Published: July 01, 2019 | Comments
It’s been a long time since the first time I walked into a call center.
Productivity and efficiency then were measured mostly by ACD data, and
there was little acknowledgment that the human resources were, in
fact, human. I was grateful to be working, happy to have a job with
benefits, but perhaps less thankful that the two great guys, Carlos and Al,
who sat on either side of me both smoked all day… at their desks… in
California – wow! It was a different time.
I learned that the ease of getting data on agent activity – every call they
take, every hold they make, is seductive. There may not be many other jobs
that are monitored and tracked as closely as the frontline agent in a call
center. We could look at a spreadsheet and see definitively how small
changes improved the bottom line, but we didn’t have any calculations then
that showed the impact on the people, nor did we know enough about Employee
Experience. Some of the agents struggled to meet the goals, some found
short cuts, some were managed out, and some became discontented and quit.
We didn’t know how to calculate the cost of over-managing and undervaluing
the people who take care of the customers. It was a very different time.
Most people want to be successful, and many companies are working hard to
help make work less grueling where possible – I cheer those commendable
efforts. It’s nice to see remote work options, casual dress codes, fewer
scripts, and genuinely involving frontline staff in solution brainstorms and
decision making. So much of the old structure, those artificial artifices,
have fallen by the wayside – thank goodness.
I’ve seen that groundswell of change happening in call centers gain
momentum over the past few years, and I like it. The management that once
relied on absolute control is relaxing its grip to discover happier people
are more effective in every way. More businesses are being mindful to get
right with their teams to cultivate good culture, improve productivity, and
generate healthy working relationships to maximize both human experience
How brilliant to see leadership thinking evolving to understand that
kindness is a critical success factor – and the evidence is
The shared goal of delivering customer experience often begins with the both simple and complex act of answering a customer phone call in a
pre-determined and sanctioned amount of time. It is peculiar that some of
the same call center leaders that still obsess about meeting service level
are also the ones who defund quality assurance programs due to the expense.
Answer time can only be a dissatisfier and customers don’t generally mind
waiting a few more seconds if, when their call is answered, their concern
is resolved. Relaxing service level goals a bit can significantly lower
staffing costs, and the savings could fund a more robust quality program.
Another place in call centers that deserves examination is the natural and
evolving relationship between Schedule Adherence and Real-Time Monitoring,
and the variety of approaches to both disciplines.
There are two fundamental Schedule Adherence measurements:
(Different WFM applications call them by different names so I am going to
keep it generic.)
1. % of time scheduled phone time that was actually worked (volume).
a. If you were scheduled to be on the phones for 7.5 hours, what percentage
of 7.5 hours were you on the phones?
b. If you were scheduled to be on the phones for 7.5 hours, and were
actually on the phones for 7.4 hours, your result is 98.7% - yay!
c. This one is fairly straightforward and 98% is generally considered to be
a reasonable goal. (Hint – all of the time on the phones, irrespective of
what was scheduled counts toward meeting this metric. It is the easier of
the two metrics to meet so the goal should be higher.)
2. % of specific times scheduled that was worked as scheduled (precision).
a. If you were scheduled to work on the phones from 7am –11am, what
percentage of the time from 7am – 11am were you on the phones?
b. If you were scheduled to be on the phones from 7am – 11am, and were
actually on the phones from 7:15am – 11:15am, your result is 93.8% (Hint –
only the phone time from 7am – 11am counts toward meeting this metric. It
is the more difficult of the two metrics to meet so the goal is lower.)
c. Setting a goal for this one requires looking at the average handling
time, how many times an agent logs on and off the phones – if you flip them
back and forth to other work you create more opportunities to be out of
adherence… and other potential issues.
Real Time Monitoring:
1. Looking back into history
a. A supervisor or designee would watch the console, keen to identify
anyone out of adherence or in a particular phone state too long. When there
are such transgressions, the agent is contacted and made aware of their
phone state or offered help. Since they are probably trained on how to get
help, they know the offer of help is probably code for “get on the phone”.
I’ve heard agents describe how they feel when they are being contacted
either during a call or while writing post-call documentation. They say it
is distracting, hurtful, and makes them feel like they are not trusted.
b. This “whack-a-mole” process with your agents doesn’t improve results. It
is an unpleasant distraction that degrades engagement and may actually lead
to undesirable coping behaviors. If you play games with your frontline –
they may play their own games too.
a. It starts with the forecast and accounting for the required assumptions:
i. Workload – the number of calls multiplied by the average handle time.
ii. Occupancy – the amount of planned phone time minus available time. A
reasonable goal is between 80-85%. Yours may vary if you have a large site
with effective from training – deeper pools of resource add efficiency.
iii. Shrinkage – determine what you plan to use for each category –
vacations time, absenteeism, coaching, breaks, etc. for all of the
iv. A factor for schedule adherence. For example, if the adherence goal is
92% add the inverse, so 8% to the required staff forecast to make up for
any losses or shifting staff as a result of schedule adherence.
v. A factor for vacancy / schedule inflexibility. 10% is reasonable for
most call centers.
b. Then hire staff to the meet the forecast required staff number. Some
businesses staff less that forecast to save money, others staff more than
forecast to improve the service level. Part of the intent of a good
forecast is to function as a planning tool to get the right amount of staff
to balance service level and budget.
c. Educate everyone on Workforce Management math and practices - from the
frontline, supervisors, leadership, and, of course, your Workforce team.
Education is an investment that helps create a common vocabulary and base
of knowledge to help the work go more smoothly and the people to build
better working relationships.
i. I call out the math specifically – most people know standard, linear
math. Call Center math involves elements like queueing theory and random
call arrival – it requires what I call “non-linear” math. In call centers
2+2 sometimes equals 4, but depending on the situation, it could be more or
ii. “The Power of One”, so everyone understands the impact of each person
following their schedule being available to help customers when they are
scheduled to help. It is really exciting when front-line agents see how
critical their efforts are to the success of the call center.
iii. How Schedule Adherence contributes to delivering a consistent caller
and employee experience.
iv. Oh, and please don’t rely on that magic number people love to quote…
ever! You know the one I mean – “you can be out of adherence 36 minutes
each day and still meet the goal.”
1. Some agents will hear “I have 36 minutes a day of free time – Yay!”
2. Another risk is that the number is not constant. I’ll give you an
example: On a day that the agent is in training for half of the day, she
can only be out of adherence for 18 minutes before missing the goal.
d. Demonstrate support to your agents by making sure they know how to get
help when they need it – knowledge management tools, coaches, and
escalation paths. Make sure the resources will be available when they need
them, then trust them to use the resources appropriately.
e. Review reports – daily, weekly, and monthly to check their actual
results. Discuss the results in their coaching sessions. Reinforce the
behaviors that led to meeting the goals and coach those that didn’t. Be
kind, using the same critical words repeatedly is both hurtful and
unproductive. Focusing on the positives to reinforce those behaviors will
yield better results.
f. Focus monitoring on making sure call traffic is routing correctly,
staffing levels are as expected, and technology is working properly.
Consider repurposing the savings to fund quality programs, development
activities for your frontline agents, or passing some money along to
customers in the form of lower costs for your products and services.
Please look up from your spreadsheets to
see the people who take care of the people as people.
Be grateful and kind to them as if it influences their experience,
as if it feeds your soul, as if your business depends on it,
– because it does.