Nathan Stearns of NICE talks through how you can repurpose overstaffing to resolve understaffing and achieve staffing balance in your contact centre.
In the world of workforce management (WFM), the holy grail of perfection is a net staffing line of zero for every interval of every day. Although a worthwhile goal, it is rarely attainable.
Too many factors work against the WFM practitioner: inflexible schedule-creation rules; less than ideal forecast accuracy; unplanned events; unproductive time that must be scheduled… to name a few. But do the seemingly insurmountable obstacles mean we should give up in desperation? Or should we strive to achieve a zero-net staffing line? And to what end?
Why does a WFM professional sweat the details of getting as close to zero every interval of every day? What are the benefits of “right staffing”?
The most obvious benefit arrives when you reduce overstaffing with short-duration voluntary time off (VTO).
Some contact centres and back-office operations choose to avoid VTO (presumably because it is too hard to engage the employees and manage the selection). They miss the golden opportunity of reducing cost while simultaneously making employees happy and getting closer to that elusive zero-net line.
VTO can be a handsome benefit of right staffing because it is voluntary and it immediately and directly reduces your cost of operation.
Even if you struggle with getting volunteers to take unpaid time off, using partial day paid time off (PTO) instead of VTO is a benefit of striving for zero-net staffing. Although applying short blocks of PTO to address overstaffing periods does not reduce your overall costs, it does give you another means to manage your PTO liability in more manageable “chunks” of time.
A full-day PTO often contributes to negative-net staffing even while addressing overstaffed intervals, whereas a part-day PTO can be more optimally scheduled to address just the overstaffed intervals. This is especially true if you have an automated system to fine-tune the allowed duration of PTO down to the interval level and give employees easy access to the short-duration opportunities. And, if you can drive more PTO throughout the year instead of waiting to the end of year as employees “use it or lose it”, CSat and ESat will increase.
If VTO and PTO are in short supply, you can repurpose the overstaffing to take care of other business needs. It seems like there is always more training than can be accommodated, more coaching that needs to happen, more 1:1 time with mentors to drive performance.
Although repurposing does not necessarily reduce your overall costs, it may ensure hours are spent on events that are just as important as handling interactions and may even help avoid calling in overtime to handle training.
Extra Hour Benefits
But what about understaffing? Moving understaffed intervals closer to zero usually costs money… often at a rate of time-and-half if overtime is your only means of resolving understaffing. So, what are the benefits of resolving understaffed intervals?
If you are a BPO (business process outsourcer), the benefits of moving understaffed intervals closer to zero-net are usually obvious:
- If you are paid by the number of contacts or work times completed, you are losing revenue in every interval of understaffing.
- If you are paid to deliver a designated number of employees scheduled to handle work, you are losing revenue in every interval of understaffing.
- If you have penalties for not meeting service objectives, you are losing revenue in every interval of understaffing.
So, the benefit of moving understaffed intervals closer to zero is revenue generation.
Similar benefits hold true if you operate a sales centre or any operation that handles revenue-based transactions. If you are understaffed, you miss opportunities to close sales and generate revenue. And sometimes there is a double impact of losing the sale to your competitor.
It should be noted that not every transaction that is abandoned due to understaffing would have resulted in a closed sale, which makes the benefit not as straightforward to calculate as the economics of a BPO balance sheet. But the calculation should be done so you know how much each extra hour of staffing is worth so you can calculate the benefit of driving toward zero-net staffing.
What about a “pure” cost centre such as a customer service contact centre? What are the benefits of right staffing? Admittedly, these benefits are more difficult to quantify, but they exist nonetheless:
- Improved Customer Satisfaction because of shorter wait times and less-stressed employees on the other end of the line
- Improved Customer Retention because of fewer contacts that abandon over to your competitor
- Improved Employee Satisfaction because of more manageable employee occupancy (which is a measure of how much breathing room an employee has between contacts)
- Improved Employee Retention because employees can strike a balance between work and life (assuming you have the technology to engage the employee in helping you “right staff” the operation)
- Improved Cross-Sell/Up-Sell revenue generation because your service reps have more opportunities to “sell while they service”
- Reduced AHT because your employees stop using after-contact work time as a break between interactions
- Reduced overtime costs even while gaining extra hours through cost-neutral self-swap (assuming you have the technology to engage employees to align their work schedule to the business need)
Often the above benefits are incremental in value. But when taken as a whole, each extra hour that can be obtained to reduce understaffing becomes less a cost factor and more an operational benefit.
So, those are the benefits, but we are still left with the herculean task of trying to move every interval closer to zero-net staffing. Attempting to do this manually is why so many contact centres live with the status quo of markedly imbalanced net staffing.
What if you could add automation and intelligence to the WFM process so that you could invite your entire employee population into the process of actively managing net staffing lines?
You could effectively grow your WFM staff by an order of magnitude and start realising all the benefits noted above.