By Lori Kyker, Pipkins, Inc.
In his seminal book “Good to Great”, Jim Collins used the analogy of filling a bus to emphasize the importance of having the right people, in the right place, at the right time. Collins researched how companies go from being good to great and concluded the key is utilization of the right people. In his famous quote, Collins stated “They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.” Collins poses this question in his “Twelve Questions for Leaders”: Do we have the right people on the bus, and are 95% of our key seats filled with the right people? While Collins was referring to leadership, this principle can apply to contact center staffing as well.
Staffing issues often have “make or break” consequences for companies. Bottom line profits are negatively impacted by inadequate scheduling that results in under- or overstaffing. There are three steps you can take that will ensure you are able to properly staff to meet service levels objectives while maintaining agent adherence.
- Start with an Accurate Forecast
Proper staffing to avoid under- and overstaffing starts with an accurate forecast. Accurate forecasting is imperative to achieve the balance of having your agents consistently in the right place at the right time. In a skill-based routing environment, accurate forecasting is the critical component of workforce management.
Many workforce management systems lack critical functions and flexibility to meet the needs of contact centers; or, their platform is unable to maintain sufficient historical call data to generate accurate forecasts. The most common problems found with workforce management systems are inaccurate forecasting and an inability to generate requirements at the interval level. Both of these problems, coupled with inadequate scheduling algorithms, can prove costly and negatively impact a company’s bottom line.
It’s all about the algorithms!
Workforce management software should use mathematical algorithms for accurate call volume forecasting and scheduling based on data exclusive to each center’s target service levels, fluctuating call volumes, agent skill sets, and “what if” scenario requirements. Accurate forecasting takes into account all the historic dynamics. Correlated forecasting, which is forecasting for specific events that cause wide fluctuations in the volume of calls that must be processed, can only be performed by the most sophisticated systems.
Algorithms should reflect real life customer behavior and include curve mapping and pattern recognition. In environments where workloads regularly ebb and flow due to marketing activities and other definable variables, Historical Trend Analysis is the only way to ensure proper staffing because it is the only methodology that can incorporate complex historical trends in its calculations. Without pattern matching to predict different customer behavior for different events, the risk of over- or understaffing increases dramatically. Historical Trend Analysis not only accurately predicts the continuation of trends, but the more advanced algorithms also incorporate pattern recognition to fine-tune forecasts for special events like promotional mailings or national holidays. Each time a particular event reoccurs, the forecasted call volume is automatically adjusted to reflect the increase or decline in incoming work caused by comparable occurrences in the past.
- Calculate requirements and schedule accordingly
Once scheduling requirements are known, use an algorithm that maximizes the achievable quality of service. Avoid using a simple “hours-net-to-zero” scheduling algorithm. Scheduling systems that use a simple net-to-zero algorithm cannot distinguish between schedules that deliver good and bad service. If under- or overstaffing during different intervals throughout the day nets to zero, you are not truly meeting your service level objectives during those intervals. Wasted labor expenses can occur through overstaffing, while under- staffing results in lost revenue.
- Use real time adherence (RTA) to monitor agent’s adherence to schedules
Monitoring adherence on a real-time basis can identify problems in early stages to permit corrective action to be taken with agents before service levels plummet. Real-time adherence tools can help by automatically alerting managers when agents are out of compliance. This makes it possible to flag minor lapses before they turn into major crises. Supervisors can view adherence status at any time in a special window that is refreshed every 30 seconds or on the timetable of the user’s choice. When an agent’s “state” does not match the schedule, the system typically spotlights the discrepancy by a visual device such as color-coding. The more comprehensive systems arm supervisors with important additional information by indicating the nature of the violation (e.g. late start, improper activity, logged out early) as well as the agent’s current state (e.g. ACD inbound, logged off, after-call work), and the duration of the problem.
There are three things you need to know to achieve optimal adherence:
· Understand the Root Cause of Adherence Violations
Numbers can be misleading. Verify that an agent who appears to have fallen below the center’s adherence targets in a given week or month has not become a victim of someone’s failure to record exceptions in the schedule.
· Be Realistic When Setting Adherence Goals
Typically, adherence goals should be in the 90% to 95% range, meaning agents should be engaged in scheduled activities 90-95% of the time over the course of a week or a month. This allows latitude for minor scheduling oversights and unforeseen developments. Attempting to force 100% compliance will backfire, both by alienating agents and by tacitly encouraging them to end calls prematurely in order to meet adherence targets.
· Allow for Grace Periods
Adherence rules should include grace periods that must be observed before the agent is deemed to be out of compliance. Being too rigid will affect morale and customer service. Different thresholds should be established for different activities. A late start at the beginning of a shift or a late return from lunch may have a grace period of 2 minutes, while a late lunch start may have a grace period of 5 minutes.
The best option for monitoring adherence is a visual system that allows for at-a-glance agent monitoring. This system frees supervisors from sitting at desks and enables one-click edits. A global monitoring system can be used to track multiple in-house contact centers as well as monitor the performance of outsourced call centers. Adherence violations at any contact center in the network can be instantly spotted and investigated with a click from a map that portrays each center’s location and its compliance levels graphically instead of through text-heavy reports.
Until and unless you have resources and tools to ensure accurate forecasting, staffing, and agent adherence, you will walk a delicate balancing act between profit and loss. This problem can be mitigated by full utilization of a quality workforce management system that offers time tested solutions with proven results. Make the right decisions in the beginning and avoid future problems.
Pipkins, Inc., founded in 1983, is a leading supplier of workforce management software and services to the call center industry, providing sophisticated forecasting and scheduling technology for both the front and back office. Its award-winning Vantage Point is the most accurate forecasting and scheduling tool on the market. Pipkins’ systems forecast and schedule more than 300,000 agents in over 500 locations across all industries worldwide. For more information, visit www.Pipkins.com.