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Recommended Reading: Workforce Management for Email and Chat

A forecasting shortcoming uncovered in the 2010 ICMI Contact Center Workforce Management Practices Report is that few centers are giving email contacts the attention they deserve. Nearly three in four centers (72.9%) surveyed handle customer email, but just over one in three (37.5%) forecast and schedule for email contacts. While customers do not expect email inquiries to be answered immediately, it’s still important for centers to be adequately staffed to handle customer emails within a reasonable amount of time (top contact centers typically shoot for a response time of 4-8 hours, or less, and inform customers of that response time). Effective scheduling for email is certainly difficult to do without regular analysis of historical data and current situations to get an idea of how many email contacts the center will be receiving over a given period of time.

It is important to note the impact of not managing the email channel. If centers don’t respond to an email within the customer’s expectations, they abandon the channel. Worse case scenario: They abandon the channel and go to a competitor. Best case scenario: They abandon the channel and try another one, but now the center must answer a call. When the queue clears, we send agents to handle email. Most call centers do not have sophisticated enough systems to identify that a caller has an unanswered email, so they don’t close it out of the system when the call is complete. Consequently, once the call queue is under control and agents start working on the email backlog, the center has to hope that agent answers the email request the same way the agent who handled the call did. If the agent gives the customer a different answer, the customer may contact the center yet again for clarification, costing the center even more money and wasting the organization’s resources.

Contact centers that aren’t forecasting for non-phone related contacts typically fall into one of two buckets: 1) Their WFM software is an older version that does not adequately support these “other” channels; or 2) Users do not know how to track, measure and forecast other channels. It is important to note here that almost all WFM software today offers multi-media forecasting functionality. For contact centers that do not have a WFM system in place, creating forecasts for contacts such as emails — which have response time objectives versus service level objectives — is far less complicated because queuing formulas and computer simulation are not needed. Most of the time, centers can easily create “deferred work” forecasts for emails in a spreadsheet.

Contact centers’ performance with workforce management as it pertains to text chat contacts is lackluster, at best — only 49.5% of respondents that handle chat actually forecast/schedule for it. Although chat is less common than email — only one in four centers surveyed (24.6%) currently offer chat as a contact option — customers expect to be answered by an agent in real or near real time when they initiate a chat session. Thus, proper forecasting — and solid scheduling based on those forecasts — cannot be overlooked in centers that hope to avoid e-support struggles and online customer backlash.