By Einat Weiss
Contact centers have traditionally been known for their rigid schedules, with agents often assigned nine-hour shifts that specify, down to the minute, when they can take a break or clock out for lunch. Planned by workforce managers trying to get staffing levels exactly right, these schedules don’t leave much room for the surprises or scheduling conflicts that inevitably pop up.
This is all beginning to change. In an increasingly competitive employment market amid the great resignation, employees are demanding more of their employers, including a voice in the hours they’re scheduled to work. With employee engagement and retention, a high priority for contact centers, flexible scheduling has become more important than ever.
Why Flexible Scheduling Matters
High turnover is a constant challenge for contact centers. While other industries have recently seen skyrocketing attrition rates, turnover in the contact center has remained steady at 42 percent annually, but that means that in a 1,000-seat contact center, 420 agents quit every year. It takes an average of 13 weeks to onboard a new hire, with $12,500 spent on each new employee. A contact center will spend a half million dollars to replace 400 employees.
In this environment, schedule flexibility becomes an important differentiator. In fact, across industries, employees who are given sufficient flexibility are four times less likely to become a retention risk, according to a report by Quantum Workplace. And retention, of course, is linked to higher-performing agents and higher customer satisfaction rates. But while most contact center workforce managers are aware of the need to enable scheduling flexibility when employee schedules are created, today’s employee expects more.
The Three Times You Need Scheduling Flexibility
Workforce managers often think about scheduling flexibility when schedules are created, but there are three times when flexibility should be considered to keep employees happy and in control of their work-life balance: before, during, and after the schedule is created.
- Before: Look for workforce management tools that let you enable flexibility before the schedule is created by offering agents the ability to set their availability and specify preferences, based on company needs. Modern workforce management solutions on the market today allow you to set schedule constraints to balance agents’ desire for flexibility with the demands of the business.
- During: Consider a workforce management (WFM) solution that offers intelligent automation. These solutions provide agents a variety of personalized self-scheduling capabilities that fit this requirement with opportunities to trade and swap shifts with other agents, track schedules, and request extra hours or time off, as well as establish how and when they would like to be contacted regarding their schedule. This approach to self-scheduling gives the agent more control over their time, resulting in happier employees, increased staffing agility, and better customer experiences.
- After: Modern WFM solutions can also match interested agents who are qualified to schedule change opportunities (extra shifts, for example) that match their specific skill set. This targeted, automated process continues until shifts are properly filled and staffing levels are at the appropriate level for the contact center. When an overworked agent becomes stressed, there’s a higher chance that they’ll leave the contact center. When customer service demands begin to surge, intelligent automation starts monitoring staffing levels and takes action to adjust agent schedules. This resolves the staffing issue and helps reduce the agents’ stress levels.
You can also consider a workforce solution that allows contact center agents to view their schedules anywhere and alter them instantly 24/7. Features such as schedule trades, time off requests, pre-approved extra hours, and adaptive breaks and lunches put agents in control of their work-life balance.
Extend the Benefits of Scheduling Flexibility Across the Business
The benefits of flexible scheduling go beyond retention to also include operational and financial improvements as well as right-size staffing. Flexible scheduling helps create engaged agents who stay with the contact center longer, control their work schedules, and provide positive customer experiences in an agile contact center.
When paired with intelligent automation, flexible scheduling practices also enable the contact center to predict business demand and staff appropriately—down to the 15-minute interval—to ensure the customers’ needs are met, and salary budgets are not miscalculated.
Agents aren’t forced to rely on their manager to maintain schedules, performance expectations can be met within set costs, and forecasting is more balanced. The contact center avoids understaffing, leaving customers with longer hold times, as well as overstaffing, leading to spending more than needed on salaries.
Managing the contact center workers who are vital to delivering great customer service hinges on getting schedules exactly right: you need the right number of people in the right places at the right time, even as conditions change. But if your contact center is like most, your schedules simply aren’t flexible enough for today’s contact center agents.
By offering flexibility at the three stages of the scheduling process—before, during, and after schedules are created—and leveraging intelligent automation to ensure that your business needs are met, you can keep agents happy and engaged amid evolving customer expectations for speed and service.
Einat Weiss is the CMO of Nice.