By Bob Webb, Pipkins, Inc.
Companies are being impacted by new legislation that influences hiring and scheduling decisions. Any company with the equivalent of 50 or more full-time employees will be affected by new mandates. Many companies are making scheduling adjustments now in preparation for the 2014 implementation in order to avoid stiff penalties imposed for non-compliance.
How Workforce Management Can Benefit Your Company
Companies will need to ensure employees do not exceed a certain number of work hours per week. Workforce Management (WFM) offers tools to facilitate this process. Flexible scheduling enables easy management of agent hours. Agents now have more control over their schedules and can pick and choose blocks of time to meet required service levels. Supervisors can easily monitor agent hours worked per week ensuring compliance with staffing requirements.
The At-Home Agent model provides optimal staffing utilization with the ability to draw from a larger labor pool and fill staffing requirements based on business needs. Self-service scheduling tools exist that allow agents to use an easy checkout method for self-scheduling. Virtual agents pick and choose blocks of time in which they can build their own shifts and ensure rules specific to organizational needs are met. These blocks include break and lunch times, hours worked, and any other specific needs determined by the company.
Contact centers that still utilize spreadsheets for agent scheduling can benefit significantly from a workforce management system that will eliminate the frustrating and time consuming task of regulating and scheduling agents to accommodate part-time status requirements. Manual reporting processes can be revolutionized through use of a workforce management solution, saving hours of time and labor to effectively deliver multiple dashboards and reports needed by executives. Real-time views of performance data allow for actionable results. Real-time key performance indicators (KPI's) ensure no delay in communication of information, and monitoring this data is critical to provide accurate and up-to-date feedback. Once KPI's are delivered and acknowledged, agents can quickly change measured behavior. This is not true in a manual environment where agents often do not receive their KPI's for weeks or even months later. By communicating real-time KPI’s to agent desktops, productivity is instantly improved, specifically for typical targets such as AHT, adherence, contacts handled, and any other goal by which agents are measured.
Nine Essential Features of Workforce Management
There are nine functions that all WFM software should provide. Most importantly, the software needs to integrate and operate at maximum capability. Unless a WFM system can perform these nine functions, you will consistently under- or overstaff, resulting in lost revenue. Use this checklist when evaluating the effectiveness of your WFM software or as a guide for purchasing decisions.
1.Your workforce scheduling system should be scalable.
Many WFM systems require call centers to perform a forklift upgrade once they grow to a certain size. A scalable system that can accommodate growth without installing completely new software is a much better way to go.
2.Your system should collect enough data for accurate forecasting.
Many workforce scheduling systems can use only 16 weeks of historical inbound call data to generate a forecast, and most fail to gather information on marketing campaigns, billing cycles or other variables that can affect call volume. A WFM package should maintain several years’ worth of very detailed data for maximum forecast accuracy and be able to use any or all stored data for generating forecasts.
3.Your system should generate forecasts and schedules in minutes, not hours.
The most efficient scheduling systems should be able to quickly produce forecasts and schedules. Avoid systems that require hours for forecasting call volumes and determining staffing requirements.
4.Calculating requirements should account for abandoned calls.
Overstaffing occurs when abandoned calls are not taken into consideration. For absolute maximum efficiency, your software should have an algorithm that incorporates abandoned calls. Systems that don’t understand abandons will always overstaff your call center.
5.Adjustments should be made for unexpected daily variables.
In order to keep staffing on target, it is necessary to have intra-day optimization tools which automatically adjust for fluctuations in call volumes, absences, or unplanned meetings. The system should have the capability of recalculating daily staffing needs, modifying work assignments electronically, and automatically notifying agents through email or pop-up messages without having to print and redistribute new schedules.
6. Special events should be recognized in call volume forecasting.
Having a correlated forecasting capability that recognizes and incorporates any special events, such as catalog drops or discount offers, can have a significant impact on profit and loss. How these special events affected call volume in the past is critical to accurate forecasting. In call centers where workloads fluctuate due to special events, the only way to ensure proper staffing is with a system that can electronically calculate anticipated call volume based on how a given event affected incoming calls in the past.
7.Tasks that must be performed repeatedly should be automated.
Repetitive tasks such as disseminating call volume forecasting, scheduling, and activity reports can account for 50-60% of supervisory time. These tasks can be performed with one-click execution through shortcut wizards. They can be scheduled to run automatically or linked in self-executing sequences.
8.Your system should produce a single optimized schedule without edits.
Many WFM systems generate a basic schedule and then require analysts to spend costly time editing that schedule to accommodate breaks, lunches, meetings, training sessions and vacations. This consumes clerical time, risks input errors, and makes creating every schedule an inefficient multi-step process. It can also adversely affect your service levels by failing to consider these variables in the optimization process.
9.Your system should have an integrated vacation planner.
This is a two-fold test. First, the vacation planning module should integrate with the WFM software to ensure that vacation slots will be accurately calculated and reflected in agents’ schedules without manual input. Second, it should be fully configurable to support your policies and staffing structure. Staffing rules particular to your company should be taken into consideration and accounted for in the scheduling.
Agent scheduling is a fragile balancing act that affects the balance of profit and loss. Accurate forecasting is imperative for contact centers to ensure agent scheduling meets service levels while minimizing costs. The best defense is a good offense, and for contact centers, that translates to accurate forecasting. Workforce management has always been an important tool in tipping the balance toward profit and away from loss. In the current economic climate, WFM is more important than ever by providing flexible scheduling to ensure contact centers operate at maximum potential and comply with new legislation.
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.