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The dynamic world of contact centers is a never-ending symphony of communication. The seamless blend of customer interaction and behind-the-scenes operations often results in a remarkable customer experience. Among the many critical elements that ensure the successful running of these operations, two aspects take center stage — intraday management and real-time management.
In this blog, I delve into the core of these concepts, their differences, and their indispensable roles in ensuring the smooth functioning of contact centers. But before we dive in, let’s consider why these components are so critical in the world of contact centers.
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The need for effective contact center management strategies
The modern contact center, whether it handles calls, emails, or real-time chat, is a bustling hub of activity. The landscape of customer service demands quick response times, efficient problem resolution, and above all, a consistent and high-quality customer experience. Achieving these goals depends largely on the efficiency of two management strategies: intraday management and real-time management.
💡 These are terms that are often used interchangeably, but they have real differences. Each one has its place in contact center management, and each needs to have the right people and technology supporting it.
Understanding intraday management
Let’s start with intraday management. Intraday management is akin to the navigator on a ship, continuously gauging the direction and adjusting the course as required. It involves the analysis of daily trends, including staffing levels (actual vs. planned), contact volume and handling time (actual vs. planned).
An intraday management strategy involves reforecasting the remainder of the day's expectations based on the data gathered so far. It is a proactive approach, identifying potential issues or deviations from the plan, such as unexpected spikes in contact volume or lower-than-expected staff availability.
Intraday management in action:
Let’s say you choose to reforecast at 12pm, 3pm and 6pm. Choosing these times may be based on the historical % of volume during the day (e.g. 12pm may be where you generally have 25% of the volume in so far, 3pm is 50% and 6pm is 75%). If, at 12pm you’ve actually received 30% of the day’s volume, you’re trending over forecast for the day. Do you increase your forecast for the rest of the day? It depends.
- The first intraday management action you’ve taken is to reforecast, which helps you identify there is a problem.
- The second action to take is to understand what’s driving the variance and understand if it is likely to continue for the rest of the day and potentially beyond. If the volume spike is due to a website glitch that’s been fixed, you may want to keep the forecast for the rest of the day as-is. If the spike is due to increased demand from a sale that is going to last a few days, you’ll have a representative set of data to use to reforecast volume for the duration of the event.
There will be times where you won’t be able to identify the cause of the variance. When this happens, I’ve found a best practice to take the volume forecast delta so far and reforecast half of that for the rest of the day. So, if the forecast has been 10% over so far today, increase the rest of the day by 5%. The objective isn’t necessarily forecast accuracy (you can’t reasonably forecast if you don’t know the drivers), but rather to recognize the delta and show some increase in workload likely for the rest of the day and ensure you’re properly staffed. This same concept applies to average handle time and staffing. A workforce management solution can usually just automate this for you so you can focus on your actions.
- Your third action would be to adjust staffing or capacity accordingly. If the increase in demand is within your capacity, you may not need to take action. However, if the increase puts intervals later in the day at risk, you may need to solicit overtime or cancel some offline activities. At minimum, you want to recognize the risk and make an intentional decision on how to proceed.
The strength of intraday management lies in its ability to keep the operation on track, constantly evaluating and realigning the course based on the day’s dynamics. It ensures that contact centers remain responsive to varying demand levels and operate at peak efficiency, thereby enhancing the overall customer experience.
Deciphering real-time management
While intraday management is about strategic navigation, real-time management is the adept helmsman actively steering the ship through immediate obstacles. It focuses on immediate, on-the-spot decision-making and actions in response to real-time events.
A real-time management strategy involves the constant monitoring of ongoing operations and taking immediate corrective measures whenever there's a divergence from the plan. These might include unforeseen spikes in contact volume or unexpected staff shortages at short notice.
The power of real-time management lies in its agility and responsiveness. By responding to changes as they happen, real-time management minimizes service disruptions and ensures the continued delivery of excellent customer service.
Real-time management in action:
As your team watches the queue, you may observe an anomaly or variance to what you’re expecting. This may be a surge in volume, where your queues go from 0 in queue to 200 in queue. Another situation may be a large number of teammates calling out sick, so you don’t have the immediate staff to handle the volume. You need to take corrective action.
Real-time management requires some contingency planning in advance. Ideally, there is a real-time management playbook that you put into use. This is a pre-agreement between the workforce management team and the contact center leaders on actions that are to be taken if certain situations arise. An example would be a spike of calls in queue that need to be handled. Pre-agreed reactions could be temporary allocation of back office staff to the front office, suspending cross-selling to reduce AHT, and postponing training.
Delay in getting additional resources engaged may cause a serious drop in service level that could take hours to dig out of. Not only is that a bad experience for customers, it has cost implications. In order to achieve the service level goal for the rest of the day or week, you’ll have to overstaff other time periods to compensate.
The 3 big differences between intraday and real-time management
Despite their shared objective of maintaining operational efficiency, intraday and real-time management differ significantly in approach and implementation.
- Time Frame: Intraday management is about looking at trends throughout the day and making necessary adjustments to plans. On the other hand, real-time management is about addressing events as they happen at the moment.
- Focus: Intraday management concentrates on daily trends and how they affect the overall operations of the contact center. Real-time management focuses on the immediate scenario, addressing any sudden changes or anomalies that might disrupt service.
- Action: Intraday management is more proactive, making adjustments based on trends and reforecasting the rest of the day's expectations. Real-time management is more reactive, addressing immediate issues as they arise.
A harmonious blend
While intraday and real-time management each play vital roles in contact center efficiency, their true strength lies in their collaborative efforts. Together, they form a powerful management strategy, ensuring the contact center can adjust to changes and maintain exceptional customer service throughout the day.
Intraday management's forecasting and recalibration paired with real-time management's quick adjustments ensure that contact centers can navigate through both the predicted and the unpredictable, delivering optimal customer experiences at every touchpoint.
Understanding the nuanced difference between these two concepts is key to leveraging their strengths. Recognizing the value of both intraday and real-time management is the first step in driving contact center efficiency and improving customer satisfaction in contact centers.
As we continue to navigate the fast-paced, ever-changing landscape of customer service, the need for agile and robust management strategies only grows more vital. And that’s where the combined power of intraday and real-time management comes in.
As you reflect on these insights, it’s a good time to ask yourself which you actually have in your contact center? Do you have the right systems and processes in place to manage both?
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