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Queue management, simplified.

Published: June 25, 2013 | By: Bob Fletcher

The word “queue” is the British word for “line” and a queue is any place where customers are waiting to be served.

Sound simple? Well, it isn’t.

Agents are assigned to queues based on their ability to handle certain types of calls coming into that queue. Some agents can handle multiple queues.

You may have a sales queue, an e-mail queue and a support queue, for example, and some agents who can handle all three types of customer interactions. In this case, calls would be prioritized for agents based on customer and business demands.

Things really begin to get complicated when you have agents in multiple queues because staffing algorithms become much more complex. Most staffing algorithms – if not all – are based on the Erlang formula, which is single queue, single skill.

Multi-skilled agents who handle multiple queues are typically more senior (and highly paid), but their scheduling is just that much more complex.

For example, let’s say you have a call center that handles multiple types of customers. Each of these customer groups has its own number to call and they only share one thing in common for which they all call into the center (customer care, for example).

To handle these inquiries, you could have one agent assigned to multiple customers – still with only the “care” skill set. But let’s say you also need agents on these calls to be able to up-sell. Now, you are dealing with multiple queues and agents with multiple skills. Not only do they need the “care” skill set, but now they also need sales skills as well.

Staffing algorithms must be very advanced to handle multiple skills and multiple queues like these. But the complexity doesn’t stop here. Add multiple sites to the equation and workforce management becomes very complex.

Now, you need to be able to schedule the right number of agents, at the right times during the day, at the right sites, and keep track of what skills these agents have and what kinds of customers they can handle. Add in non-call skills like e-mail and chat and you are dealing with multiple queues, multiple skills, multiple sites and multiple channels!

Now the complexity is extreme.

While workforce management allows you to forecast volumes and needs based on specific service levels, intraday management enables you to assign agents based on skills, queue, site and channel, ultimately ensuring that you have the right number of agents at any given time, doing the right things.

To really make this work, you first need a WFM system that can handle this level of complexity. Then you need a skilled person leveraging the system to come to the right answers as far as scheduling goes. The final piece is a detailed process for intraday management that shows which agents you are taking off the floor, when and for what reason.

As call distribution and customer distribution through multiple channels becomes more software oriented, much of this science can be done through a distributor (if connected through WFM) and an intraday process so that everyone is looking at the same thing and making the right decisions.

Without this, using a typical Erlang-based process in a complex environment will always lead to overstaffing.

These kinds of complexities have driven new technologies that fully utilize agents while they are logged-in and sitting idle. Training is pushed so that agents can be re-skilled to handle more queues and more interactions with fewer agents on the floor. There has even been an emergence of the “universal agent,” skilled to handle all types of inquiries.

Today’s centers are more complex than ever and as this complexity increases, technologies will continue to emerge designed to maximize agent productivity and efficiency. Today, the math is different. Before, you would just send them home. Now you don’t have to.


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