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Experts Angle: Automate Your Call Center to Simplify Holiday Staffing for the Contact Center

Holiday scheduling can be tricky and leave centers under- or overstaffed. For centers without an automated solution, last-minute staffing problems require supervisors to manually create, print and distribute new intra-day schedules, and talk to agents individually to solicit overtime hours. This is an inefficient method and causes delays that can leave centers temporarily understaffed and negatively affect daily service levels.

Inaccurate scheduling can lead to wasted labor expense through overstaffing. For call centers with more than 50 agents, an automated vacation planning system makes good business sense. Automated systems help reduce wasted labor expenses by allowing agents to electronically submit requests and then be matched with available vacation slots based on a set of rules established by call center managers.

Benefits of Automating Your Call Center

Vacation planning software calculates vacation slots to accommodate staffing needs. Vacation schedules stored in the larger system will be instantly accessible to the vacation module and allows agents to view both total slots and slots remaining without manual data entry or data import. When vacations are approved, the main system will be automatically updated and include the vacation time in the agent’s schedule when produced. If a vacation is cancelled after it has been posted, the system will automatically adjust. These are invaluable time-saving features that eliminate errors.

Essential Features for Vacation Planning Software

You should know what benefits to expect before purchasing any software. When vacation planning is automated, there should be benefits for both agents and supervisors that increase efficiency and save time and money.

Important benefits for agents should include the ability to:

  • Check total vacation eligibility - including their earned, used and available days.

  • Check available vacation slots - to see whether their desired time is available.

  • Submit or bid on specific dates - with either automated rules-based approval of agent requests or manual supervisor allocation based on corporate rules.

  • Check their status for requested time - including pending, granted and wait-listed.

The functionality and benefits for call center supervisors should be much more extensive, including the ability to support highly sophisticated scheduling, as well as corporate policies that will affect vacation booking such as different work weeks or Saturday rotations. Essential automated benefits should enable supervisors to:

  • Import each agent’s vacation eligibility for the year - directly from the HR or personnel system for maximum efficiency.

  • Set vacation parameters for different times of the year - based on corporate policy, including how many total weeks can be taken during certain time periods and how many of those weeks can be taken consecutively.

  • Establish days when no vacation is allowed - such as during major promotion periods when every available seat must be filled.

  • Support both vacation bidding and automatic rules-based approval of vacation requests - allowing supervisors to use the method they prefer. In the case of bidding, agents should be able to bid for preferred dates to be allocated manually based on pre-established policies such as seniority, rotation or first-come-first-serve. In the case of automatic approval, the system should be able to inform the agent if all or part of the requested slot is not available.

  • Allocate vacation slots by agent group - in order to prevent too many agents with the same skill set, in the same call center, or in other group categories from taking vacation simultaneously. For example, separate groups can be created for billing, sales and customer service. Limits can then be set on the number of vacation slots allowed in a given week to each of these groups.

  • Limit advance booking of vacation requests - such as permitting only full weeks to be booked more than three months in advance and allowing partial or full days to be booked no more than four weeks in advance. This helps equalize vacation opportunities.

Handling Intra-day Scheduling Changes

Vacation planning software should compensate for agents who call in sick, leave unexpectedly during the day or arrive late. A real-time intra-day optimization feature enables supervisors to respond to unexpected agent absences and other last-minute problems quickly, efficiently and without interruption to normal activities, while maintaining the best possible service levels. An intra-day feature should electronically modify agents’ breaks, lunches and work assignments to reflect unexpected absences, meetings and/or call volumes. It should also contain Web-based exception reporting by call center agents that is instantly and automatically integrated into the daily schedule. Last-minute schedule changes or overtime requests can be sent to agents’ computer screens via pop-up messages. Supervisors should be able to quickly review current-day staffing, update forecasts and recalculate staffing needs for the day through an intra-day analysis and forecasting function.

Before purchasing any software, investigate your options to ensure you are investing in a solution that will benefit your center and provide maximum ROI.