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How Agile Is Your Contact Center?

Published: March 21, 2013 | By: Greg Levin

Your contact center’s workforce management team carefully analyzes historical reports, factors in upcoming events and promotions that may impact call volume, composes the most accurate forecasts possible, and schedules the right number of agents to handle the predicted workload.

And all goes smoothly.

Except for when it doesn’t.

That’s when you find out what your contact center’s is really made of. That’s when you see just how agile your center really is.

No matter how competent your workforce management (WFM) team is, there is no way to get the forecast and the schedule right 100% of the time. The world and customers are far too unpredictable for that. Even in world-class contact centers, things don’t always go as planned, wrenches often get thrown into the works, and hurdles become a little bit higher. How much the managers, supervisors and agents sweat – and how aggravated customers get – during these times depends very much on the center’s level of agility. In centers that know how to react to the unexpected in real-time, skin stays dry and customers stay cool (because they don’t even know a near-crisis is occurring). In less agile centers, things can quickly start to resemble a riot in July.

So, how agile is your contact center? If it doesn’t have at least some of the following real-time management capabilities and tactics in place, the answer is likely, “Not very.”

Ability to quickly react whenever contact volume far exceeds the forecast. Perhaps Marketing forgot to inform the contact center of a promotion. Or maybe the WFM team had too much to drink and simply erred in its calculations. Whatever the reason, the most agile contact centers are able to react swiftly and strategically whenever they find themselves notably understaffed for the incoming call load. These centers may not have been expecting the spike in volume, but they are prepared for it. Among the effective tactics and resources centers utilize in such situations include:

  • Postponing “flexible” work (email, outbound calls, coaching/training, data entry, etc.) so that the center has all agent hands on deck.
  • Using a “reserve team” (former agents who have moved to other areas, individuals who have been trained to handle basic call types, and/or the center’s own supervisors) to take calls.
  • Having home agents who are “on call” get, well, on calls.
  • Sending overflow calls to an outsourcer the center has contracted with.
  • Recording appropriate IVR announcements that may take care of the reason for many callers’ call. (E.g., informing them of a power or cable outage and letting them know the company is already “on it.”)
  • Reassigning agents to groups/queues that are getting slammed.


Ability to quickly react whenever contact volume falls far short of the forecast. Perhaps Marketing forgot to inform the contact center that it canceled a promotion. Or maybe the WFM team once again had too much to drink (it’s a stressful job) and erred in its calculations. The reason for being severely overstaffed doesn’t matter as much as what the center does about it. Wasting resources (and $$) is a real no-no in our industry. Agile contact centers fully understand this and thus have in place effective strategies for dealing with – and taking advantage of – occasional overstaffing.

The most obvious solution is to send some agents home, but be warned, many agents don’t like losing hours as it greatly hinders their ability to pay rent and buy their anti-depressants. Also, the call load that was expected to arrive may very well do so right after agents are sent home, putting the center in precarious position and customers in a very bad mood. So while releasing a few agents when overstaffed for the current call load may work in some centers some of the time, you might want to consider the following alternative tactics.

  • Use the extra staff and time to tackle important off-phone work and special projects that keep getting placed on the back burner. (Agents will love the added job diversity and may end up coming up with ideas/solutions that greatly enhance operations and save money.)
  • Deliver necessary training and coaching to agents’ desktops. Most contact centers struggle to find time to develop agents to the extent they – and the agents – want. Smart centers come prepared to take advantage slow periods to keep staff sharp and continually improving via e-learning modules and customized coaching.
  • Let loose a little. Having fun and playing games with agents when call volume is down may not sound like a real strategy… until you consider the huge impact that such occasional levity and stress relief can have on agent engagement, performance and retention.


Ability to react quickly to customer dissent. This is a key though often overlooked element of contact center agility. Real-time management isn’t all about reacting quickly to the queue; it’s about customer recovery, as well. Sure, part of this involves having supervisors on hand to gracefully handle escalated calls from angry customers, but the most agile centers are more proactive in managing customer dissent. For example, many centers use system alerts to notify “recovery specialists” whenever a customer indicates severe dissatisfaction with an agent and/or the organization via a post-contact Customer Satisfaction survey. Once alerted, the recovery specialist can contact the customer to quickly address the source of their dissatisfaction and save the relationship. (Often, customers are so impressed by the contact center’s swift reaction and effort that they end up feeling even more loyal than if the issue that originally irked them had never even occurred.) Some centers also use speech analytics and emotion-detection tools to help identify – and then reach out to – customers who are miffed and thinking about defecting and/or destroying your organization via flaming Tweets.

So, I’ll ask again – how agile IS your contact center? How many of the above real-time management tactics and strategies do you use when things don’t go quite as planned? Are there any others that have worked well for your center that you care to share?

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