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Partly Cloudy with a Chance of Spikes

How many of you check the weather forecast before heading out for the day? If you see temperature will be in the 80s, you probably won't pack your heavy coat. If you see there is a chance of showers, you will likely carry an umbrella. You can probably see where I am going with this, right? Planning your day around the weather forecast bears some similarities to planning your agent staffing around your contact volume forecasting. As a call center professional, you understand that contact center success is hugely dependent on accurate forecasting. Having the correct number of staff manning the contact center at all times is essential not just to control your costs but also to manage customer satisfaction.

Partly cloudy with a chance of spikes

The management of this challenge, however, is easier said than done. Call volumes can dramatically spike, seemingly out of nowhere, and fall just as dramatically as soon as you adjust your staffing numbers. The good news is that accuracy in contact center forecasting is an attainable metric by employing the use of skilled Workforce Management (WFM).

WFM is a system of managing all the activities that are part of the day-to-day contact center operations. Typical responsibilities that come under the purview of WFM include:

  • Staff Scheduling
  • Forecasting
  • Management of Staff Performance
  • Intraday Management
  • Attendance

Successful WFM implementation is dependent on the successful deployment of people, technology, and processes. Nowhere is this more evident than in forecasting. It is about having the right cost-effective technology, quality staffing, and streamlined processes to make the contact center engine run more smoothly and efficiently.

Contact Center Best Practices for Accurate Forecasting

The basic and most effective model for accurate forecasting can be summarized into the following key areas:

  1. Historical data collection for up to 2 years at the bare minimum.
  2. Ability to translate raw data into trends and patterns.
  3. Ability to monitor, track, and record performance.
  4. Methods for periodic measurement and evaluation.
  5. Ability to rinse and repeat processes.
  6. Exploring current best techniques for forecasting to find one, or a combination, that works best for you.

Detailed Step-by-Step Methodology

  1. 2 years' worth of data will give you a baseline for determining trends or patterns in call volumes.
  2. Run an initial comparison between the same months of each year.
  3. Look for highs and lows and identify their causes. For instance, the numbers can be affected by holidays, technical problems, power outages, and administrative matters such as team meetings or team outings.
  4. Other factors that can create unusually high or low numbers include the weather conditions at the time, any mass social events during the period, and the results from your company's marketing promotions. Make sure that your forecasting accounts for events that may be tied in with your company's seasonality.
  5. Look for variances and set the targets for the year and forecasts based on your analysis of what is to be expected.
  6. Discuss results and findings with your contact center management/ WFM team to understand wins and challenges. Be open to feedback.
  7. In real time, also look for inconsistencies in collected data and determine why this is the case so that you can obtain the most accurate forecasting possible.
  8. Go one step deeper by drilling down and analyzing data over daily and weekly schedules.
  9. Repeat, evaluate, modify, and repeat again.

Some Key Statistical Averages to Take into Account

Determining Intra-Call Day Patterns - Convert monthly forecasts to daily ones, daily ones to hourly ones, and hourly ones to half-hourly forecasts. The patterns you find in 48 half-hour percentages (24hrs) will determine your intra-day call patterns. Use this for refining your accuracy.

Determining Volume/Staffing Requirements - Multiply your number of calls by the average time taken to handle the calls. This will help you to calculate an estimate of how much staff you will need to manage 'x' number of calls for your contact center.

Ultimately, accurate contact volume forecasting is key to meeting metric goals and building a happy workforce. To get a glimpse of the future, you need to take a look at the past. Yes, people say that dwelling on the past is not conducive to forward-thinking-but; obviously, this does not apply to Workforce Management in the call center! And yes, I get it - predicting the future is pretty close to impossible. Certain events happen that are well beyond your control, but if you are diligent about analyzing your past data, you sure can come close.