Five Workforce Management Practices of World-Class Contact Centers

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Published:  January 20, 2012

Strewn with such odd terms as Erlang C, rostered staff factor and trunk load, it’s no wonder that workforce management (WFM) can be such a perplexing process for contact center pros. The trouble is there is no way a center can efficiently thrive and foster lasting customer loyalty without first mastering workforce management.

It’s all about deciphering historical data, foreseeing the future, educational guesswork and getting creative with staffing to ensure that the contact center has the right number of bodies in place with the right brain makeup to effectively handle a persistent mad attack of customers.

So, what do those who’ve mastered Workforce Management have in common? Here are five practices shared by nearly all the world-class customer care organizations I’ve encountered:

1) They have a dedicated Workforce Management specialist/team.

With workforce management being so complex and so crucial to the contact center’s success/survival, most top contact centers have invested in a workforce management guru or team of gurus who do nothing but focus on all the data, calculations and praying required to staff the center effectively every hour the center’s open for business. This is not to say that you can’t instead ask the contact center’s managers and supervisors to handle WFM functions, but if you do, don’t expect them to have much time to invest in coaching, training and motivating agents.

2) They forecast down to the 30-minute interval level.

When forecasting, unfortunately, many contact centers look at historical data and make predictions based on the contact volume (and expected average handle time and after-call work) that is typically received over the course of a day or week.

The problem with this is that, while reports may show that the center is meeting its service level goal over the course of each day, reports won’t show how many customers “fell through the cracks” during short-lived spikes in call volume, or how overstaffed the center might have been during sporadic lulls. In contrast, by forecasting at the half-hour level, or at least the hourly level (still not ideal), contact centers are able to better match staff to the inherently dynamic workload it must contend with every day.

3) They factor non-phone work and other activities into agent schedules.

A critical part of scheduling is factoring in all the non-phone work and activities (e.g. breaks, training, outbound calls, research) that take agents offline and unable to handle customer contacts.

When a straight call volume forecast calls for 40 agents, smart contact centers realize that additional staff will need to be scheduled since not all 40 agents will be plugged in at all times. Centers that merely calculate base staff requirements without considering “shrinkage” or idle time will often find themselves understaffed, agents overwhelmed and customers overheated.

4) They track Forecast Accuracy against an established goal.

Forecast Accuracy is arguably the most important metric with regard to WFM. By constantly tracking the percent variance between the number of contacts expected to arrive during a given period and the number of said contacts that actually arrive, the contact center can develop solid data on which to base schedules and, more importantly, continuously improve the center’s ability to handle contacts efficiently and cost-effectively.

5) They forecast and schedule for ALL contact channels the center handles.

Many contact centers do a good (or at least passable) job of forecasting/scheduling for phone contacts, but neglect to do the same for the other channels they handle, namely email and chat. Failure to effectively forecast/schedule for email and chat can cause expensive increases in operational costs as well as ample customer ire and brand damage.

For example, customers who become impatient with long delays in email responses are quite likely to contact the center via phone to check the status of their query (and to scream a little). The center is now handling repeat contacts via multiple channels and coping with increased toll-free costs along with decreased agent availability due to long customer rants. Not a fun situation for anybody involved, unless your center has made it a habit of hiring masochists.