When we talk about employees that are “engaged”, what we actually mean are those employees within your call centre that are motivated, enthusiastic about their company and excited about their future with that company. Essentially, if you are truly engaged at work it means being professionally happy. This is a huge trending topic in the call centre sector currently, and rightly so because of the nature of the work and the resulting impact on customer service.
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A recent study suggests that just over 70% of employees are actively engaged. This means that the remaining 30% are either satisfied but not contributing, or contributing and not satisfied, or worst of all actually, actively disengaged. Some even suggest that as many as 10% of employees display such a level of hostility that they are actively sabotaging the activities of their colleagues.
With the credo "happy employees make happy customers" in mind, for a contact centre, measuring and improving employee satisfaction should be high on the priority list. And, to be clear, this should be a shared responsibility, where every department should look in the mirror and ask the question; what can we do to drive up employee engagement? In this article, we'll shed some light on what the WFM department can do to improve employee engagement, with scheduling strategies.
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Drivers of employee engagement
The drivers of employee engagement vary between men and women and depending on the age of the employee. It is easy to throw ideas around when talking about work / life balance. Some organisations have installed game rooms, healthy eating options in the canteen and so on. These are all valid options and increasingly becoming the norm. However, from a call centre point of view, is this merely paying lip service to the issue and ignoring the real challenges?
More and more there is a realisation that engaged employees positively impact the customer experience
Thinking about workforce management, the focus is of course on the customer, but more and more there is a realisation that engaged employees are more likely to feel a sense of responsibility, urgency and ownership that positively impacts customer experience.
In order to get it right and meet and indeed, succeed the expectations of the employee and the customer, it’s vital to come up with a creative approach to scheduling. More often than not, it’s the everyday dilemmas which pose the biggest problems. In the real world of call centres planners find themselves in positions where the demands of the business and liquidity of the available resources require creativity in order to successfully address the delicate balance of efficiency of the operation and the preferences of the employee. It’s the latter which has been voted the biggest challenge in call center scheduling.
Introduce incentivised scheduling
Allow people to leave earlier. Effective and creative scheduling can be used as a powerful incentive in the right hands. For example in a successful sales campaign, you can use gaps in scheduling as incentives where staff would be allowed to leave early if they’d gone above and beyond their sales targets. Nothing gets a good sales person firing on all cylinders like the opportunity to spend some hard earned bonus dollars on a few extra hours in the pub on a Friday afternoon.
Use idle times to your advantage. In the planning world the priority is often on the busy periods and maximising resources at peak times. The troughs are less of a focus and can potentially become avoidable resource black holes where ‘wait’ or ‘ready’ times can creep up. A keen-eyed analyst is able to highlight these and use them to their advantage, in this particular case as an effective reward for a job well done.
This flexible approach really helps to reinforce staff engagement with the planners and also goes a long way to dispelling the negative connotations of control some resource and planning departments can become tarred with. This is especially true when introducing the process and tools for the first time to an existing workforce.
Incentivise flexibility. There are of course many other ways that call centres can incentivise staff for accepting some more flexibility in the shifts they are prepared to work. Some US-based organisations have introduced limits to pay increases and promotions to staff unless they are prepared to be flexible in the shifts they are willing to work.
Shift bidding. A possibly better incentive could be to allow bidding to take place on different shifts. This can be successfully adapted so that the operation gives choices to agents in hours worked and agents then bid for pre-optimised shifts. This is a win-win-win scenario. The business wins, the customer wins and the employee wins, everyone’s happy.
Shift swapping. An extension to the idea of shift bidding is the use of shift swaps, clearly nothing new about this tactic no matter what industry, but some call centre organisations have a blanket ban on this because of the administrative headache it can cause. For example, how does it impact employee contracts, does it take into account skill proficiency levels, etc. However, professional WFM tools can automate this effectively. The injixo WFM solution, for example, includes an employee portal, that allow employees to take part in shift bidding and allow for easily swapping shifts.
Introduce availability priority levels
Another creative suggestion is to create different levels of schedule availability. Categorised in 3 ways; high, medium and low level. High level, where there is a significant family commitment, i.e. single parents who need to pick up sick children. An example of a low level commitment would much less life critical but maybe important for the individual and their work/life balance, i.e some form of sporting commitment. If everything matches up, it would be classified as a nice to have. If this is communicated well it is possible for employees to define for themselves what is high or low level availability.
This way, the person who wants to go and play for his 5-a-side football team is perfectly cool with the single mother going before him, even though she also had the “good” shift, last week. This suggested approach is for long term availability. In short term availability (like funerals, emergency dentist appointments, etc.) it would be possible that the team leaders take an ad-hoc decision, based on the impact of service on the day.
Introduce working from home
The use of home-based workers is increasing dramatically and can be a creative way of dealing with increasing demand, and limitation on capacity. According to Ovum the number of home based contact centre agents in the UK will reach 160,000 by 2017, with a compound growth rate of 17.5% per year.
This approach is a great way of covering the M-curve, with increased flexibility in the scheduling approach and home workers can take advantage of this more than most. Home-based workers find that split shifts are much easier to manage around their home life when the commute to the office is no longer required. It’s also been argued that by tapping into the home-worker market, organisations are able to recruit better calibre agents. Additionally, the advent of cloud-based technologies means that home-based virtual workers have the same access to the systems as on-site based agents.
I hope that I have shown you some creative scheduling strategies that you can use to increase employee morale. For now, I'll leave you with an inspiring quote.
“Your clients are not the most important. Your staff are the most important. Take care of your staff and they will take care of your clients.” - Richard Branson.
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Originally published on Sep 09, 2016, updated on May 24, 2021.
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