By Carl Fischer
Call centers struggle with a multitude of difficulties each day. Many are related to staffing issues, including current and future staffing requirements, employees not showing up for their shifts, short-term peak loads, agent availability, holidays, labor law-related restrictions, and the cost of labor. A common challenge is staffing the call center with enough agents to handle the inflow of calls in a timely fashion. Agent understaffing results in long hold times and angry clients, while overstaffing can financially bury a call center. Not surprisingly, the largest expense of a call center is payroll. Addressing these concerns can be aided by using a workforce management (WFM) program.
A key aspect of WFM is scheduling. A WFM program gives the call center manager the ability to use historical data from previous weeks to predict the staffing needs for the upcoming week. This allows managers to increase the efficiency of their employees, helping them to organize, plan, and delegate tasks for employees, as well as keep accurate time records.
Using historical call data, WFM software allows call center managers to schedule how many agents are needed to handle the call volume down to fifteen-minute increments. Implementing a WFM program is an easy and affordable way to forecast employee schedules, while at the same time saving 5 to 15 percent on labor costs and increasing productivity.
It is estimated that only 10 percent of call centers use a WFM forecasting program to manage their employees and create schedules. Larger corporate call centers have been using forecasting tools in WFM software for years. Traditionally, the high cost of WFM software has kept these tools out of smaller call centers, but that is changing. Implementing a WFM program allows smaller call centers to emulate and more efficiently compete against larger call centers.
Using the technology of WFM software can be a game-changer. April Kasza, manager of Executive Services in Pueblo, Colorado, reports that it has made the formerly overwhelming chore of scheduling employees simple. She says that a good WFM software program should recognize that there is more to an agent’s job than just answering calls and “that not all agents perform equally well.”
Another call center manager, Tiffany Lamb, was excited when she began using WFM software to forecast and schedule her staff. “I love it! Using a workforce management program makes my job so much easier.” It auto-fills the schedule, keeps track of time-off requests, and auto-fills breaks. Developing schedules now only takes her fifteen minutes instead of several hours. She insists that not even for a million dollars would she go back to scheduling with spreadsheets. “Now that we sync our schedules online, the [agents] don’t call to ask me about their hours worked or upcoming schedules.”
In addition to forecasting, there must be the ability to change that forecast based on “what-if” scenarios, such as snow days, hurricanes, sporting events, holidays, or other abnormal traffic days, such as Black Friday. Using the number of calls and the length of calls is necessary to calculate the workload, but blending in intangible judgments is required to accurately decide on the ideal schedule.
Synchronizing the forecasted schedule with an online time management and human resource module moves a company into “cloud-based” platforms and makes life easier, contributing to a paperless office in the process. Furthermore, it gives a manager the ability to view and make changes in real-time.
Another WFM program user is Kurt Duncan of MedConnectUSA in Las Vegas, Nevada. “We had looked at programs targeted to large call centers, but they didn’t fit what we did and were hard to learn.” He has now used WFM software for over six years. When asked about the benefits he has seen since implementing a WFM program, Kurt points to his bottom line and says, “We save four to five hours a week doing employee schedules, and [recoup] countless hours of wasted operator time each week.” As a bonus, the record-keeping ability and detailed data from his WFM program has saved him on several unemployment claims.
Carl Fischer is with TAS Scheduler, a developer of WFM software for smaller call centers.
[From Connection Magazine – May 2011]