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Make Contact Center Schedules More Flexible During Times of Turbulence

work life balanceContact center scheduling always is a challenge between meeting the needs of the customers and those of our agents. The goal is to try and meet both, but anyone who's worked in a contact center knows that there are always trade-offs to consider, which means all needs won’t be perfectly met.

While the schedulers will tell you it is not personal who gets what shift, break, lunch etc., it feels very personal to the agents and is often the source of conflict and dissatisfaction on the contact center floor. Add to this a pandemic, where our customers’ and our employees’ needs have changed, and we can easily imagine that this could be a recipe for even more conflict and upheaval.

What if instead, we look at our existing scheduling process and think about alternatives that might better meet the changing needs of our customers and agents? If we focus on some of the new needs of our agents and provide them with scheduling options that help them meet those needs, one can assume that will allow them to focus on the customer more fully when they are working.  And, in my experience, when you meet the needs of employees or companies, in most cases you earn their trust and loyalty. If we can match schedules to meet customer needs and at the same time get creative with how we do that, it is a clear win for everyone.

Here are a few things that you might want to consider that will allow you to meet the changing needs of both our customers and our agents:

1. Split shifts: With more agents working from home, perhaps shifts don’t need to have the usual continuous hours with a lunch break in the middle. Some might really like a split shift that would give them some longer breaks in the day. Others might be happy to work an evening or night shift when the kids are down for the night. Early mornings are easier for many now that there is no commute involved.

Perhaps a shift with a few hours in the early morning and then more in the evenings would work best for those with children to homeschool. Ask the agents what they would like and see what you can do to make it work for them and for the business.

2. Flexible break schedules: Consider breaking up or consolidating total break times (if that is allowable by state law) to assist agents who may need to help their children with schoolwork or cover for a spouse also working at home.

3. Start and stop time flexibility: If an agent is working from home without transportation concerns, they may be open to sliding their stop and stop times a few days a week to accommodate their changing needs.

4. Review voluntary time off, overtime, paid time off: While you may think that employees won’t want to take time off if they can’t “go anywhere” – there may be many who would be grateful to have time off to deal with the new challenges and obligations they may have. On the other hand, they may be more open to working overtime since they won’t face a commute, and the additional pay would be helpful due a change in circumstances.

5. Weekend and other typically hard-to-cover shifts may now be sought-after ones: Working a “weekend” day might become appealing if that means more time during the week is freed up to juggle typical “weekday” tasks like homework, school parent/teacher conferences, etc. Evening shifts after the house is quiet may also become more appealing than in the past.

6. Take advantage of periods of downtime: While many contact centers are experiencing higher-than-normal contact volumes, there are some that are seeing their contact patterns shift and even be lower than normal. If the latter is the case for you, take the opportunity to:

  • Have a few more frequent brief team huddles.
  • Do some one-on-ones/coaching sessions.
  • Schedule some self-paced learning online courses.
  • Do some proactive customer outreach projects.
  • Have some more experienced agents share their expertise with the group.
  • Challenge agents to add to the knowledge base.

Scheduling options that meet the needs of the customer and the employee always require some creativity and tradeoffs, but our agents need to know, now more than ever, that we care enough about them to make schedule changes that can help make their days a bit easier. This will ultimately allow them to focus on delivering exceptional experiences to our customers.