The goal of workforce management (WFM) is to optimize the deployment of the most valuable - and costly - resource in every contact center: the employees. To quote Brad Cleveland, "WFM is about having the right number of people in the right places at the right times, doing the right things". That won’t happen unless you optimize the shifts of your employees. Yet we often see contact centers using old-fashioned fixed shifts and rotas even when they have a WFM system that enables more sophisticated scheduling. Why does that happen? Why is it a bad idea? And what is the best way to transition from fixed shifts to optimized schedules?
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Why do people use fixed shifts in WFM systems?
If your organization has always scheduled its employees on fixed shifts or rotations, the move to optimized scheduling will probably be a culture shock. It is therefore tempting to avoid confrontation by simply recreating the legacy fixed shifts in the WFM system. That temptation is doubly strong where trade unions or workers' councils are present.
Introducing working time flexibility may require changes to employees’ contracts of employment. That may in turn require a consultation process or an intervention by Human Resources. Changes like this don’t happen overnight.
It’s common to find that some employees are unable or unwilling to move from fixed shifts to optimized schedules. Typically, these are senior, experienced employees, whose skills you don’t want to lose.
There’s no escaping the fact that you have to do more work to configure the WFM system for optimized schedules than for fixed rotations. Generating optimized schedules isn’t simply a matter of pressing the button marked ‘Optimize’. You need to set up all the constraints and rules that ensure the software generates schedules that are compliant with employees’ contracts, their working time preferences, the relevant working time legislation, and of course match the availability of agent skills with demand from customers.
Why are fixed shifts a bad idea?
Sophisticated WFM software opens the door to efficient schedules that match the supply of agents with customer demand, day in, and day out. Optimized scheduling is a win for customers, employees, and the business. When supply matches demand, customers spend less time waiting. If you have agents with the right skills logged in at the right time, you improve first-contact resolution. Optimized schedules reduce burnout and stress for agents by avoiding periods of under-staffing. And by avoiding periods of over-staffing, you improve utilization and therefore boost business efficiency.
On the other hand, fixed shifts and rotations are not aligned with demand. By continuing to use them when you could be using optimized schedules, you are leaving all those customer, employee, and business benefits on the table.
Legacy fixed shift patterns don’t provide the flexibility you need to adapt to changing business needs such as new product launches. They limit your options for coping with unexpected events such as employee absences. A good WFM system can quickly generate re-optimized schedules and reassign tasks to ensure that customer demand is always covered as well as possible.
A common misconception is that all agents want to work 9-5, Monday to Friday. In reality, some people actually relish working evenings and weekends. Take students, for example, who are often willing to work flexibly provided they can get shifts that fit their tuition timetable. By forcing them to work fixed shift patterns, you are reducing their job satisfaction and increasing the probability that they will leave.
How to make the transition
- Start early: As with so many things in life, ‘it’s later than you think’ when implementing optimized schedules. As soon as you know you are going to start using a new WFM system that supports schedule optimization, begin the process of removing any obstacles. For example, if you need to consult with the trade unions, start the conversation early. If you need to roll out new contracts of employment that enable optimized scheduling, kick off a project with HR before you sign up for the new software, not afterward.
- Sell the concept: Let your agents and team leaders know that optimized scheduling is coming, well in advance. Explain that there will be benefits for them as well as the company and be ready to answer their questions. It’s also vital that the process is clear and simple. You may need to provide training and support to enable agents to adjust to the new scheduling model.
- Give something back: Good WFM software can take individual working time preferences into account when building schedules that are optimized around demand. Agents love having a say in their working times, so if you give them self-service options for things like time-off and shift swaps at the same time as introducing optimized schedules, you are more likely to win over skeptics.
- Remember that it isn’t for everyone: There’s no need to move every single one of your agents from fixed shifts to optimized schedules. Just having a subset of agents who are willing to be flexible about their working times can transform efficiency, even if you still have many agents working on fixed shifts.
- Keep your side of the bargain: You must respect preferences such as work-life balance, time off, and overtime opportunities for flexible agents. If you don’t do that, you will create a feeling of unfairness, reduce satisfaction and increase staff turnover.
- Choose your WFM application carefully: When it comes to setting up WFM software for optimized scheduling, not all systems were created equal. That’s even more true if you want to schedule a multi-skilled workforce. Look for a system that is easy to use and doesn’t need you to go through a complex setup procedure every time you change your contact routing logic. You also need great online learning resources and a training & support team with first-hand experience in contact center planning.
- Celebrate the results: Monitor performance and continuously improve. The purpose of introducing optimized schedules is to boost metrics like service level, first contact resolution, and consistent occupancy. It’s important to track these metrics to confirm that the objective is being achieved.
Would you like some advice on making the leap from fixed shifts to optimized schedules in your contact center? From somebody who's been on that journey themselves? Our experts are here to help.
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