WFM Strategy

Contact centre planning - whose job is it anyway?

John Casey 5 min read Download as PDF
Contact centre planning - whose job is it anyway?

One great thing about my current role, working with The Forum, is we get out and meet contact centres across the UK, Ireland and beyond. Often we facilitate workshops regarding how resource planning is performed with contact centres. And the one question I love to start with is ‘Who has responsibility for resource planning in this contact centre?’

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Usually fingers are pointed towards some individuals, or names are forthcoming, and without fail these people have job titles like Forecaster / Scheduler / Real Time Analyst or Resource Planner.  

At this stage, I always have to jump in and say “Wrong! These people may have responsibility to ensure planning tasks and reports happen - but they cannot be solely responsible. They don't manage anyone who speaks to customers and can only highlight issues to others.

Everyone with responsibility for customer contact must take some responsibility for planning.

Depending on your current role you will either be sitting now nodding or you will want to respond and tell me I am wrong. So let me explain a little more. Let’s start by looking at the core roles associated with contact centre planning teams. Irrespective of whether each task is performed in a distinct department, or whether one person owns one or more of the tasks - the practice is similar:

Contact centre forecasting

Even the best forecaster is at the mercy of what happens ‘on the day’. They will forecast based on what they know, but if there are more or less staff than expected, longer or shorter calls than expected, more or less team meetings than expected then even the best forecast will lose accuracy. The forecaster isn't on the contact centre floor managing operations, so they aren't solely responsible on the day for some of the deviations that are observed.

>> Learn more on contact centre forecasting.

Contact centre scheduling

Once the scheduler receives the forecast they will put plans in place to show when each staff member should be working. However, if a level of autonomy exists where team leaders or other operational managers can allocate annual leave or other absence at short notice then it is possible for the plan to change substantially, and by default the ‘on the day performance’. Check out our expert tips on how to maximise schedule efficiency. 

>> Learn more on contact centre scheduling.

Real-time management

In many ways this is similar to scheduling - but if staff are moved around, breaks changed, 1-1’s or team meetings added (or cancelled) in an ad hoc manner without co-operation with the real-time team, then others beyond planning are having an impact on the resource planning for the contact centre. 

>> Check out the best tips on how to get real-time right in your contact centre.

That should make the point, and it is often simply impractical to have every deviation to the plan approved by those in the planning team. That could lead to a situation where there is simply a backlog of requests to be authorised / checked.

Key is ensuring many people have the knowledge to make decisions which would be generally in line with what those working in contact centre planning would take. It may not be exactly the same - but a little knowledge can really assist everyone to work together towards a common goal.

Team leaders will always know more about what is happening on the ground than any resource planner.

They are working with their agents all the time and should be able to get feedback and intelligence about the types of calls being received (or the responses on outbound calls) and any deviations from the norm. This feedback is essential to improve forecasts and adjust schedules in the future.

However, if they can translate some of what they see into planning outcomes, and can estimate the impact of decisions they want to make, then it supports my earlier assertion that everyone can work towards the common goal of best assisting customers.

Operations have to resist the urge to meddle with the schedules on the day. It is a natural reaction to try and make changes when you are in crunch mode, to alleviate what feels like a crisis.

Sometimes there is no alternative to having periods where we can’t have enough staff in their seats to handle the demand. This is ‘planned understaffing’ and any unofficial tinkering with the schedule will just move the problem, which destroys the plan itself and puts the entire day under greater pressure.

This does counter the previous paragraph a little - but there is a difference between considering the impact of decisions you have to make, and making wholesale changes to the published plan.

Shortfalls are sometimes there for a reason, and going back to the need for some knowledge around the planning process, staff who have this knowledge will better identify when there is a rationale for shortfalls.

In summary, the mindset that only the contact centre planners are responsible for service level issues has to be challenged. Workforce planning is a cross-functional process where the planners are simply one piece in the jigsaw.

They are responsible for the initial analysis and rollout of the plan, but after this, they are simply one group of people in a cross-functional effort to meet customer demand.

They may have the technical knowledge around the impact of operational changes on service level, and it is this technical knowledge that they need to share via effective communication.

Key takeaways: 

Think about how to illustrate hot spots - times where service level is naturally under pressure due to the plan, and about how the overall day will look.

Help the wider operations team have the courage to wait before making changes because the perceived business stress is part of the plan.

I would like to finish off by suggesting that this communication is more important that any technical planning skills.

Schedules are often released and fixed several weeks in advance; there are very few contact centres where they can be meaningfully adjusted a day or two in advance.

Due to the nature of customer demand, it is rare for schedules to exactly match the profile of demand.

There will always be times of perceived excessive demand and hopefully, if everyone understands the plan, the stress periods and the times where staff will get relief, they can work together to manage the queues effectively.

Let’s have meaningful and regular dialogue to ensure that we all understand the rationale behind the plans, to discuss what happened when decisions had to be made ‘on the day’ and agree on Best Practice initiatives to work together moving forward.

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