Spotlight on NCOF: The Importance of Forecasting

Welcome to our continuing series highlighting the speakers of the National Conference on Operations & Fulfillment (NCOF), which MULTICHANNEL MERCHANT presents with the Direct Marketing Association. For details about NCOF, which this year will be held in Schaumburg, IL, from April 29 to May 2, visit www.NCOF.com. This month, Bob Webb, vice president of sales for contact center solutions provider Pipkins, talks about the importance of forecasting.

Forecasting is the lifeblood of your contact center. Simply put, if your forecast is not accurate, then nothing that follows will be, including sales and scheduling. But despite careful planning, a normal day seldom follows the script.

Contact center managers should take an intraday inventory — a sort of reshuffling of the forecast — to get back on track. Use your workforce management software’s intra-day forecasting tools to assess the potential impact on the remainder of the day. Advanced systems will be able to provide forecasts at 15- and 30-minute intervals based on current call volume. They will also be able to calculate staffing surplus or shortage levels for each interval.

Establishing trigger levels can avoid last-minute panic in intra-day scheduling. Historical data can reveal what conditions have led to scheduling problems in the past and help determine when you will hit a threshold that requires adjustments for current scheduling. You must determine the tipping point for key metrics such as percent over forecast. Most contact centers are capable of absorbing at least 5% more calls than anticipated and/or agent shrinkage of up to 10% before service levels start to plummet. Conversely, most can tolerate at least 5% fewer calls before needing to consider cutbacks in same-day staffing levels.

Staffing problems can sometimes be prevented by implementing a regular review process that will detect obvious shortages or surpluses ahead of time. Ideally each daily schedule should be reviewed a week before and then a day before the live date. During peak seasons, you may want to add a third look in the middle of the week. A quick check for deviations in agents required vs. agents provided is all that is needed.

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