The key to optimize scheduling in your contact center

Charles Watson Workforce Management Aug 09, 2017 8 min read

Scheduling is one of the most challenging functions in a contact center. Not only can it be technically challenging (depending on the type of workforce management technology you have), but there are a lot of opinions as to what makes schedules “correct”.  The key is to get input from employees and customers and strike the balance appropriate for your business... 

The balance should be directed by leadership, but if you’re not getting clear direction, you have to initiate the conversation. 

So who are the parties interested in the schedule?

First, of course is the employees.

They are the recipients of the schedules. Their lives are impacted by the quality of the schedules. In environments where they earn variable compensation based on productivity, their schedule may even play an impact on their ability to earn what they need to support their family.

How much time and energy goes into considering when the employees want to work? If your answer to this is “little to none”, you should give this more attention. The employees who take the calls are the lifeblood of the operations. Creating schedules they can live with helps to improve your attrition, and keep performance high in the contact center. Check out our blog post about "what are the reason contact center staff leave or stay".

No time to read the full article? Just download it as a PDF and read it offline, anytime, anywhere.

Here is an example of what happens in a typical contact center:

Sally is assigned a schedule of 8:00am – 4:30pm. For personal reasons, she can’t work beyond 3:30pm. Because this is the schedule she was assigned (either randomly or by her seniority/ranking), she has to

  • work this schedule,
  • ask for an exception,
  • or find another job.  

Are those the only 3 options? How about WFM looking at that schedule and determining what critical times are covered. It’s very possible that the system really needed coverage from 10am – 2pm, because of call volume. And when it chose where to put the rest of the hours (in order to fill out an 8 hour shift), it took the times that mathematically were best. In isolation, that makes sense. But when you have the opportunity to weigh that potentially small increase in occupancy to the value of employee satisfaction and keeping your strong employees, you may make another decision. 

[READ MORE: How to measure schedule efficiency in a call center]

This absolutely takes more time and effort from workforce management. But it’s worth it. It may not show up in your WFM-specific metrics, but as a critical department within your organization working to support the business, this can be a huge value add. Nobody else is able to stack up the cost-benefit of this like workforce management. 

A team leader can only look at the employee value. A manager or director can only look at employee value and expected customer value (as an extension of employee satisfaction). Workforce management has access to the data that allows leadership to make an informed, data-driven tradeoff decision.

Automatic, optimized and rule-compliant scheduling made easy with injixo. [Click here to see the injixo scheduling features in action].

Next are the customers.  

They are the ones that keep you in business. How do you figure in their voice into the process? First, you have to put yourself into the shoes of a customer. When you call into a contact center, what do you want and expect? If you call in for technical support, you are probably willing and prepared to wait. You don’t have a lot of options, so you accept it. If you are calling in to buy something, and can’t get through quickly, you consider taking your money elsewhere to spend. I mean, if they aren’t willing to answer the phone, then I’m sure their competitor will! If you call in for customer service and can’t get through, you may not be able to immediately quit the product, but you may not recommend it to a friend or family member. That organization will have a longer-term loss.

Your customers will react the same way you do. You have to step back from your job planning the call center and looking at numbers and see it through their lens. I believe one of the best things you can provide to your customers is consistency. Whether you know it or not, how quickly and how consistently you answer contacts sets your customer expectations.

Consider this:

Call center A has a target of 80/20, but has run at 95/20 for the past year due to overstaffing.

Call center B has a target of 70/20, but has run at 65/20 for the past year due to understaffing.

If both call centers start performing at target, which customers do you think will feel a positive impact? Most likely, it will be call center B… the one that’s running at a lower service level. But it’s because the customers are used to waiting longer and now a higher percent of them get through in 20 seconds. In call center A, there is a significant degrade to the percent of customers getting through in 20 seconds.

So where do you get your customer feedback? Use your customer satisfaction scores. Look to build a correlation between your customer satisfaction scores and your service level or average speed of answer (ASA) actual performance. See where your performance is when you start to get verbal feedback that wait times are too high. Or, if you have a question on the survey that goes to accessibility, what is the trigger in your performance that drives that. Many call centers end up overstaffing themselves, because they go with a traditional “80/20”… for no reason other than “that’s the way we’ve always done it”.  

Workforce management teams don’t always have the luxury to invest this time in the customers and the employees. Often it takes a ton of effort to get the base job done. Make sure you have the right workforce management technology supporting you. Share the value of this extra time investment with your leadership as well. If you need to, start small and show the benefit of additional time for your customers or your employees so you can build a case-study that can be applied to the broader population. It’s a great way to get started and help to make your case for the value of your effort.

Download the article as a PDF and read it offline, anytime, anywhere. 

Charles Watson helps contact centers of all sizes improve their contact center operations leveraging process and technology solutions. To learn more about it, check out the Innovative Workforce Solutions website.

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