ICMI is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.


Forecasting for Blended and Outbound Contact Centers: Part Two

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.

The first article discussed forecasting best practices as they pertain to blended and outbound contact centers. Here, we will discuss the aspects that need to be included in the capacity planning and forecasting for blended centers.

Capacity Planning and Forecasting In Blended Centers

Blended contact centers must handle both inbound and outbound contacts; therefore, they need to take into account the aspects of capacity planning and forecasting for both inbound and outbound operations.

There is an increasing trend to create blended contact centers because they are able to achieve both inbound customer service and outbound strategic intent, creating the opportunity for the contact center to become a profit center. 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. Blended centers also have the ability to employ automated messaging with a specific inbound ‘call to action’ by the client, which broadens the available contact channels for a company’s Strategy Team. This broad based reach of the modern contact center means that blended centers are coming of age.

There are two primary aspects that need to be included in the capacity planning and forecasting for blended centers. These aspects are:

1. Return calls based on multi-modal contact strategies. Historical trends for the number of return calls per contact mode are required to predict the number of inbound calls.

  • 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 each channel utilized.
  • As part of the capacity planning phase, these multi-modal contact strategies need to be measured so that the operation can better plan and balance inbound call handling and outbound calls offered.

2. A typical risk with blended 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 run 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 as part of the capacity planning aspects of a blended contact center.

  • If a center places too much emphasis on the automated contact channels they will of course drive more calls inbound and agents increasingly will be taken 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. One of the concepts that needs to be taken into consideration is the type of inbound call you are generating
  • If it is a Collections or Sales environment, the types of callers that will call in are likely those that would have paid or bought anyway. The strategic intent of the call center in this case is to reach those 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 a false sense of success will be developed as you are reaching the low hanging fruit only and not gaining the full potential of the campaign

Challenges and Best Practices for Forecasting in a Blended Center

One of the other challenges faced by blended contact centers is the differentiation between inbound and outbound Average Handle Time (AHT). It is important to account for both of these Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), because outbound AHT is often higher than inb0und, or vice a versa depending on the strategic intent of the contact center. With this historical data, the contact center would be better positioned to accurately forecast agent workload. A common approach - and a common mistake - when forecasting a blended contact center is to approach each type of contact forecast separately and then put them together to get an ‘average’ for the requirement. This ‘flaw of averages’ will leave one or both types of forecasts lacking in resources.

A best practice in this type of forecasting is to fully understand the strategic intent of the contact center. Both the Operations and Strategy Teams must discuss and decide if a center’s inbound contacts or outbound contacts are its primary function. Based on this decision, the Forecasting Team can then make decisions on where to allocate resources.

If your center’s primary function is to accept inbound contacts, and to make outbound contacts when agents are available, then a blended contact center is a workforce manager’s and forecaster’s dream. By definition, the inbound contacts will be overstaffed in order to provide outbound contacts. This type of contact center should never miss a client experience metric such as ‘80% of contacts in 20 seconds or less’ because they are always overstaffed as a result of the outbound component. The downside to this is that outbound dialing will be sacrificed to answer inbound call and contact spikes. As it usually takes roughly twenty minutes for a dialer to adjust to any change in the number of agents, this means that the abandonment rates will increase significantly if the agents the dialer thought were going to be available are now being tasked with answering inbound calls or contacts.

If your center’s primary function is to make outbound calls and contacts, while inbound contacts are secondary, then the opposite of the above is going to be true. In this instance, caller experience metrics will suffer while outbound calls and targets are met. For this type of contact center, it will be increasingly difficult for Real Time Analysts to adjust to inbound contact spikes and queue times will increase.

From the above examples it should be obvious that the Operations and Strategy Teams need to be closely aligned as to the strategic intent of the contact center and the overall business needs to be aware of the choices made as it may have an impact for the businesses public perception.

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