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Contact centers: A tale of efficient scheduling

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/lenetstan)

The exponential increase in customer demand, coinciding with entire workforces being sent to work remotely, turned the management of contact center capacity into a far tougher task than usual. To succeed in current times, and in a post lockdown world, brands must focus on maximizing the skills and talents of their agents, to maintain and increase customer satisfaction.

Times have changed. Every industry is facing new challenges and adapting to new ways of working. Contact centers are experiencing a rapid evolution and have had to accelerate their plans and innovate, due to the increase in demand across multiple inbound and outbound channels caused by the pandemic. And now, we’re once again faced with a new set of circumstances: lockdown restrictions are easing across countries, but there’s a long road of uncertainty ahead before life as we used to know it returns.  But what does this mean for the future of the contact center? Well – it looks like a busy time ahead.

Focus on your employees

Everyone, including agents, is adjusting to home working and will need to implement more flexible working practices as economies come out of lockdown and people adjust to the new normality that we face. These adjustments will need to take place while simultaneously managing fluctuations in customer demand, and across different inbound and outbound channels. With this in mind, now is the perfect time to pause, re-evaluate, and put in place efficient processes for scheduling efficiency.

Today’s environment demands that contact centers need to strive to assign their agents to the most appropriate task to magnify agents’ talents and achieve the highest levels of customer service. When they get that right, agent morale and productivity will be boosted, and so will customer satisfaction. And ultimately, this is where the success of a contact center lies.

Success also relies on being able to forecast and schedule accurately.  Fortunately, advancements in Workforce Management (WFM) have made it possible for businesses to create fast, flexible and accurate schedules for their contact centers.  And for smaller contact centers the new breed of WFM software can now be used without specialist planning skills.   If anything, the chaos caused by the pandemic has made it even more important to get scheduling right for employees, to keep the end customer satisfied.

Optimize your call center staffing  

Some WFM solutions are now built on the concept of optimal net staffing. This takes into account and calculates the fact that there will always be times when the contact center is either under or overstaffed, which leaves businesses with either a deficit or surplus of hours. 

Conversely, the traditional approaches calculate schedule efficiency based on a simple calculation of the available intervals throughout the day that meet the acceptable criteria threshold. This approach can significantly distort the actual situation. Success lies in aiming for optimal net staffing, which focuses on optimizing the hours and agents available to maintain quality of service. 

This simple change in mindset will free your team leaders and resource planners from the constraints of static shifts and routine activity placements, as well as start and finish times.

Simply Business benefit from optimal net staffing

Scheduling efficiency in the current climate is vital. During this period of change, many businesses are seeing large shifts in the volume of customers contacting them throughout the day. WFM has been playing a fundamental role in enabling companies to react to these fluctuations in demand.    

Like the vast majority of contact centers, UK insurance provider Simply Business had experienced periods of under and over staffing of their 200 skilled consultants. However, because these periods generally balanced themselves out over the week, there wasn’t a big focus on how the business could improve its contact center efficiency. Now, the organization uses Puzzel WFM to forecast and schedule its workforce, which serves nearly 600,000 customers.

Prior to deployment, Simply Business estimated that adherence was around 50 percent.  Immediately following they experienced an uplift in adherence, an immediate increase in agent engagement and an overall improvement to agent well-being. Not only that, but the introduction of optimal net staffing in the business, helped highlight where the inefficiencies were and provided the metrics to help make informed decisions on how to move staff or shifts to different points in the day or week. All of this resulted in improved scheduling for the company.

Three ways to ¸boost schedule efficiency with WFM

The combination of WFM and optimal net staffing can bring significant performance improvements.  Here are three ways you can use workforce management to make your contact center more efficient:

1.            Accurate forecasting is a long and challenging task when working solely with manual methods like spreadsheets and traditional software, especially in today’s omnichannel world. The intuitive design of cloud WFM solutions makes this process straightforward for both first-time analysts and established resource professionals. Out of the box integration produces meaningful forecasts based on historical trends, direct from your contact center solution.

2.            Optimized scheduling – WFM can become the ultimate in workforce optimization too, building instant, optimal schedules and making changes in real-time using a simple ‘drag and drop’ facility to boost agent capacity and service levels. This can help keep agents engaged and happy by scheduling time for homeworkers to deal with children and manage busy households.

3.            Real-Time Adherence (RTA) – knowing what call center agents are actually doing against their scheduled activity enables supervisors to gain immediate insight into agent performance to support real-time decision making. Graphical displays within RTA show what agents are doing versus what they should be doing and highlights any differences or recurring ‘out of adherence’ (OOA) events that can interfere with any scheduling efficiency.

Taking back control of your contact center

Businesses using optimal net staffing and cloud WFM are now evolving and adapting to take control of their contact centers, and introduce new operational models.  Motivating agents and increasing productivity, while most importantly improving customer satisfaction.  Which after all is the ultimate measure of success.

Thomas Rodseth, CTO, Puzzel (opens in new tab)

Thomas Rodseth is Chief Technology Officer at Puzzel