to step up to a Workforce Management solution, make it sure it has the functionality to accomplish all of these objectives and more. To learn more, we invite you watch any of the foreasting and scheduling videos on our website.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Workforce Management Software Implementation: Cloud vs. On-Premise

In previous blogs we explored the differences between a cloud delivery system for workforce management, and an on-premises solution. Most of these pieces focused on the cost savings, the automatic upgrades and the lower upfront investment.

But one aspect that is sometimes overlooked is implementation. There is a process that has to be followed whether a company selects a cloud solution or an on-premise installation. But with the cloud, you’ll be up and running much more quickly, reaping the benefits of your investment.

With an on-premise solution provider, the contact center will first have to consult on defining the solution to be implemented, and establishing configuration requirements through workshops and analysis of documentation. With software delivered via cloud, these steps are typically unnecessary, since the software is already set up to handle most contact center environments. It’s possible some consultation will be needed for customization, but this can be concluded in a fraction of the time it would take with traditional software.

Specific customer configuration can be done often in hours or days with the cloud; with an on-premise system, that same task can take up to several months.

Actual installation is also faster, and the site acceptance testing required with a traditional solution is not necessary with a cloud delivery system, as compatibility is already achieved with multiple modern web browsers.

Finally, user training can be completed in less time as well since the true cloud solutions are build  with ease of use in mind - think Amazon - nobody gets trained on that. With traditional software systems, it can take several weeks before agents and managers are comfortable with the new technology because the systems are typically more complicated.

The verdict? A cloud delivery system can not only be implemented for less money, it can also be set up with fewer headaches as well.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Successful implementation of Workforce Management Software

Workforce management (WFM) software provides the best means of optimizing personnel resources in a contact center.

When a contact center decides it is ready to make the move to a workforce management software system, it now faces another decision when reviewing the range of available products. One way to improve the odds of choosing the right system the first time is to make a list of the qualities and capabilities that are most important. Such a list might include the following:

Forecasting
By using historical data, and through simulations to calculate future call volume, WFM generates forecasts for appropriate staffing, call handle time and other factors to maintain optimum call center performance for any time interval of the day.

Scheduling
Accurate forecasts create accurate schedules. A WFM scheduling engine should incorporate all call types and other activities. A staffing schedule is only valuable when it is optimized for all necessary factors, including agent skill sets, staff availability, holidays, breaks and service levels.

Intra-day Management
Scheduling an agent for a shift is not enough – WFM should provide a graphical display of variances in agents’ schedules during the workday for breaks, lunch and other exceptions. Real-time updates allow managers to compensate during surpluses or shortages for each time period.

Exception Planning
Choose a WFM solution with an integrated exception calendar that simplifies the scheduling of agent exceptions for training, time off and other variables.

Real-Time Adherence
Use WFM to compare planned agent activity to actual activities throughout the day, while also reviewing forecasts for key performance indicators such as call volume and handle time.

Configuration/Administration
WFM should adjust to your call center regardless of how it is organized. Choose a system that lets you build an unlimited number of center splits or agent groups with separate service objectives and guidelines. Use WFM to manage multiple sites and time zones, and set service level goals down to 15-minute intervals.

Performance Analysis/Metrics
WFM provides actionable insights on all agent activities through dashboards, key performance indictors and real-time alerts.

Implementation: The Forgotten Attribute
All of these qualities pertain to the day-to-day usage of WFM, but contact center managers should not overlook the importance of implementation. Technology cannot benefit a business if it is not easy to use, and if it cannot be incorporated into the center with minimal training. It should also be possible to implement a workforce management solution to deliver break-even status in a matter of months, as opposed to years. But that will take some foresight.

While every company and corporate culture is a little different, these guidelines should prove valuable to any contact center in the process of a WFM transition.

Plan Ahead
Upfront planning – that incorporates both technical requirements and business processes, is critical.

Include all Departments
All of the contact center’s functional groups, including agents, managers, supervisors and trainers, should be involved in the process. The implementation of WFM software is going to represent a change for the center. It’s important for all those involved to know why the change is needed, how it will improve their business processes and how they all benefit from shared data and metrics.

Appoint a Liaison
While all voices should be heard, there should also be one project coordinator – usually a manager – with the experience and knowledge to work with personnel, answer questions and address concerns.

Training
It will take time and patience to adjust to today’s feature-rich workforce management systems. But the last thing a contact center wants is to make the transition and then discover that employees are only using 20% or 50% of the system’s capabilities. Comprehensive training will be necessary to ease the culture shock and ultimately arrive at a place of optimal functionality. The faster agents in particular realize the benefits of a WFM solution, the faster they will take to its advantages.

What to Expect from a WFM Provider
Up to this point we’ve described the implementation process from the end-user perspective. But few of these steps can be taken without the support and expertise of the software provider.

