Calling for a Scheduling Program

Home furnishings and accessories cataloger/ retailer Crate & Barrel has estimated annual sales of more than $750 million. But what the Northbrook, IL-based company doesn’t have is call center scheduling software — at least not yet.

“I think every call center reaches a point in its growth where you have to deal with the complications of having so many different schedules,” says Cindy Silke, Crate & Barrel’s direct marketing operations manager. “We need something to help us move forward. Right now we’re just using call history and Excel spreadsheets” to plan the schedules for its 130 part- and full-time customer service representatives.

Working out the schedules currently takes at least several days for each selling season. And the cumbersome process of calculating how much time will be needed from each CSR based on call history doesn’t account for unexpected fluctuations in volume.

But this summer Crate & Barrel expects to implement scheduling software that will allow the company to plan CSR schedules within minutes. “If something fluctuates within a day, like [CSR] attendance or call volume, with the press of a button or two, you can reschedule the rest of the day,” Silke says. “It gives you more information on what you need to do to handle calls the way you want to.”

Silke won’t disclose which software is under consideration. (Suppliers include IEX [www.iex.com], Pipkins [www.pipkins.com], and Primus Knowledge Solutions [www.primus.com].) But basically the programs gather volume information by monitoring the activity of each CSR computer and phone, says Silke. It then estimates, based on these past call volume patterns and information regarding mailings and promotions, how many call center reps will be needed per shift.

Crate & Barrel anticipates investing at least $150,000. The scheduling software requires its own server, which connects to the call center’s phone switch to provide real time information about call patterns. It will be accessible on several desktops in the company, says Silke. The company’s two call center scheduling managers and five departmental operations managers will have access to it.

The company is also thinking of investing in live chat software, Silke says. Between its Website and its call center, Crate & Barrel receives up to 1.5 million contacts from customers annually, 10% of which are e-mails. The call center fields about 2,500 calls a day.

The company’s exploration of live chat is still in the “very preliminary” stages, says Silke, with implementation at least 18-24 months away. She says the company also expects to pay at least $150,000 for the live chat technology.

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