Having the right number of skilled staff to support customer demand can be a daunting and complex task. With this in mind, we asked our panel of experts to share their top techniques for shift planning.
For organizations that operate with home and hybrid working, micro-scheduling can be a benefit both the business and employee engagement.
The idea behind micro-scheduling is that employees can self-select their own working hours, including split shifts, within a framework that is determined by ‘required hours’.
Planning managers can construct flexible workday schedules where resourcing requirements are matched down to 30-min intervals, ensuring that under and overstaffing during the day is kept to a minimum.
For one insurance provider, micro-scheduling has resulted in a 25% saving on overall operational costs.
Thanks to Gary Twell at Sensée
2. Front-Load Schedules
Challenge the traditional thinking of balancing schedules across the day, especially if the staffing resources are low.
After all, accepting agent shortages early in the day equates to high abandon rates. Those callers that abandon early are likely to try again, and when customers make a second contact, they add volume at later intervals.
Such demand is ‘fake’ and will interfere with daily staffing plans. So, answer these contacts the first time around by front-loading schedules. In doing so, contact centres can eliminate ‘fake’ demand, alongside customer frustration at having to make a second contact.
3. Shift Bidding
Despite the best efforts of planning teams, shift distribution is rarely fair. Enter shift bidding. Through a self-service app or website, this model allows agents to select which shifts they work on a week-by-week basis and is becoming increasingly popular.
Why? Because more contact centres are offering casual shifts to agents with flexible contracts.
With complete schedule visibility to view upcoming unassigned shifts, agents can choose their preferred options – increasing engagement and fairness, perhaps through a first-come, first-served model. Once scheduled, agents can bid for the best of the rest.
However, some of the remaining opportunities are likely to be unpopular. Understanding this, the contact centre can incentivize these options to increase interest. As a result, planners can better execute their ideal schedules and better meet demand.
Shift-swapping is a stalwart initiative to safeguard agent satisfaction. However, shift-swap requests soak up far too much of the planning team’s time – especially in large operations. As such, governance is necessary to restrict post-schedule publication requests for only the most critical reasons. For requests of lesser immediate importance, direct advisors to automated shift self-service tools.
Choose an app – compatible across iOS and Android devices – that offers agents complete visibility and more control over their schedules. It also allows agents to set preferences, bid for time off, and choose their breaks – alongside making shift-swap requests. All this removes email, increases efficiency and streamlines scheduling.
However, in terms of last-minute, in-person shift-swap requests, balance service levels with fairness. A ‘computer says no’ policy can damage agent relationships. Remember, agents are real people with real lives.
Thanks to Nick Brook at Calabrio
5. What-If Scenarios
Using what-if scenarios to see how spikes/lulls, crises or outages could impact customer support and agent performance can help you prepare and forecast across channels.
This means that you can better predict how many call centre agents you will need to schedule in advance no matter what the scenario.
With this information you can create alerts and trigger workflows based on KPI thresholds such as schedule adherence, shrinkage, and service level.
Efficient shift planning is critical to the success of any contact centre. Don’t make your managers figure out how to optimize call centre scheduling alone.
By providing your call centre supervisors and managers with the insights and training they need, you can ensure they have the right call centre agents working exactly when they’re needed most.
6. Promote Employee Shift Accountability and Autonomy
Integrating workforce management (WFM) software into your call centre agent scheduling will empower your agents to manage their own schedules. This includes managing time off, vacation, switching shifts and bidding.
Giving agents the autonomy to manage their own schedules ensures that staffing becomes a shared and accountable action between agents and administrators.
A great way to accomplish this is by providing mobile tools to your workforce where they can change their schedules, pick up OT, or even view their personal KPIs.
Providing flexible tools to your workforce enhances their work/life balance, gives them a sense of autonomy, and engages them to further deliver excellent customer service.
Mobile tools can also expand your workforce pool, as agents can be notified of shifts that recently opened up and have the ability to accept them at a moment’s notice.
