Published: January 28, 2016 | Comments
Time is money. So said the wise Benjamin Franklin more than two hundred years ago, and it still rings true today. And this is certainly true in our contact centers, where the best way to control costs is to control staffing. Or, stated more directly, to manage the contact center in such a manner that staffing levels are adequately balanced to address demand with minimum wait times and maximum customer responsiveness.
The right balance of agents to customers depends on a variety of factors specific to your business and your customer service standards. But it’s universally true that staffing can be a challenge—especially in contact centers. A shift can be moving along just fine and then everything can change in an instant. Your product is unexpectedly mentioned in a “best of” list and call volume spikes. If you don’t have enough agents on hand, then longer wait times suddenly lead to lower customer satisfaction scores. And as soon as you finally get scaled up to cover the volume - it dips back down leaving you overstaffed and over budget with unneeded agents. Good times! So what’s the answer?
The truth is that there are many approaches to scaling staffing on-demand, but for the sake of this article, we’ll focus on one that is directly within your scope of influence and that requires minimal resources to execute: Better forecasting.
It’s no secret that effective forecasting is one of the best approaches to more optimal staffing, but it can also be one of the most overwhelming and elusive. And while it can require significant effort and information to create an accurate forecasting methodology, it’s still far less work and stress than having to perpetually manage the consequences of a poor forecasting model.
Poor forecasting creates issues for your customers, your agents and ultimately your company. The tools to improve your scheduling and create smooth customer experiences are available—so use them! Instead of letting everyone potentially suffer as a result of poor “guesstimating,” try these three techniques to improve the accuracy of your contact center forecast.
It’s all about analytics—make the data work for you
Start by gathering as much data as possible from all the systems at your disposal. Even things that you aren’t sure will help—it’s better to have too much information than not enough. Use your Workforce Management (WFM) system. If you don’t have one–you should. Make that a priority for 2016 because it will pay for itself. Look at one month, one week, one day, one hour and take stock. Compare that to similar time periods and dates (your historical data). Compare “apples to apples” (December to December) and take a look at November and January for context.
Chart your spikes and dips. Is there a clear pattern of why they happened? If so, will they recur? If you aren’t sure, pad your numbers a bit to be safe. And don’t forget to check with other departments as you plan. Is there a marketing campaign coming up? An IT update? Or anything else planned that could have a significant impact on contact volume?
Determine your ideal variance. Is it +/- 5 percent each half hour? Are you evaluating on a daily basis or weekly? Set your metrics to you can plan accordingly to meet—or even exceed—them.
Consider your channels and agents
One you’ve checked out your data, consider your channels. Which channels do you use to provide customer service? Phone, email, mobile, social—which social platforms? Each channel is different and must be handled accordingly. For example, customer patience for an email response varies greatly compared to patience for a Twitter response. Think about the time it will take agents to manage interactions across channels and in each single channel. Determine both your ideal and acceptable response times.
Another secret forecasting weapon is to take agents skills and specialization into consideration. Do your agents handle all channels or specialize in one or two? Are they expected to be experts in everything? Do you offer training to increase and hone their skill sets? Whether agents handle a mix of channels or just one, make sure you have the right people available at the right times. That likely means a mix of specialists at all times.
And evaluate your tools. If you are providing service across multiple channels, a multichannel contact center platform will be helpful to streamline and speed interactions. By making it easy for agents to see all customer information on one screen, and pivot between channels, both agents and customers will be happier.
Schedule it out
Now that you’ve evaluated, considered, analyzed and planned, it’s time to develop a schedule based on the information you’ve gathered. It can be nerve-wracking to try something new but don’t let that stop you. Develop a one-week schedule with your new forecasting knowledge and test it out. Solicit feedback from your agents and managers—they may have insight that will help make the forecast more accurate.
Once you’ve implemented your new schedule, keep an eye on things. Stay on top of your metrics. Ideally, everything will run smoothly with your new forecast. If something isn’t working, figure out why and fix it. Don’t implement a stop-gap solution—find the complete solution. Remember: Practice makes perfect!
Forecasting is part art, part science. Your ultimate goal is to achieve the optimal schedule that properly balances staffing with call volume. Saving your customers time will, in turn, benefit your bottom line. And when you find that perfect balance of staff for contact volume, it’s like hitting the jackpot. I think Benjamin Franklin would agree that’s a good use of time.