For the contact center, WFM implementation is (ideally) a one-time process. For the provider, this is what they do every day, and they should have a system in place that will make the transition as easy as possible.

At Monet, our implementation plan and timeline begins with a kick-off call of about 60-90 minutes. This consists primarily of a discussion of roles and required data necessary to get started.

Once that is completed, the initial set up can begin. This process typically involves the creation of workgroups, shift profiles, skills and skill teams and the selection of service level targets. While the provider initiates these processes, they are then completed and customized by the client team.

Data collection set-up is next, which incorporates configuration and historical data import and verification. Depending on the contact center and the specific situation.

Once this is completed, training of personnel can begin. The procedure will start with the basics – forecasting, scheduling, rosters – and then examine the more advanced features of WFM, from assigning exceptions and analyzing reports to intra-day management.

After implementation and training are complete, the provider should continue to be accessible for questions or concerns, and provide follow-up checks to make certain everything is running smoothly. And since Monet's complete suite of workforce optimization is cloud based, there are not a lot of resources and money required for purchase and installation of hardware and software. Therefore, the implementation team can focus on the business needs and business processes, and less on technology. And the whole set up or implementation can be done in 30 to 60 days.

Conclusion
When a contact center makes the significant decision to install workforce management software, it is critical that the system be implemented and configured properly, since management will be making key decisions on operations and staffing based on the information it provides.

A successful implementation requires not only software integration and configuration skills, but also a solid understanding of the customer environment and of the multiple ways of addressing and solving the specific requirements of the contact center. It should also be completed as efficiently as possible to shorten ROI.

With a little research, contact centers stand a much better chance of not only selecting the right WFM solution the first time out, but the right software provider as well.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Getting More from your Workforce Management System


When choosing the best workforce management (WFM) solution for your call center, there are a number of considerations to review based on that center’s specific needs.

From capabilities and implementation to cost, usability, scalability and ROI, it’s a decision that will require advance research and feedback from the key members of your management team. Of course, one of the main objectives should be to increase efficiency and service levels, while also reducing costs.

If you’re near the beginning of this process, or have been using it for a while,  here is a checklist of considerations that may be helpful in getting more out of your WFM software to maximize the performance of your contact center.

In the area of process design and improvement, run reports and do analysis in the following areas:
  • Call Handling Analysis
  • Benchmark Analysis

  • Activity Summaries and Details 
  • Work Standards 
  • Quality Form Review and Feedback

  • Evaluation of Coaching Techniques and Calibration

  • Staff Flexibility
In the area of management discipline, take a look at these areas:


  • Intraday Reviews, Adherence and Exception Management
  • Forecasting and Scheduling Best Practices 
  • QM and PM Coaching, Training and Role Playing
Finally, if you need help, be sure to assess the software provider as well, to make sure they will deliver the necessary training and follow-up so your agents, supervisors and managers can get up to speed quickly with the new technology and getting the most value from your investment. If you have any questions, please contact us and we are happy to share some of our best practices with you.



Monday, September 8, 2014

5 Tips for the Overworked Contact Center Manager

Are there any contact center managers who are not overworked? It’s a challenging job with many responsibilities that requires the ability to plan ahead and then make adjustments accordingly when those plans go awry.

However, with Workforce Management (WFM) software in place, it becomes easier to manage the most important daily tasks, and keep customer service levels consistent even when the unexpected happens.

Here are 5 tips for contact center managers that, with a little help from WFM, can make their work days less stressful.

1. Start with an Accurate Forecast
When you get the forecast right, everything else tends to fall naturally into place. With WFM forecasting every activity and running simulations to check accuracy, managers can work from a forecast that will result in fewer surprises during the day.

2.  Schedule All Activities

Incorporating non-call activities into schedule calculation delivers more predictable and management results.

3. Set Notifications
Set alerts and triggers so you are notified right away if something is not going as planned. That gives you more time to make corrections, while shortening the time that the variance can adversely impact customer service.

4. Daily Recap
Review results at the end of each day, to determine what worked as planned and where improvement might be possible. Don’t dwell on mistakes – just learn from them.

5. Take a Break
Many modern WFM solutions allow you to monitor key metrics from a handheld device, so you can step outside without missing important metrics. You may be surprised at the difference just a few minutes outside the office can make.



Thursday, September 4, 2014

Tips for Proactive and Reactive Contact Center Management

Precise planning can make the difference between contact centers operating at optimal efficiency, and those with personnel and resources that are not properly utilized.

A proactive approach is necessary to formulate such detailed plans, especially when working with a workforce management solution such as Monet’s WFM Live. Here are 3 tips that should help make staffing more efficient and reliable:
  • Plan outbound calls for case management as non-call work
  • Run roster performance simulations several days in advance 
  • Hire flexible part-time and full-time agents
When it’s Important to be Reactive?
So does that mean being a reactive analyst is somehow less important? There are times when it is vital to ensure schedule coverage and streamlined workflow. Once again, having the right technology in place can make all the difference.