Thanks to Kaye Rickards at Alvaria
7. Don’t Assume Agent Preferences – Ask!
Finding the right balance between the right shift patterns for the business and for your agents can be a challenge. This challenge has become even harder since the pandemic, where we also have to consider hybrid working.
It’s easy to assume you know your agent preferences, but with the drastic changes in the last few years, contact centre leaders can get this very wrong, leading to higher shrinkage and attrition levels.
Listening to your agents should be one of the first shift-planning techniques you consider. Assuming that your agents will not want to work weekends or split shifts could be a huge error.
So why not reach out to your agents and ask them exactly what type of shift preferences they are looking for. This could be done via a survey or a shift review meeting.
8. Homeworking Opens Up Split Shifts
One of the most successful shift-planning techniques we have seen recently is providing agents with the flexibility to submit their own availabilities and opening up split shifts.
If you allow agents to submit availabilities, then make sure you schedule around those availabilities by using a WFM feature called a ‘What-If’ scenario. With this functionality, you will be able to see how agent preferences will fit business demands.
Setting expectations for agents that they may not get 100% of what they are asking for as it may be toggled down to, say, 80%, will still provide agents with a sense of empowerment when it comes to their work/life balance.
This technique has high benefits and can reduce unplanned shrinkage along with attrition.
Thanks to Shaunna Wilson at Business Systems
9. A Deep Understanding of Peak Seasons
It is impossible to plan for the future without knowing what’s happened in the past. This stands true for many contact centre operations, including shift planning.
Having a deep understanding of your peak seasons, why customers call in and when, how different agents handle different customer scenarios, and more, is critical in being able to staff your contact centre effectively and efficiently.
But gaining that insight is hard, and it’s no longer enough to make decisions based on hunches. By taking a data-driven approach to contact centre operations as a whole, organizations can dig down into these areas and make better decisions across the board.
For example, advanced analytics can help you find out that your peak holiday shopping season actually starts a week earlier than you had thought, and in turn, you can make more informed decisions around employee staffing.
Thanks to Frank Sherlock at CallMiner
10. Determine the Optimal Scheduling and Channel Usage
Agents require elevated levels of flexibility in today’s world of sudden change where remote or hybrid work has become the norm and absenteeism remains a constant challenge.
Workforce management software driven by machine learning can ease the complexity around forecasting by allowing businesses to anticipate demand and optimize scheduling, helping organizations:
- Determine optimal scheduling, skills and channel usage, which is especially complex in today’s omnichannel contact centres where employees are shared across multiple work streams and channels.
- Use historical data and predictive algorithms to forecast call volume and work time, then suggest what will produce the best result based on the business needs. This allows organizations to anticipate time to recruit, hire and train employees, optimizing projected work volume, driving the achievement of planned objectives and schedules, and saving resources.
- Assign work schedules considering employee preferences. It also creates a fair environment without human intervention where agents are assigned back-to-back shift types, resulting in personalized experiences and enhanced agent engagement.
Thanks to John O’Hara at NICE
11. Integrate Your WFM and Applications
As the expectations for the call centre increases, workforce planning can be extremely stressful.
However, with the right workforce management solution, professionals can ensure efficient contact centre operations and deliver positive customer experiences consistently.
Integrating workforce management into their agent’s core application provides them access to their schedules, where they can receive real-time updates and request time off, creating a more efficient and less stressful work environment.
Workforce management capabilities that automatically update schedules enable leaders to streamline the intraday workforce management process.
This means call centre leaders can efficiently adjust the schedules of their entire agent workforce and deliver messages on several notification channels with just a few entries.
Thanks to Natalie Mackay at Five9
12. Measure and Report Daily
Have a clear adherence goal now and periodically raise the goal as performance begins to improve.
Tip: Be sure to take the one-off long handling times for each channel into consideration when creating the adherence goals. By reporting daily, management will develop a clear understanding to quickly remedy schedule management or adherence issues that will impact customer service results.
Plus, supervisors will have more insightful reports to engage their employees for coaching and development. This is especially important in the new way of working where employees may work in fully remote or hybrid conditions.
Thanks to Mechele Herres at NICE CXone
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