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Staffing: Management's Greatest Headache

 
August 04, 2006



Staffing is typically the greatest headache in contact center management – too many staff and costs rise; too few and customer service suffers badly – and if service deteriorates too much, callers will defect to the competition. Striking a balance, therefore, is the key to productivity and efficiency.
 
Unfortunately, many organizations continue to suffer from the ill-effects of under- and over-staffing. And the reason is simple – they still employ a manual approach to forecasting and scheduling. By relying on paper- or spreadsheet-generated estimates, they lack any way to accurately measure the degree of adherence to the schedule. Reporting, if done at all, is a nightmare. The end product is too much time and effort spent managing staff for little return. The organization continues in a state of flux between too many and too few agents. As they cannot adapt fluidly to changes in contact center volumes, profitability remains low.
 
Workforce management (WFM) relieves this headache via automated forecasting and scheduling. WFM is the art and science of having the right number of employees, with the right skills at the right times to meet accurately forecasted volumes of work and to do all that at a predetermined service level. Utilizing WFM software, you are able to forecast incoming work based on historical patterns, with the added ability to schedule and track employees based on preferences, skills and availability. Typical users include finance, insurance, healthcare, retail, travel, hospitality and call center outsourcers.
 
Once WFM is installed, contact center managers can accurately forecast call volume and timing, as well as schedule by agent skills and experience. And the benefits are many. Ensuring the right skills are in the right channels when your customers need it results in improved productivity. Call center managers can make faster and better-informed decisions based on having historical data right at their fingertips. Further, as WFM can function across multiple channels and operations – call, email, fax, as well as multiple contact centers – it is possible to present one face to thecustomer.
 
In addition, call center managers and financial managers can play with ‘what-if’ scenarios to determine the best way to deploy currently available staff. If the intention is to send ten agents for training every Wednesday morning, what would be the impact on service levels during that time slot? And is there a better period to send them where less impact would be felt?
 
In terms of cost cutting, a financial manager can work with WFM software to determine the impact of reducing the number of agents. With one agent less per time slot (or two), what is the impact on service levels – and how will this impact profitability. Armed with that data, management can be presented with a variety of potential scenarios to decide correctly on the most optimum course of action.
 
It is also important to realize that WFM moves an organization out of the past and into the future. Under a paper-based or spreadsheet approach, call center managers spend days gathering date then they sit down and work out schedules using a small portion of solid fact and a large measure of intuition. A few get it right. Most, though, make repeated and often costly errors. And at best, the organization is operating reactively based on events and trends that happened many days before.
 
WFM introduces the concept of real time contact center management. Yes, trending is a vital part of it based on historical data gathered from PBXs. But the software also adds the essential component of real-time changes to existing schedules.
 
For example, a forecast reveals that the first Monday of the month is always a busy period. However, for some reason one month, call volumes are unexpectedly low. The call center manager can immediately rework the schedule to determine how many agents are required and how many can be pulled off the phone without impacting service levels. In this case, some agents would gain the opportunity for extra training, to work on email responses or be given the opportunity to catch up on administrative duties.
 
But that is only the beginning. Now that the manager is managing in real time and spending about 10 percent of the time previously consumed in scheduling, his/her attention moves into the future. The manager has earned the time to focus on the future – via more in-depth forecasting, trend analysis and the use of what-if scenarios.
 
Summary
The most important and most expensive aspect of running a call center today is people. About 70 percent of the typical call center budget, after all, is absorbed in direct labor costs. Yet without the right number of agents, equipped with the right skills, no amount of call technology will suffice when it comes to providing adequate customer service.
 
WFM is the answer to this headache. Paper-based scheduling simply doesn’t work once you go beyond about 20 agents with multiple skills. But by automating the process of forecasting call volumes and agent scheduling via WFM, the call center manager can quickly and easily improve service levels, heighten moral, increase agent productivity and reduce costs.
 
Charles Ciarlo is founder and CEO of Left Bank Solutions, a Workforce Optimization Software vendor based in Los Angeles. For the last two decades, Mr. Ciarlo has been a leader in helping companies, manage their call center workforces. He is a pioneer in modern workforce optimization solutions for the rapidly changing call center industry. In 2001, Mr. Ciarlo founded Left Bank Solutions, Inc, the first firm to offer advanced workforce optimization solutions to the small and medium contact center industry, today Left Bank Solutions is serving customers of all sizes with their award winning Monet WFM solution.

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