Timing is everything

Feb 01, 1999 10:30 PM  By

Scheduling is one of the biggest challenges in managing today’s call centers, says Andrew Wetzler, a Boca Raton, FL-based telemarketing and call center consultant. “Some of the biggest frustrations occur when you try to schedule against your incoming call forecasts,” he says.

But catalog marketers such as Nordstrom, Service Merchandise, and Office Depot have found that work force management systems-specially designed software programs that match phone staff to call volume-can improve scheduling significantly.

Running 5% more efficiently Cataloger/retailer Nordstrom credits such scheduling software with smoothing out staffing difficulties among its 350 call center employees, including 260 customer service reps in its two Seattle call centers.

Before it installed a work force management system from Nashville, TN-based TCS Management Group three years ago, Nordstrom, despite scheduling phone reps in 15-minute blocks, ended up overstaffed much of the day but understaffed when call volume peaked, says Bruce Allison, call center scheduling and operations manager. “We were scheduling around what was best for our service reps and not necessarily what was best for Nordstrom,” he says.

But since purchasing the TCS management system, Nordstrom has been able to more accurately gauge its call center needs and reduce labor costs. “We’re running 5% more efficiently as a result,” Allison says. The software synthesizes seasonal and weekly patterns, the timing of mailings, and various trends to predict call volumes and suggest the staff needed.

And should call volume change from the original forecast during any half-hour period, the software recalculates the center’s staffing requirements for the rest of the day. “We’ve gained the most in our ability to adapt quickly as the day unfolds, to either add reps or send them home in down periods,” Allison says.

The system also cut the manhours needed to draw up staffing schedules. Before implementing the system, nine people spent a total of 80 hours a week scheduling call center staff; now management spends only 39 man-hours a week on scheduling.

Reduced staff 50% Nashville-based general merchandise cataloger/retailer Service Merchandise also used to struggle to provide balanced telephone coverage throughout the day, says service level manager Darin Hornsby. In juggling the work schedules of more than 1,200 full- and part-time phone reps in its two call centers last year, the company typically overstaffed both centers on most mornings, then became shorthanded in the afternoons, when call volume peaked. But last year it installed the TCS software and consequently was able to cut staff nearly 50%, Hornsby says. The company determined, for instance, that during February, traditionally a slow period, it could safely eliminate about 300 part-timers from its payroll.

Finding that happy medium Like Nordstrom and Service Merchandise, Delray Beach, FL-based Office Depot turned to a work force management system to gain more control over staff scheduling. Last year, it installed Richardson, TX-based IEX’s TotalView work force management system; subsequently, the office supplies mailer says it has been better able to monitor and adjust schedules to meet seasonal and temporary changes in its call volume. “For instance, we usually see a 10% upsurge in call volume in January and September,” says Chris Vasquez, scheduling and attendance coordinator for Office Depot’s call center operations in Norcross, GA; Concord, CA; and Delray Beach, FL.

TotalView, the TCS system, and similar work force management software (such as PrimeTime, from Blue Pumpkin in Mountainview, CA) help catalogers “find a happy medium that keeps your customers happy, your agents busy, and your bottom line healthy,” Vasquez says.