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Blended and Outbound Series: Capacity Planning for Outbound and Blended Centers

This series will explore various aspects of Outbound and Blended Call Centers. While every attempt to give general terms and general examples is being made, the reader should be aware that specifics may be different for every type of call center, business operation or strategic purpose of the center. The articles in this series are meant to be a guideline for those seeking to learn more about Outbound and Blended Call Centers.

Related ICMI Resources:
Blending in the Call Center: Benefits, Barriers and Breakthroughs
ICMI's 2011 Call Center Practices for Pairing and Blending Inbound, Outbound, and Service and Sales Report
Finding Call Center Efficiencies in the Pooling Principle

Capacity planning with outbound and blended call centers takes on a new dynamic when it is compared to inbound call centers. This article will discuss concepts in two different dimensions: capacity planning for the outbound center and capacity planning for the blended center. While the concepts for each are significantly different, they share some things in common not only with each, but also with their inbound call center cousins.

Capacity Planning for Outbound Centers

When planning for an inbound call center, it is important to first understand historical trends in order to forecast inbound calls and to determine the volume of calls per interval, per day, per week, per month and per year. This kind of planning is chiefly 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.

With outbound call centers it is an entirely different process. Outbound call 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 call center. For example:

In a Loyalty and Retention call 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 a calculation that Strategy will make based on both historical information and assumptions as to what "treatments" or "offers" that Strategy will provide to the call center
  • Operations will need to provide information in regard to how many dials, 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 here, average handle time is then applied to the number of required contacts and RPCs, much like in inbound call centers. This will give the number of Full Time Equivalent (FTE) hours that are required to achieve the targets
The process in a collections or sales center that is tasked with achieving revenue targets is very similar to that of Loyalty and Retention centers. Strategy and Operations need to work together during the annual planning session to determine both required revenue targets and successful RPC rates to achieve those targets. However, there are a few differences:
  • 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
The relationship between planning and strategic intents means that Operations requires a greater seat at the table during the planning process in the outbound call center. In some ways, this greater relevancy will help Operations to drive strategy through a feedback loop of what scripts, offerings and plans are working to convert RPCs and which are not.

Capacity Planning and the Blended Centers

Because blended call centers must handle both inbound and outbound calls they need to account for both aspects of capacity planning. Blended centers need to balance the needs for both types of centers.

There has been an increasing trend recently toward creating blended call centers, since they can achieve both inbound customer service as well as outbound strategic intent. Blended centers also broaden the contact channels that are available for a company’s Strategy team. For example, automated messaging with a specific call-to-action can be employed so that the customer calls into the call center to discuss the offer. With the growth of multi-modal contact strategies that include text messaging, emails and direct mail campaigns there is a need for call centers to adapt and broaden their reach.

There are specific aspects of the blended call center that need to be included in the capacity planning process, such as returning calls based on multi-modal contact strategies. Historical trends for the number of return-calls-per-contact mode is required to predict the number of inbound calls, the percent of return calls per virtual agent campaign, messages left by agents, direct mail campaigns, text messages, etc. This information then can be used to provide guidance on timing and number of contacts by per channel utilized. These multi-modal contact strategies need to be measured so that Operations can better plan and balance inbound call handling and outbound calls offered.

A typical mistake when it comes to blended call centers is to turn them into reactive inbound centers by placing too much emphasis on automated contact channels. By over-emphasizing the virtual contact channels such as virtual agents, text messaging, etc. Operations runs the risk of limiting their ability to deeply penetrate the campaign lists. Campaign management will be discussed in a future article, however it is worth mentioning the primary consideration for capacity planning in a blended call center:

  • If a center places too much emphasis on automated contact channels, they will drive more calls inbound, thus taking more agents from outbound to manage the inbound calls
  • Many centers will see this as a success in the automated campaigns, however there is a diminishing return on the number of inbound calls generated. The type of inbound call you are generating is another factor that needs to be taken into consideration.
  • If the center is a Collections or Sales environment, the types of customers calling in are likely those that would have paid or bought anyway. The strategic intent of the call center in this case is to reach the customers that would not have called in, and voluntarily paid or normally purchased. If the blended center is over-emphasized to handle the inbound calls due to automation then the full potential of the campaigned is not realized.
In conclusion, capacity planning for outbound and blended call centers not only requires a very close relationship between the Strategic and Operation teams, but also a full understanding of the strategic intent of the call center. While many aspects of the capacity planning are in a greater control of the blended outbound center, a full understanding of cause and effect is needed to have a fully successful capacity plan that meets the strategic intent of the operation.

Rob Archambault is an ICMI-certified call center professional at Archnau Communications and Consulting. [email protected]. @archnau_comm. Robert Archambault.

Blended and Outbound Call Centers Series: Managing the Customer Experience
Blended and Outbound Call Centers Series: Blending Strategies and Service Level Control