How can you spot an effective, reactive analyst? He or she is the one who:
  • Creates employee templates for standard agent types (such as customer service 9-5, cross-skilled overnight, escalations & level 2 afternoon shift) to build a roster that achieves different coverage patterns quickly
  • Schedules meetings in advance with a meeting planner function during times when coverage is acceptable  
  • Facilitates schedule change requests and agent shift swaps 
  • Creates roster shifts when there are coverage gaps for agents to bid on. Agents submit requests which supervisors can approve, to fill and re-balance  the “required vs. assigned” figures 
All of these services are more easily and accurately provided with the right tools. Find out more about how Monet can help managers and analysts achieve their service goals.


To get more tips and best practices, please contact us or check out our workforce management resource library.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Workforce Management for the Helpdesk

Accurate forecasting, scheduling and staffing for a Helpdesk can be a more difficult challenge than doing so for standard contact center traffic.

Many calls to contact center agents cover basic ordering, returning, questions etc. that can be handled in a few minutes. But the typical helpdesk call may incorporate several complex activities that must be handled by different people with different skill sets.

An effective workforce management solution is the key to making a helpdesk run smoothly and efficiently, so cases get closed as quickly as possible with a positive outcome.

Forecasting, scheduling and assigning activities more effectively can optimize case resolution. WFM makes this possible. Managers can match available resources to the specific requirements of each case. By integrating workforce optimization in the WFM solution, case and activity assignment is further optimized, and managers will always be confident that their resources are being allocated in the best way possible.

Best of all, the data is available in real-time, so managers will always have insight into case handling and activity assignments as they occur. Make adjustments as needed, whether that involves adding or reassigning agents, to improve turnaround time.

A helpdesk is there to take on the tougher challenges. With a Workforce Management system in place that support helpdesks, even the most difficult cases can be resolved in a way that customers will appreciate.

You can learn more about Workforce Management for Helpdesks on our website, or just contact us and we are happy to show you how it works.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Intra-day Workforce Management? It’s as Easy as “Drag and Drop”

Wouldn't it be nice to check your contact center status and quickly review agent activities on a single color-coded dashboard? If you see green, you know everything is as it should be. If you see red, you know that action has to be taken, and you are then able to make real-time schedule changes that have an immediate impact on contact center performance.

Thankfully, this isn’t one of those scenarios like “Wouldn’t it be nice if chocolate was good for you?” In this case such quick and easy status checks and schedule adjustments are certainly possible, with a technology solution like Monet WFM Live.

When changes need to be made, the graphical schedule generated by Monet WFM Live allows managers to drag and drop breaks, lunches and other changes. The real-time updates provide an up-to-the-minute picture for agent surpluses and shortages throughout the day.

In addition, reports, organized as easy to read charts, provide managers with the data necessary to create individualized shifts for a particular agent (based on exceptional skills, special needs or other variables), as well as extensive employee-level configuration options for non-call work assignment.

Find out more about WFM Live.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

How to be a Proactive Workforce Management Analyst

Proactive contact center managers focus on staying ahead of the curve. That means careful, strategic planning, calculating all of the variables and delivering accurate forecasts and schedules that are flexible enough to accommodate last minute changes.

Sounds like a challenge, but with Monet WFM, the process becomes easier, more precise and more flexible. Managers now have the capability to track intra-day trends for immediate adjustments, and for optimal schedule creation, which helps contact centers consistently meet service levels and control costs.

Here are a few additional tips that will help managers striving to become proactive.
  • Enter time off exceptions, meetings and training before the roster is generated to close gaps in roster assignments or shift placement; but if you must enter them afterward, the WFM system can automatically optimize them in a way that reduces manager overhead
  • Impromptu training sessions are easier to schedule with little to no impact by using the meeting planner function
  • Wider lunch and break windows are made possible by flexible shift profiles
  • Enter the maximum allowable time in the Exception Calendar/Time off Manager – this provides more visibility for agents and prevents schedulers from over-committing to time-off, which could impact contact center operation
These and other tips make staffing more efficient and more reliable through better results for agents, supervisors and administrators.

Can Monet help you get more from your WFM solution? Contact our Customer Success team and let’s talk.

Monday, August 11, 2014

How effective is your call center forecasting and scheduling process?

Forecasting and scheduling are vital components in the success of every call center management. Achieving consistent results requires a little art and a little science, but is impossible without concrete data.

For decades, that data was gathered through spreadsheets, and would take hours to compile. Even then, the results were not always accurate, or flexible enough to accommodate last minute changes or other staffing issues.

