WFM Strategy

How can I reduce idle time in my call centre?

Darren Deehan 3 min read Download as PDF

They say that the devil makes work for idle hands, which basically means if you have nothing to do you will get up to no good. I'm sure we can all relate to that in some fashion.

In this case of course, (and no matter what your religion) what I am referring to is that it is clearly a mistake (sinful even) to be throwing cash into the fire (pits of hell) when you have staff sitting doing nothing, burning your cash resources with no return and adding no value to the business. In a contact centre environment, it can be a familiar setting for many operations that ineffective staff planning results in an unacceptable level of idle time.

Why do contact centres have idle times?

Clearly the obvious answer is that there is too many staff on shift. However, it’s crucial to understand if there are disproportionate idle time figures spread over the times of day and days of the week. This may mean that the right number of staff has been forecast, but they are just not in the right place at the right times. What are the root causes of 'Idle times'?

Quite simply ineffective staff planning results in idle time. To diagnose what went wrong in the planning process, we need to get back to basics. How accurate was the forecasting? How much input did other stakeholders have in the scheduling process? Did the planner listen to the feedback from marketing, HR, etc? If the forecast went array altogether, it might be possible to examine the forecasting techniques and calculations used, some basic errors may have taken place and as such the results may have been skewed.

Evaluate your situation

  • Is your AHT based on a per interval or a daily AHT? Days of week / month.
  • Are people sitting in Wrap up time? Is that factored into AHT? Can that be done while on the phone with a customer? Is that even possible?
  • Are you planning the most skilled agents at the busiest periods. Are you factoring in proficiency levels for agents based on their skill level?
  • Are you targeting a 100% Service Level? That is all well and good, but are you wasting cash revenues that could be invested better?
  • How do you calculate idle time? Is it coming from your Real-Time feed? AHT?
  • What do you use as a measurement?
  • If you are managing Outbound campaigns and your agents are idle, do you need to ramp up the dialler?
  • Do those responsible for staff planning actually understand Call Centre metrics? Maybe some new training is required.

The importance of being idle

Despite what people think, in general, we like to be busy during the working day. Idle, unproductive agents are bored and when unacceptable levels of idle times have been identified, call centres need to do something about it and fast. Agents can become quickly disillusioned with their job, they won't perform when you need them to, they won't turn up for work and they will conclude there is no importance of being idle. Considering the general impact of high levels of staff turnover and the resulting recruitment costs, it’s quite simply not acceptable to absorb consistent idle periods.

Impact on the customer

Prudent call centre operations will calculate and report on the amount of Idle time and equate that to the overall payroll figure. It’s easy to understand that this can become a significantly high figure, and send shockwaves through the business. Other departments will be clambering for those available resources. We generally consider that wait time is the deliverer of service level as measured by the business, but on the other side of the coin, and perhaps the most important consideration, it’s the impact on the customer where wait time is the deliverer of service quality.

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