Published: December 18, 2019 | Comments
A study by MIT found that retailers are leaving money on the table due to an inability to optimize staffing. With labor one of the largest costs and stores characterized by volatile traffic patterns, retailers face a complex challenge that leads to widespread understaffing and inconsistent customer service. That challenge, if solved, could increase retailers’ performance by 6-9%, depending on the time of year, the researchers concluded.
Maintaining the right staffing levels requires finding a balance between competing pressures, which affect a wide variety of industries. In the contact center, overstaffing eats away at earnings, while understaffing can negatively impact CSAT scores – and when CSAT scores tumble, customer churn increases. Intraday and future-day staffing challenges present themselves at every turn, and leaders are often stressed trying to ensure that they can cover inbound call spikes and prepare for any unexpected events.
Proactive staffing enables contact center leaders to monitor, measure, and automatically manage staffing, which has an immediate impact on the ROI of workforce management. We’ve found five key areas impacting day-to-day staffing management in which leaders can implement proactive staffing, making it easier to determine accurate levels and allowing managers to focus on other important activities.
1. Voluntary Time-Off: Making Schedule Changes a Two-Way Street
The ability to schedule time off in small shift increments, and in real time when necessary, provides agents and managers the flexibility to ensure that employee schedules fit labor demands. For example, some absenteeism is a product of inelastic and manual traditional schedule change processes. Employees and managers just find it easier and faster to approve time off for an entire workday, rather than figure out (sometimes unknown) conflicting hour-to-hour demands. However, providing the option to easily request and get approval for partial, rather than full, days off has a net effect of reducing aggregate absenteeism and mitigating the risk of understaffing.
Proactive staffing is a key strategy to prevent overstaffing, as well. When you know fewer agents are needed, for example, you can inform employees of the available, preapproved windows of unpaid voluntary time off (VTO) or paid time off (PTO) of all sizes. Similarly, giving agents remote and online access to a schedule of these VTO or PTO opportunities creates a staffing workflow that is both self-optimizing and empowering for the agents.
2. Shift Swaps and Trades: Giving Agents More Control Over Their Schedules
Flexible, convenient scheduling practices aren’t a passing fad; a recent study by Earnest found that more than 40% of employees under the age of 45 would trade a tenth of their salary for more flexibility in their schedules. Given this workplace shift, contact centers must evolve their scheduling practices or lose top talent to competitors.
Automation of the shift swap and trade processes make it possible for your employees to handle that aspect of scheduling independently, overcoming the often cumbersome and time-consuming manual approval bottleneck. For managers, such an intelligent, auto-adjusting scheduling capability relieves them of the pressure and friction typically associated with the approval process, while ensuring the contact center always maintains appropriate staffing levels.
By giving agents the opportunity to proactively adjust their own schedules, contact centers both guide agents to work at times when they are needed most and address their scheduling preferences. And more satisfied contact center employees, enjoying more streamlined processes, tend to lead to improved CSAT scores as well.
3. WFM Process Automation: Saving Time and Using It Better
By implementing tools that automatically inform agents of pre-approved schedule change opportunities, and allowing them to independently implement those changes, contact centers can relieve WFM administrators of manual intraday and future-day schedule change processes. Furthermore, to address projected and immediate staffing shortages, the tools could be configured to automatically alert managers of the most appropriate agents to fill in the gaps.
By decreasing the need for back-and-forth, managers are able to spend more time on higher value-added work, such as forecasting, analysis and coaching. Labor efficiency is increased, administrative costs are decreased, and contact center managers can drive superior results and hit loftier KPIs faster and more consistently.
4. Adherence Alerts: Providing the Tools for Self-Correction
The average employee is only productive for about three hours a day, according to a recent Inc. article. Productivity in a contact center environment can be undermined – even unintentionally – in a variety of ways, including long breaks, remaining at the bottom of the call queue, and failing to terminate calls upon their completion. On the other hand, agents don’t want to be micromanaged and managers don’t want to spend their entire day monitoring individual productivity.
Agents can be gently and objectively reminded to be mindful of how they spend their time with tools such as automatic adherence alerts, triggered when they cross a predefined KPI benchmark. Corrective action can be independently taken, without the need for management intervention. For supervisors, such alerts can highlight persistent adherence and performance issues, so that coaching is highly targeted and transparent.
5. Extra Hours: Solving the “Right Staffing” Equation
Many managers are stuck trying to resolve the “right staffing” equation: too many agents leads to higher average idle time and higher overall operational costs, while too few agents results in increased overtime shifts, agent dissatisfaction and lower CSAT scores. An effective proactive approach to optimize intraday staffing, and rebalance going forward, includes remotely informing the most appropriate agents of the availability of unplanned extra hours.
Intraday variance and unplanned events in the short run will always pop up, but intelligent scheduling capabilities help WFM administrators cope with the unexpected and better prepare for the future.
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It’s difficult to predict staffing needs, but with a proactive approach and the appropriate tools, leaders can confidently govern their contact centers and streamline day-to-day agent management tasks.
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