Labor is the single biggest expense facing any contact center — which is why getting the right number of agents in place to answer incoming calls, place outbound calls, respond to emails, and handle Web contacts is critical to contact center success and profitability. Overstaffing can result in overspending, while under-staffing can erode customer service and have a detrimental effect on employee morale.
Today’s workforce management systems can help with this delicate balancing act. By integrating these systems with other contact center technologies, including the automatic call distributor (ACD), contact center managers can react more quickly to changes in call volume, plus they can predict when there will be peaks and valleys and staff accordingly. What’s more, many of these systems now allow agents to have greater control over their own schedules, in that they can add, cancel or swap shifts with other agents, using a Web-based interface, often without the need for manager approval.
In this three-part series we’ll look at the need for workforce management systems, how to justify the cost of buying one, and, finally, how to go about selecting one.
Let’s start by looking at the basic functions associated with a workforce management software system:
Call volume forecasting
A WFM system uses historical and current call information from the ACD and other contact center systems to predict future call volume based on overall calling trends, seasonal factors, and other predictable calling patterns. Forecasts are automatically updated with new information about contact patterns through a direct interface with contact center systems such as the ACD, outbound dialer, or e-mail/fax servers.
A telephone traffic engineering technique, Erlang C, can be used to determine the required number of staff based on the forecast workload for incoming calls. Erlang C takes into account the random arrival of calls into the center, as well as the “hold for the first agent” queuing that typically takes place. Other mathematical models are used to factor in the sequential workload of e-mails and/or outbound calling.
Use “bodies in chairs” staff requirements, along with non-productive time estimates (for breaks, trainings, meetings, etc.), to determine a schedule requirement for each half-hour or quarter-hour period. You can then create a set of optimal schedules based on these requirements and your contact center’s unique scheduling rules and constraints. These schedules can then be assigned to staff based shift bid rules and employee preferences.
Day-to-day performance tracking
Perhaps the most critical component of a WFM system is the intra-day comparison of actual performance against the plan. Call center management must actively compare actual workload by half-hour to the forecast, and actual number of staff on the phones to the schedule plan. The call center manager needs to see these changes as they are happening, in order to make necessary adjustments to meet service goals.
Next week we’ll look at cost justifying workforce management tools.
Penny Reynolds is a cofounder and senior partner with The Call Center School, a Nashville, TN-based consulting and education company.