Managing the workforce more effectively and reducing costs by creating forecasts for activity is critical in delivering bottom line profits, says Roger Buissinné of Intuate Group.
Implementing the right technology has helped customers to reduce operating expenses, improve the quality of calls, enhance the customer experience, increase revenue and improve agent morale.
Sixty seven percent of most contact centres’ costs are associated with their employees, says Roger Buissinné, contact centre solutions executive of Intuate Group. Managing the workforce more effectively and reducing costs by creating forecasts for activity, thus ensuring that the right people with the right skills are doing the right thing at the right time, is critical in delivering bottom line profits and satisfied customers.
Skills-based scheduling ensures that you have the right skills available at the right time to suit the needs of your customers. Workforce management (WFM) helps to effectively control wait times and react to any unforeseen eventualities by accounting for shrinkage when creating schedules while tracking Real-Time Adherence and monitoring intra-day change to provide a consistent and superior level of customer service.
In this article we share a number of guidelines that can enhance the productivity of contact centre agents to improve overall business results. These tips are based on the collective experiences of Noble Systems and local preferred partner, Intuate Group.
Most contact centres manage both inbound and outbound programs to maximise efficiencies, including contacts received across multiple media channels. Offline tasks, such as data entry, training, skip tracing and others compete for an agent’s time. For a WFM platform to be truly beneficial to a multi-tasking centre, it should be able to forecast call and non-call contact volumes and schedule resources for blended, multi-media environments.
With approximately 70% of global contact centres operating in blended environments, it is time for this trend to take off locally. Clients will be able to optimise service delivery and manage resources more effectively by implementing a blended approach rather than siloing inbound and outbound activities while excluding non-call actions. If you have separate inbound and outbound operations, blending should be your first option before recruiting any more staff.
Too often, contact centres recruit more staff because of a shortfall in certain skills. With upskilling your agents, this can become a thing of the past. Automated WFM will highlight the skill gaps you have so that you can develop them in house. In short, WFM can help you to do more with less, or at least without having to increase your headcount.
Providing staff members with full access to the schedule, both at work and remotely, will also allow them to be more productive. Mundane tasks such as performing a shift swap, applying for overtime and leave, updating of their availability, or the filling in of a timesheet can all be done from home and not in hours. Agents who can choose their working preferences, shift swap and holidays tend to stay longer in their employment.
Hosting has become an important deployment method for some contact centre infrastructure segments, especially routing and CRM. For many, it may make sense to hybridise the technology environment, keeping some core systems on premises, while adding new modules through SaaS (software as a service). Regardless of your approach, look for a provider that can deliver WFM through the cloud.
WFM planning software for contact centres has been available, in some form, for more than 30 years. Without it, you have no hope of running your contact centre. Contact centres are, in their very nature, a high-activity hub where proactive staff planning and optimisation can show dramatic and almost immediate results. With labour often representing up to 70% of operating costs, meeting those needs frequently accounts for most capital expenditures. All rosters, all unusual event days, all activities need to be carefully planned and considered. WFM does this at the click of a button, allowing you more time to focus on other day-to-day issues.
All contact centre managers are familiar with the more commonplace methods of measuring performance across a contact centre, such as average handling time (AHT), first-call resolution, percentage of calls abandoned, and so on.
So, how can we manage to get more performance from our agents? How do we strike a balance to ensure that agents are meeting their quality and other standard metrics, but at the same time ensuring that they are getting a fair deal in terms of workload and adequate break time, and that they are all pulling together in the same direction? Adherence could be the answer.
Examine the make-up of your agent’s average working day – excluding a lunch break, it may add up to seven and a half hours. Built into the day will be a few tea and comfort breaks, there may also be short breaks to help agents re-charge after difficult calls. The metric is defined as a percentage of the working day where an agent is available for calls – if a working day is seven and a half hours long, 80% adherence would correspond with an agent being available for calls during six hours of the day. So, the way to improve efficiency is through adherence to the schedule, meaning that agents endeavour to adhere to their assigned exceptions and breaks during the day. This helps contact centre resource planners forecast workloads more effectively – if you know that a certain number of agents are in position to answer calls at a set time, the call flow will run more smoothly.
Giving everyone full access to the schedule eases the load and avoids a single point of failure. It is impossible to run a centre from a spreadsheet on which only one person can make changes at a time. A more pressing matter is what happens if someone accidentally deletes the roster Excel file? Or what if it becomes corrupt? Ideally a system is required that gives a holistic, enterprise view, which staff can also access. This will, in turn, reduce the amount of administration that is required to manage the business.
Without WFM you are guessing – guessing when to schedule a team meeting or a coaching session, a tea break or a lunch break. WFM tools search for the best time (often the quietest time) for these to occur without impacting your service level agreement. Using WFM to search for these times takes a matter of seconds, while manual approaches can take hours.
The ability to schedule breaks in a matter of seconds, and at the optimal times throughout the day, is also a major advantage.
Trusting a new system is sometimes difficult because “we have always done it this way”. Generally, the system has created a plan “mathematically” which might not look the same as what a person may have done, but the numbers, undeniably, add up.
Intraday management and break optimisation is something you just cannot do accurately in an Excel spreadsheet. Using the simulation and re-forecasting tools available in a WFM system shows what improvements can be made intraday, as well as determining what you can do with any extra staff you may have because the actual workload is lower than forecasted.
The system will design the best shifts for the staff you have, using a skills-based approach to scheduling. Tracking key areas such as the minimum hours between shifts, equity, ensuring staff only work within their hours of availability, ensuring staff work at least their minimum hours but not more than their maximum, looking at preferences are some of the criteria that can all be automated.
Workforce management is difficult enough in an inbound call centre, but when you go outbound it can become a lot more complex. While the benefits provided by WFM solutions for an inbound call centre are well known – successfully balancing supply and demand based on achieving or exceeding certain service level standards – the needs of an outbound centre are often very different. A debt collections operation, for example, is likely to be measured based on the number or monetary value of “promises to pay”. In this instance, achieving a service level goal is much less important than meeting one of productivity.
Contrary to the inbound contact centre, the outbound contact centre does not function based on service levels or the average speed of answer. The reason? A typical outbound contact centre is highly specialised, making only certain types of calls, such as sales, debt collections, surveys and telemarketing, in the hopes of reaching a specific individual.
As a result, outbound contact centres follow very different demand drivers, such as percent of right party connects (RPCs), list penetration, Rands per hour collected, increased promises to pay, and increased conversion rates/products per customer. By scheduling your best agents when RPCs are known to be at their highest, you will gain maximum efficiency from your workforce, while reducing costs and improving profitability. Your agents will also be happier as they will be hitting their targets.
Intuate Group is a privately owned, broad-based IT company that focuses on providing professional, integrated technology and people resources solutions. Its services encompass the provision of state-of-the-art contact centre solutions using Noble Technology, the supply and implementation of best-of-breed IT solutions, as well as IT strategy and consulting. The company is also a partner of choice for business intelligence, project management, the management and support of IT infrastructure – specifically storage and server consolidation – and the provision of resources.
For additional information please visit the Intuate Group website