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The Measures Behind Realistic Schedules

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Have you ever wandered through your contact center, and asked yourself, "Where is everybody?"

If so, you’re not alone. But chronically ignore this question, and your customers will run into unpredictable service and, most likely, painful queues. Getting a realistic handle on the things that tug at agents’ time will enable more consistent accessibility, and position your contact center to deliver on quality, customer loyalty, and bigger and better things you want to and should be focused on.

Schedule anomalies

Part of the answer is schedule adherence—building a collaborative understanding of why timing, and workforce management in general, is so important.

Another part is realistically measuring and anticipating the things that can occupy agents' time.

Rostered staff factor (RSF) is a numerical factor that leads to the minimum staff needed on schedule over and above base staff required to achieve your service level and response time objectives. It is calculated after base staffing is determined and before schedules are organized. (“Shrinkage” is an alternative term and approach; when calculated correctly as shown in the example, it leads to the same results.)

RSF is a form of forecasting. The major assumption is that the proportion of staff off the phones will be similar to what is happening now. In other words, if one person is on break in a group of 10, 10 people will be on break in a group of 100. An illustration of how to calculate RSF is shown in the table.

Rostered Staff Factor 

The mechanics include:

  • Enter base staff required by increment (e.g., fifteen minutes or half hour). RSF should reflect the structure of your agent groups. For example, if you have groups separated out to handle different customer segments, contact types or channels, you will need RSF calculations for each group.
  • Identify and quantify the things that routinely keep agents from the workload. The next three columns reflect the numbers of staff absent, on break and in training, as they now occur. These categories are just examples: You can include research, non-scheduled outbound, and other activities. You may also want to further subdivide the categories. For example, absenteeism can be divided into planned absenteeism, such as vacations, and unplanned absenteeism, such as sick leave.
  • Add base staff to the number of agents who will be away from the workload. The "on-schedule" column is the sum of the entries in previous columns, by half hour.
  • Calculate RSF. The last column is derived by dividing the staff required on schedule by base staff required for each increment. The proportions are the mechanism you will use to project future schedule requirements.
  • Use the factors when organizing future schedules. The result of these calculations is a set of factors reflecting expected requirements by increment. You multiply them against the base staff you will need when assembling future schedules. For example, if you are putting together a schedule for six weeks from now, and you project a requirement of 32 base staff between 8:30 and 9:00, you will need to schedule 40 agents (32 x 1.25) for that half hour — plus a margin for staff that will be working on projects, in meetings, or doing anything else not included in the calculation.

In many contact centers, RSF falls between 1.2 and 1.5 throughout the day. But it can be as high as 2.0, which is fairly common in some support centers that have extensive off-line research.

While breaks and absenteeism should almost always be included in calculations, other activities require some analysis and judgment. For example, if training schedules frequently change or require differing proportions of staff, keep training information out of RSF calculations and, instead, factor it into schedules on a case-by-case basis.

There’s never been more variety in the work contact centers handle—nor in all of the things that can tug at agents’ time. And there is no shortcut to accurate staff planning. But by realistically estimating your staffing requirements, you'll be setting the stage to focus on customers, value, and other things that truly matter.