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Maximize Service Levels by Minimizing Unplanned Shrinkage

There's a quote I love by Richard Cushing that translates into the contact center world, especially when it comes to workforce optimization: "Always plan ahead. It wasn't raining when Noah built the ark." For your contact center to run smoothly, you need to plan, right? You need to forecast accurately and schedule staff appropriately so that the calls can be answered in a timely manner.

When we forecast, we account for some shrinkage. People take vacation days, have meetings, or otherwise need to be off the phones. But we PLAN for this shrinkage, which means it is already accounted for when it comes to our forecasting and scheduling.

Contact center shrinkage

But what happens when you have unplanned shrinkage? If someone calls in sick or is otherwise off the phones at a time where they are scheduled to be on the phones, all that hard work you just spent on  forecasting and building an optimal schedule to provide adequate coverage goes out the window! This is a problem that all contact centers invariably have to deal with, but there are things you can do to help minimize this unplanned shrinkage.

Incentivize Staff

What's that old saying? Reward what you want to see more of!

Don't be afraid to offer incentives that will minimize people calling in sick. Something we recently implemented to mitigate the sick time that our employees were taking is an "hours worked" incentive. We track how many hours people worked in a one month period, and the three employees who worked the most earn the ability to create their schedule for one week in the future.  This is a way we can reward those people who are showing up to work when we expect them to be here, and also those who work overtime when it's available. It has proven to be very helpful in meeting our service levels, even when our staffing levels are lower than they've been in the past and our call volumes are higher.

Is forecasting and scheduling a challenge for your team? ICMI's Workforce Management Bootcamp can help


Don't ever underestimate the power of sharing the reality of what's going on with your staff. In our contact center, we are consistently communicating with staff where we are at with our service levels and other key performance indicators, including being frank if we are struggling as well as pointing out what they are doing well that is contributing to our success.

We clearly spell out what we need from them to successfully meet our requirements and ask for their help. Also, starting with training and continuing out onto the floor, we discuss the power of one and how they affect their peers if they aren't where they are supposed to be when they are supposed to be there. We also provide clear expectations with regards to attendance and adhering to their schedules, including the ramifications of not doing so. The staff appreciates the transparency, and as a result, they are more likely to minimize their AUX code usage and calling in sick.  In conjunction with this, it is imperative that staff is held accountable - consistently - when they are negatively affecting the success of the department via calling in sick and not meeting adherence or availability expectations. While we want to reward what we want to see, we also need to address what we don't want to see swiftly.

Schedule, Schedule, Schedule

It may seem like a no-brainer, but how do you minimize unplanned shrinkage? You schedule things out! How many times have you had a manager pull an agent off the phones to do an ad-hoc coaching session only to see calls queuing? When our managers know that they need to do some coaching with an agent, they add a coaching session to their schedule. It's approved only if it makes sense from a scheduling and forecasted call volume perspective. Sometimes WFO approves the meeting but moves it to a better time of day. You know that coaching sometimes can't wait until the next one-on-one meeting, so put a plan in place that will allow you to meet the needs of the agent and manager (coaching) as well as the business (service levels).

By putting these techniques into practice, you are effectively planning ahead. The result? A more successful contact center with happier customers who are assisted in a more timely fashion. Sounds like a good thing to me!