Expert's Angle: Forecasting for Blended and Outbound Contact Centers, Pt. 1
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Expert's Angle: Forecasting for Blended and Outbound Contact Centers

Managing Dynamic Multi-modal Contact Centers

Working in today’s dynamic contact centers can be a challenge. Many traditionally inbound contact centers have been asked during these tough economic times to become profit centers in addition to their previous cost center status. Inbound contact centers are also being asked to provide a deeper connection with customers through strategic outbound calling.

As a result of these new responsibilities and requirements, inbound contact centers have made more effort in the previous few years, and for the foreseeable future, to be prepared to handle both inbound and outbound contacts. Outbound contact centers have also been tasked with being more efficient and doing more with less. In many circumstance this has been achieved through new and more powerful dialer and proactive contact technology tools, which have made significant leaps in recent years. That said nothing drives efficiencies better than good old-fashioned forecasting and agent management best practices.

Definitions:

Dials – The number of times a number is attempted dependent on dialing strategy and treatment:

  • Times to call back a busy number
  • Times to attempt an answering machine (dependent on treatment options)

Connect – A successful connect to a number:

  • Wrong Number
  • Disconnected Number
  • Answering Machine (dependent on treatment options)

Contact – A personal or answering machine connect:

  • Wrong Party Contact
  • Right Party Contact
  • Answering Machine Contact (dependent on treatment options)

Right party Contact – Spoke to the right person

Successful Right Party Contact or Converted Right Party Contact (SRPC or CRPC) – Desired outcome of call achieved

These articles will discuss forecasting best practices as they pertain to blended and outbound contact centers. It is meant to be a high level explanation of some methods that could be used and is really meant to drive discussion within the operations to bring attention to providing better forecasting methods.

Forecast Best Practices – What is Similar

Because both blended and outbound centers share many common aspects of their operations, there are also some common aspects of forecasting. These have been discussed in previous articles, but I will cover them again here to give a good background to the discussion.

Best Practices 3-2-1

One of the most common practices of successful blended and outbound contact centers is the governance and procedures taken when it comes to re-visiting the forecast. Due to the fact that these types of centers are very dynamic in terms of how they respond to caller needs, there can be drastic changes in contact patterns based on the use of multi-modal contact strategies. So, following a capacity plan and forecast for an entire year is rarely a good idea. What is more common is to adapt a '3-2-1' approach.

Basically, this means constantly revisiting the forecast and capacity plan on a rolling pattern of 3 months out, 2 months out, 1 month out. This approach is often taken further down into weeks and, in some very complex and reactionary blended centers, even days.

What occurs during these forecast revisits is an analysis of what has happened to date and how it will impact the future, using the annual forecast as a guide. For example, if sales goals are set at $x for the year based on a converted successful right party contact rate of 40% and during the first three months of the business year targets are being missed, then the operations would have to either adjust targets and future expectations, or they would have to admit defeat and let stakeholders know they were going to miss targets. Neither of these options is palatable. But, by taking a structured and repeatable approach to reviewing actuals to forecast and inputting new data, such as higher/lower contacts or increased inbound for blended centers, Operations will have a better handle on their outcomes and their ability to achieve targets.

Applicable Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

There are several options for KPIs that can be used to measure the effectiveness of caller experience in an inbound contact center. Outbound and blended contact centers are very much the same. It is important that the Operations and the Strategy Teams are not only able to measure agent performance, but campaign effectiveness and the ability to achieve strategic intent as well.

With any blended or outbound contact center there is going to be competing priorities from the Strategy and Operations Teams. The Strategy Team sets up a call campaign with the intent that everyone on that campaign is contacted, while the Operations Team needs to maintain efficiency and ensure that they are achieving targets set by senior leadership in both cost and profit. A great analogy is that the Operations Team owns the car, but the fuel comes from the Strategy Team. The Strategy Team feeds the Operations team the campaigns and lists - the fuel. The Operations Team is responsible for operating the contact center to achieve the strategic intent - the car.

To balance the tension between Teams, an agreed- upon set of KPIs measures the effectiveness of the campaign and the efficiency of the list. Another KPI measuring the success of the campaign is also important to measure the Strategy Team and make sure that they are providing ‘premium’ fuel. There must also be a KPI that measure the efficiency of the Operations Team and their ability to achieve the stated strategic intent. These KPIs will be discussed in-depth in a later article. For the purpose of forecasting, this balancing act needs to balance the needs and goals of each team so they are able to have a common communication platform to gauge success.

Forecasting and Capacity Planning for Outbound Centers

With an inbound contact center, it is important to understand historical trends to forecast inbound calls and determine the volume of calls per interval, per day, per week, per month and per year. This view is largely based on historical volumes and assumptions for the next year’s increases. While this is not an exhaustive explanation of the process for inbound capacity planning, it is a high level view of the approach.Here, outbound contact centers follow an entirely different process. Outbound contact centers are strongly linked to their strategic intent and the strategy department. A team discussion between Operations and Strategy needs to take place in order to determine the number of calls required from the outbound contact center. For example: For a Loyalty and Retention contact center that is tasked with lowering churn rates, it is important for each stakeholder - Operations and Strategy - to come together to determine what it will take to achieve their shared goals.

