Writing for injixo, Charles Watson explains how to unlock success by mastering adherence and conformance in your call centre.
In a recent post, I wrote about the difference between intraday management and real-time management. These terms are often used interchangeably, but as you saw, there are some very important distinctions!
Mastering the functions and metrics within workforce management can make the difference between a company that just does ‘OK’ and a company that delivers consistent service levels to its customers, a good experience for its employees, and added value for its shareholders and investors.
While intraday management and real-time management are probably the top WFM functions that get confused, when it comes to WFM metrics, adherence and conformance have a similar understanding gap.
These terms often get used in place of each other, and sometimes you’ll see a third term ‘compliance’ thrown into the mix just to confuse things even more.
Ultimately, the definitions really matter. Locking into the right definition for key terms like these and ensuring your teams, your agents, and leaders all understand what they mean will position you to unlock additional value in your call centre!
What Is the Difference Between Adherence and Conformance?
Before I get into the formula and calculations, let me start with what each of these terms means and how you should think about them.
Adherence is about agents working at the times they were scheduled. If I scheduled you to start at 8 a.m. and end at 5 p.m. with set breaks, did you adhere to the schedule you were given? Your adherence will ultimately be a percentage, which represents the fraction of time you adhered to your schedule.
Conformance describes whether an agent conformed to the total amount of time you expected them to be available for your customers. This metric is about the total contribution across a day and doesn’t care when the agent was available, just that they conformed to the total number of hours we expected them to be in production.
As you take a moment to think about those definitions, their application starts to become a bit more clear. If you have a 90% schedule adherence goal, that means 10% of the time, agents can be out of adherence.
So if you require 10 FTE to achieve service level in a given interval, you need to staff 11, because you have to assume you’ll have 10% of your staff not adhering to their schedule at that time.
This can either be a cost (if you gross up the staffing) or a service level drop (if you don’t gross-up and not everyone adheres to their schedule).
Even if all your agents put in 100% of their contracted time each day, you will face challenges if they don’t work in the intervals when you need them.
For example, if someone takes their break early, there will be one person too few during that interval. And there’ll be one person too many in the interval when that person returns from break early.
In practice, adherence can work itself out across the course of a day if you have strong conformance. The challenge is to find and avoid the tipping point when the drop in staff numbers causes a queue to build up and damages your service level performance.
While adherence is about how your staff shows up relative to their schedules, it’s helpful to think about conformance as a type of shrinkage.
If you expect 95% conformance, it means that 5% of the time you plan for agents to be productive, they aren’t. That’s 5% shrinkage. When I plan for shrinkage, I always have a bucket for ‘lost time’. The conformance number makes up the bulk of lost time.
Here are the standard formulas for calculating adherence and conformance:
- Adherence % Time in adherence / (Time in adherence + Time out of adherence) * 100
- Conformance % Actual hours / Scheduled hours * 100
How to Set a Target
Adherence target setting is about determining how much variance you’re willing to accept at each interval.
Adherence will also be impacted by the length of your calls. If you have shorter calls, then the likelihood that an agent will go over on their break or lunch is lower than if you have longer calls.
The target can’t ever be 100%, because calls won’t end exactly at the moment that agents are supposed to log out for break or lunch.
For example, if the average call lasts 5 minutes, then if a call comes in 3 minutes before break, on average the agent will be out of adherence by 2 minutes when the call ends, because it ended within their break time.
Natural variances such as the need to get a drink or take a quick mental breather also make 100% adherence impractical.
You need to consider several elements when setting an adherence goal. There is a business element (how much variability you can afford), a customer element (length of the contacts), and an employee element (how much flexibility do you want to give your agents).
Because you’re ultimately balancing 3 different stakeholders, there is rarely a simple formula for determining the target.
My advice in target setting is to start by measuring your reality to establish a baseline. Then, work to get better and set more aggressive targets as you mature your processes.
Contact centres that are immature in their adherence management or have high handle times can have adherence as low as 85%, and more mature contact centres or centres with low handle times can have targets up to 95% or even 97%.
Conformance target setting is about determining how much shrinkage for ‘lost time’ you have built into your planning model.
Setting the goal for conformance is actually much more straightforward than for adherence. When you think about what conformance represents, anything less than 100% means you aren’t getting full productivity out of the staff that you schedule.
Offline activity such as meetings, training, and breaks is logged separately, so all the remaining time should be in production.
A best practice here is to get your ‘lost time’ shrinkage under 5%. This means you want conformance to be at 95% or higher.
In best-in-class contact centres, the lost time shrinkage is less than 1%. This is a very small amount of time, and means that virtually all of your shrinkage is tracked and in buckets you can manage effectively.
How to Operationalize These Metrics
Adherence scores should be made available to agents on a regular basis. As a minimum, the adherence score should be on the agenda for 1:1s between agents and team leaders.
Ideally, agents will be able to see what their adherence score was yesterday, so they can connect the dots and take corrective action.
For example, if the adherence goal is 90% and an agent sees that yesterday their adherence was 83%, they will reflect on the fact that they took lunch a few minutes early and signed out for a few minutes in the middle of the day.
If they are able to see their score close to the time of their activities, they will find it easier to make different choices in the future to improve their adherence score.
Conformance scores are all about setting expectations and tracking offline activities. There may be a threshold below which you don’t want to administer exceptions.
Some contact centres routinely don’t use administration time to track time off the front line of less than 15 minutes.
In this case, conformance will be lower as a consequence of how accurately you’re tracking exceptions. That’s fine, but bear in mind that if time isn’t tracked into a shrinkage category, it can’t be managed.
In summary, adherence and conformance are important metrics in any contact centre. They are often used interchangeably, but they have very different meanings and usage.
Understanding what they mean, how to set targets, and how to use them in operations are cornerstones of a well-run contact centre.
If you don’t know where to begin with setting targets, just start by measuring the current state and set a baseline. Seek to get better.
Over time, you will settle at the optimal point between improving the metrics and the needs of the contact centre. Don’t wait until you have everything figured out before getting started. Progress rather than perfection is the name of the game!This blog post has been re-published by kind permission of injixo – View the Original Article
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Call Centre Helper is not responsible for the content of these guest blog posts. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of Call Centre Helper.