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Schedule Adherence and Real-Time Monitoring Respond to Kindness

It’s been a long time since the first time I walked into a call center. Productivity and efficiency then were measured mostly by ACD data, and there was little acknowledgment that the human resources were, in fact, human. I was grateful to be working, happy to have a job with benefits, but perhaps less thankful that the two great guys, Carlos and Al, who sat on either side of me both smoked all day… at their desks… in California – wow! It was a different time.

I learned that the ease of getting data on agent activity – every call they take, every hold they make, is seductive. There may not be many other jobs that are monitored and tracked as closely as the frontline agent in a call center. We could look at a spreadsheet and see definitively how small changes improved the bottom line, but we didn’t have any calculations then that showed the impact on the people,  nor did we know enough about Employee Experience. Some of the agents struggled to meet the goals, some found short cuts, some were managed out, and some became discontented and quit.

kindness

We didn’t know how to calculate the cost of over-managing and undervaluing the people who take care of the customers. It was a very different time.

Most people want to be successful, and many companies are working hard to help make work less grueling where possible – I cheer those commendable efforts. It’s nice to see remote work options, casual dress codes, fewer scripts, and genuinely involving frontline staff in solution brainstorms and decision making. So much of the old structure, those artificial artifices, have fallen by the wayside – thank goodness.

I’ve seen that groundswell of change happening in call centers gain momentum over the past few years, and I like it. The management that once relied on absolute control is relaxing its grip to discover happier people are more effective in every way. More businesses are being mindful to get right with their teams to cultivate good culture, improve productivity, and generate healthy working relationships to maximize both human experience and ROI.

How brilliant to see leadership thinking evolving to understand that kindness is a critical success factor – and the evidence is incontrovertible.

The shared goal of delivering customer experience often begins with the both simple and complex act of answering a customer phone call in a pre-determined and sanctioned amount of time. It is peculiar that some of the same call center leaders that still obsess about meeting service level are also the ones who defund quality assurance programs due to the expense. Answer time can only be a dissatisfier and customers don’t generally mind waiting a few more seconds if, when their call is answered, their concern is resolved. Relaxing service level goals a bit can significantly lower staffing costs, and the savings could fund a more robust quality program.

Another place in call centers that deserves examination is the natural and evolving relationship between Schedule Adherence and Real-Time Monitoring, and the variety of approaches to both disciplines.

There are two fundamental Schedule Adherence measurements:

(Different WFM applications call them by different names so I am going to keep it generic.)

1. % of time scheduled phone time that was actually worked (volume).

a. If you were scheduled to be on the phones for 7.5 hours, what percentage of 7.5 hours were you on the phones?

b. If you were scheduled to be on the phones for 7.5 hours, and were actually on the phones for 7.4 hours, your result is 98.7% - yay!

c. This one is fairly straightforward and 98% is generally considered to be a reasonable goal. (Hint – all of the time on the phones, irrespective of what was scheduled counts toward meeting this metric. It is the easier of the two metrics to meet so the goal should be higher.)

2. % of specific times scheduled that was worked as scheduled (precision).

a. If you were scheduled to work on the phones from 7am –11am, what percentage of the time from 7am – 11am were you on the phones?

b. If you were scheduled to be on the phones from 7am – 11am, and were actually on the phones from 7:15am – 11:15am, your result is 93.8% (Hint – only the phone time from 7am – 11am counts toward meeting this metric. It is the more difficult of the two metrics to meet so the goal is lower.)

c. Setting a goal for this one requires looking at the average handling time, how many times an agent logs on and off the phones – if you flip them back and forth to other work you create more opportunities to be out of adherence… and other potential issues.

Real Time Monitoring:

1. Looking back into history

a. A supervisor or designee would watch the console, keen to identify anyone out of adherence or in a particular phone state too long. When there are such transgressions, the agent is contacted and made aware of their phone state or offered help. Since they are probably trained on how to get help, they know the offer of help is probably code for “get on the phone”. I’ve heard agents describe how they feel when they are being contacted either during a call or while writing post-call documentation. They say it is distracting, hurtful, and makes them feel like they are not trusted.

b. This “whack-a-mole” process with your agents doesn’t improve results. It is an unpleasant distraction that degrades engagement and may actually lead to undesirable coping behaviors. If you play games with your frontline – they may play their own games too.

2. Tips

a. It starts with the forecast and accounting for the required assumptions:

i. Workload – the number of calls multiplied by the average handle time.

ii. Occupancy – the amount of planned phone time minus available time. A reasonable goal is between 80-85%. Yours may vary if you have a large site with effective from training – deeper pools of resource add efficiency.

iii. Shrinkage – determine what you plan to use for each category – vacations time, absenteeism, coaching, breaks, etc. for all of the categories.

iv. A factor for schedule adherence. For example, if the adherence goal is 92% add the inverse, so 8% to the required staff forecast to make up for any losses or shifting staff as a result of schedule adherence.

v. A factor for vacancy / schedule inflexibility. 10% is reasonable for most call centers.

b. Then hire staff to the meet the forecast required staff number. Some businesses staff less that forecast to save money, others staff more than forecast to improve the service level. Part of the intent of a good forecast is to function as a planning tool to get the right amount of staff to balance service level and budget.

c. Educate everyone on Workforce Management math and practices - from the frontline, supervisors, leadership, and, of course, your Workforce team. Education is an investment that helps create a common vocabulary and base of knowledge to help the work go more smoothly and the people to build better working relationships.

i. I call out the math specifically – most people know standard, linear math. Call Center math involves elements like queueing theory and random call arrival – it requires what I call “non-linear” math. In call centers 2+2 sometimes equals 4, but depending on the situation, it could be more or less.

ii. “The Power of One”, so everyone understands the impact of each person following their schedule being available to help customers when they are scheduled to help. It is really exciting when front-line agents see how critical their efforts are to the success of the call center.

iii. How Schedule Adherence contributes to delivering a consistent caller and employee experience.

iv. Oh, and please don’t rely on that magic number people love to quote… ever! You know the one I mean – “you can be out of adherence 36 minutes each day and still meet the goal.”

1. Some agents will hear “I have 36 minutes a day of free time – Yay!”

2. Another risk is that the number is not constant. I’ll give you an example: On a day that the agent is in training for half of the day, she can only be out of adherence for 18 minutes before missing the goal.

d. Demonstrate support to your agents by making sure they know how to get help when they need it – knowledge management tools, coaches, and escalation paths. Make sure the resources will be available when they need them, then trust them to use the resources appropriately.

e. Review reports – daily, weekly, and monthly to check their actual results. Discuss the results in their coaching sessions. Reinforce the behaviors that led to meeting the goals and coach those that didn’t. Be kind, using the same critical words repeatedly is both hurtful and unproductive. Focusing on the positives to reinforce those behaviors will yield better results.

f. Focus monitoring on making sure call traffic is routing correctly, staffing levels are as expected, and technology is working properly. Consider repurposing the savings to fund quality programs, development activities for your frontline agents, or passing some money along to customers in the form of lower costs for your products and services.

Please look up from your spreadsheets to

see the people who take care of the people as people.

Be grateful and kind to them as if it influences their experience,

as if it feeds your soul, as if your business depends on it,

– because it does.

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