  • Lowering churn by x% will require y# of successful Right Party Contacts (RPCs) is an assumption and calculation that Strategy will be able to come up with from historical information, as well as with assumptions made as to what "treatments" or "offers" that Strategy will provide to the contact center.
  • The Operations Team will need to provide information in regards to how many connects, contacts and RPCs will be required to provide the number of successful RPCs.
  • These numbers combined will then provide the top-level number of required contacts. From this point, it is a similar exercise as with inbound contact centers where the average handle time is then applied to the number of required contacts and RPCs. This will give the number of required Full Time Equivalent (FTE) the hours required to achieve the targets.
For a Collections or Sales center that is tasked with achieving revenue targets, the process is very similar to Loyalty and Retention centers. Strategy and Operations need to work together during the annual planning session to determine required revenue targets and successful RPC rates to achieve those targets. However, there are a few differences: There are several important data points that need to be tracked and agreed to so as to put together a reasonable forecast. The Operations and Strategy Teams need to have a deep understanding of the actual and assumptive rations for the following:
  • Collections or Sales centers need to add the average collection revenue or sales revenue to understand the worth of each contact.
  • This additional information will provide the number of converted or successful RPCs required to achieve the revenue targets.

There are several important data points that need to be tracked and agreed to so as to put together a reasonable forecast. The Operations and Strategy Teams need to have a deep understanding of the actual and assumptive rations for the following:

What is a reasonable number for a campaign?

  • Campaigns with small record counts mean that agent idle times are typically high. Dialer forecasting can be worked out based on average dial attempts, contacts, connects, right party connect, successful right party connect rates, number of agents and average handle time per connect type how long a campaign will run in the dialer. Using this forecasting method it is fairly simple to determine what an optimal list size should be.
  • Smaller lists mean smaller agent pools if the strategy is to leave them in the dialer longer.

What are the averages?

  • Measuring the average number of dial attempts per record to achieve a successful connect will measure the quality of the list. This is an important measure for the Operations Team to share with the Strategy Team, as it will have direct impact on agent occupancy rates, idle time and success rates. It speaks directly to the quality of the list in terms of pure operational aspects as it tells how hard the dialer has to work to achieve a connect.
  • Measuring the number of connects to original size of the list is important for several reasons:
    • Having this historical data will show when a list has been exhausted and should be retired. This is called penetration rate. If you have contacted between 70% and 80% of the original list, then the dialer will start to have to work harder to achieve a connect and you start to get exponential diminishing returns.
    • Connect rates measured against the time of day is important to understand when the best time to run that campaign for right time of day dialing (RTDD).
    • Contacts-to-Connect measures how often you actually speak to someone or to an answering machine.
      • Most strategies for campaigns use dialer technology to bypass answering machines, as the intent is to speak to a live person. Other strategies call for an automated message to be left on an answering machine either immediately or after set number of attempts.
      • Contacts-to-connect are a second measure of the list quality. Since contacts can include wrong numbers, disconnected numbers or busy signals, if you have a high number of contacts and a low number of right or wrong party contacts then you likely have a problem with the accuracy of the numbers being fed into the dialer.
      • Right Party Contacts and Wrong Party Contacts are important to measure, as they are the final measure of the quality of the list/campaign. How often is the campaign able to link an agent to the person so they have the attempt to achieve the strategic intent?
        • There is often discussion as to whether right party contacts and wrong party contacts should be measured. For forecasting, I strongly suggest that they should. Wrong Party Contacts typically take less time to complete the call, and this type of average handle time can give more accurate forecasting details. This becomes more important in a blended center, however those outbound centers looking to drive efficiency can also use this to drive up productivity.
        • Right Party Contacts take longer in average handle time and will give an indication, like with inbound centers, agent occupancy and is a primary statistic in any forecast.
        Successful or Converted Right Party Contacts. These again can take longer to complete, however it is optional from an AHT perspective whether this included in the forecast for agent purposes.
        For the forecasting the success of the campaign, successful or converted right party contacts is essential to determine how long and how may records are going to be required to achieve the strategic intent of the contact center. For example, if the contact center knew that their Converted Right Party Contact rate was 15% of the total number of records in a list, and they had a target of 2,000 successful sales, then they would have to have a campaign list of 13,400 records.

        As you can see from the above, forecasting is in part the ability to predict future outcomes from a campaign based on historical data, as well as forecasting agent workload and required resources. Unlike inbound centers, outbound centers need to be skilled in both types of forecasting to be successful.

        The strategic intent of the content center becomes more relevant in the planning and capacity phase of the outbound center. This close relationship with planning and strategic intents means that Operations requires a greater seat at the table for planning the overall strategic intent of the center and in some ways will help to drive strategy through a feedback loop of what scripts, offerings and plans are working to convert RPCs and which are not.

        For more on capacity planning and forecasting, read the second part of this article.



        Topics: Metrics, Learning & Development, Site Operations, People Management

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