An automated workforce management (WFM) and optimization (WFO) solution can help you to implement Best Practices. You can easily improve forecast accuracy and in turn, optimize schedule assignment, making sure all the necessary resources are always in place. An integrated WFO solution allows a manager to check KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) against historical data. In a typical call center a manager will ask such questions as:

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

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

By analyzing data in an integrated WFO tool, a manager can then reference what processes allowed some agents to have a lower talk time while meeting their quality targets, and then train the rest of the workforce using these processes.  At that point, a lower Average Talk Time goal may be set for the entire center, resulting in happier customers getting their calls answered more quickly and less overall abandons.

“Call Center Forecasting and Scheduling: Best Practices” details how WFO improves the likelihood of creating reliable forecasts and accurate schedules. There are also sections on how WFM impacts agent productivity, and which criteria are most important when selecting a WFM solution.

Click here to download Call Center Forecasting and Scheduling: Best Practices.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Can You Reduce Contact Center Staffing Costs by 20%?

Staffing is the most expensive resource in the call center budget, so any improvement in productivity can have a significant impact.

What if there was a way to cut your staffing costs by as much as 20%, while also reducing the amount of time you now devote to forecasting and scheduling?

It’s possible – just by switching from spreadsheets to a Workforce Management solution.

Spreadsheets were a great idea for call center staffing, forecasting and scheduling – last century. Today, there are faster, easier ways to handle these vital functions that are also more accurate, more agent-friendly, and more economical for call centers of all sizes.

With a WFM solution such as Monet WFM Live, managers have the flexibility to adjust to unexpected events, manage exceptions more efficiently, and reduce shrinkage by as much as 15 minutes per agent per day.

WFM Live offers a number of additional benefits as well, including:

•    Easier skill-based scheduling
•    Real-time adherence monitoring and analysis
•    Less time required for scheduling
•    Improved service levels

Isn’t it Time For a Better Solution?
Monet WFM Live represents a quantum leap forward from spreadsheets, at a cost within reach of any size call center. We invite you to watch a short workforce management video so you can see yourself how the solution might help you reduce costs in your contact center.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Is it Time for a Workforce Management Health Check?

Does your workforce management system provide all the benefits you need at a reasonable price? If it doesn’t, it may be time to take a closer look at your solution, and if there is something that can be done to bring it back to optimum efficiency. In other words, perhaps it’s time for a check-up that will provide answers to these questions.

1. Are you using the latest version?
Each new WFM product adds additional capabilities, improves existing functionality, and corrects issues with previous versions. With traditional software, these upgrades can also be expensive, which is why many companies delay implementation. But call centers that get their workforce management in the cloud will always be on the most recent version, as it is automatically installed at no additional cost.

2. How do employees work with this system?
WFM is designed to make the agent’s job easier, but if personnel are not properly trained, or if the system is too complicated, your call center may not be getting the most out of its potential.

3. What are its ongoing costs?
For years, the only WFM solutions worth acquiring were those that also required hardware upgrades, ongoing IT support, and yearly (even monthly) costs for maintenance and operation. Call centers still in this situation must make a decision on maximizing their investment, or perhaps switching to the more economical option of WFM in the cloud.

4. How have our needs changed?
Call centers are still evolving into contact centers. Some may expand, some may contract based on other factors. It’s vital that WFM scales with the needs of the business.

5. Is it delivering as promised?
Call centers step up to a WFM solution to access real-time metrics and reports that impact forecasting, scheduling and day-to-day operation. Is the system providing the information you need to make better decisions?

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Is your Hosted Workforce Management Vendor a “Cloud-Pretender"?

When is a cloud not a cloud?

That’s the question many contact centers, as well as other types of businesses, now face as they prepare to switch to cloud-based technology.

They have been told that a cloud solution is easier, lowers upfront costs, and increases productivity. All of which is true. Unfortunately, some providers are now trying to jump on the cloud bandwagon with a solution that delivers all of the costs and none of the benefits.

You might say it’s a cloudy situation.

Cloud computing is not a term easily defined, but the differences between a “cloud pretender” and the genuine article become apparent when comparing relative features and costs. Some of the attributes that should be standard with a cloud-based platform include virtualized scalability, the ability to instantly self-provision and auto-provision resources, a shared infrastructure and easy, automated upgrades.

And since one of the objectives of choosing a cloud-based platform is lowering costs, the call center should not be hit with bills for upgrades, maintenance and additional server capacity when making the switch.

While it would seem the differences would be obvious, many companies have selected cloud solutions only to find themselves in a fake cloud situation that lacks the benefits of the real thing. Over the next few years call centers will recognize their error and make the transition from simple virtualization of client-server software to a genuine cloud-based solution.

If you are considering cloud computing in your call center, you can maximize the benefits derived from it by choosing a trusted, reputable provider and getting the right system in place, the first time. Get this whitepaper "What is cloud-based Workforce Management" to learn more about the "true" cloud.

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.