Mastering the Art and Science of Workforce Management

You can help agents deliver stellar customer experiences by mastering the art and science of workforce management. The most successful centers make the agents’ jobs easier and customer access better by constantly working to improve things like focus, accuracy, scheduling, and staffing efficiency. That’s all part of workforce management. It’s not just forecasting and schedules. Here are some of the best workforce management practices.

Dedicated Specialists

The first practice is use of a dedicated workforce management specialist or team. Workforce management is complex, and it is crucial to the contact center’s success. Most contact centers having invested in a dedicated workforce management guru, or, even better, an entire team of workforce management specialists focusing on all the data and calculations that keep the staff in the center working effectively for all contact channels day in and day out.

Having such a dedicated specialist in place costs money, but not as much money as severely under- or overstaffing the contact center, which is what happens when you have busy frontline managers and supervisors who are unfamiliar with workforce management intricacies attempting to handle forecasting and scheduling duties. If you don’t already have skilled workforce management folks on staff, and you aren’t one yourself, hire some.

Adherence to Schedule

Another key to mastering workforce management is to make sure agents fully understand and appreciate the importance of adherence to schedule. Leading centers educate new hires on the meaning and importance of adherence to schedule and the impact that each agent’s adherence has on the customer experience and on each others’ work experience. The good news is that adherence to schedule is one principle that agents typically accept and buy into, since it’s within their direct control, for the most part, unlike average handle time and calls per hour, which sometimes encourage bad behaviors.

It’s essential to set a sizeable and fair adherence objective that meets the needs of the contact center and the customer without being unfairly demanding on agents. There is no universal industry standard for adherence to schedule, but most leading contact centers shoot for an 85% to 90% range adherence to schedule. But meeting such an objective requires each agent to be available to handle contacts 51 to 54 minutes for each hour they’re scheduled.

Determination of Schedule

Another workforce management and key practice is giving agents more say in scheduling. This empowers your agents. The more you empower agents around scheduling, the better the chance of them not only being in their seats when scheduled, but also in a mood that’s conducive to providing good customer experiences.

Agents who have no say in or visibility to scheduling tend to grow discontented. With this in mind, smart contact centers take advantage of all agent-centric features of their workforce management system. This includes enabling agents to access schedules, request their preferred shifts, request vacation time, and swap shifts with peers right from their desktops.

Agile Practices

The next big key to workforce management and mastery is embracing a practice that makes a center more agile during unexpected spikes in contact volume. Even the best workforce management team cannot predict the forecast 100% of the time—life and customers are simply too unpredictable­. Contact centers must be able to react swiftly and strategically in real time if they find themselves notably understaffed.

One effective tactic for handling such situations is postponing flexible work (like e-mail, outbound calls, coaching, training, and data entry) so that the center has all agents on deck, including a reserve team, to handle customer contacts. The reserve team might include former agents who have moved to other areas who are available for a period of time, individuals who have been trained on basic call types, and the center’s own supervisors.

Other real-time ways to overcome spikes include activating on-call home agents. If you have home agents, be sure to utilize them in this manner. Reassigning agents to groups or queues that are getting slammed is another good way to overcome spikes. You could also consider sending overflow calls to an outsourcer that your center is contracted with, if you decide that’s a good decision for your center. Once spikes are handled, resume working, training, coaching, and any other work you put on hold.

Agent Enhancement

Another effective way to manage your workforce is by helping agents grow. Focus on enhancing agent performance. Take advantage of idle time and slow periods to keep staff sharp and improve e-learning modules and customized coaching. According to Intradiem, the average contact center agent spends 11% of a shift sitting idle waiting for the next call to arrive. Use some of this time to engage agents in compelling and highly valuable bits of coaching and training, which will make jobs easier and your customers happier.

 

About the author

Matt McConnell

Matt is chairman, president and CEO of Intradiem. Matt co-founded Intradiem in 1995 with a vision of helping companies increase the level of customer service they deliver by improving the performance of their agents. Today, Intradiem is a leader in its market with more than 300,000 call center agents around the world using Intradiem every day. Matt is the author of the book Customer Service at a Crossroads and holds 11 software patents. He graduated from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1994 with a bachelor's degree in industrial and systems engineering.

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