We investigate the best ways to organize shift-swaps in the contact centre, after addressing some of the key challenges.
The Challenges of Shift-Swapping
While shift-swaps can cut down absence rates, provide advisors with more flexibility and improve advisor satisfaction, organizing them can be challenging.
For example, depending on how you arrange shift-swaps, you have to make some key considerations around areas like:
- Advertising – Do you want the take-up of shift-swaps to be high, to increase flexibility, or low, to save supervisors time? How you advertise shift-swaps will help you control this.
- Skill and channel matching – You don’t want a live-chat-only advisor swapping shifts with an advisor who covers the voice channel. Advisors need to be aware of who they can and cannot swap shifts with.
- The changing intraday environment – Are there any situations where advisors can swap shifts at the last minute? If so, this will require good intraday management.
- The governance of the swap – Who makes the swap “official”? How early do advisors have to notify them? What’s the process of submitting a shift-swap request? There are lots of things to consider here.
- Disagreements – A common cause of contention is that one of the people involved in the shift-swap later claims that they never agreed to the swap. Sometimes an advisor may even change their mind.
Good Ideas to Improve Shift-Swapping
There are lots of people and process considerations to make around shift-swapping. These ideas will help you to navigate those effectively.
Set a clear deadline for when advisors can send in their shift-swap requests for the following week.
If you are running shift-swaps manually, set a clear deadline for when advisors can send in their shift-swap requests for the following week.
It’s good to set the deadline early, maybe on the Tuesday or Wednesday evening, to give the supervisor a good amount of time to look over shift-swaps for the following week.
Also, by doing this, the supervisor can set a time in the diary, every week, for the morning after the deadline to go through the shift-swaps and solve any problems. This helps them to better manage their time, as opposed to replying to requests one at a time.
Shift-swaps can become difficult to manage manually when requests are constantly coming in. But what you’ll likely find is that those who swap shifts tend to do so regularly.
By tracking how often advisors swap shifts, you can identify the common culprits and open up a conversation with them.
Talk to the advisor about whether they are finding that their shift pattern is becoming difficult to stick to…
In this conversation, talk to the advisor about whether they are finding that their shift pattern is becoming difficult to stick to and, if there is an issue, try and find a workaround.
Such a workaround may be to change their shift pattern altogether, once a position becomes available that has a schedule that the advisor would prefer. This would help to boost the advisor’s satisfaction, while easing the workload of the shift-swap supervisor.
Be Open About the Difficulties of Shift-Swaps
While shift-swaps have many benefits, they can be disruptive and have a knock-on effect on other employees.
For instance, managers may be inconvenienced when a certain team member isn’t there for coaching or quality monitoring. Another example may be when an expert advisor swaps shifts, leaving a new recruit – who they are mentoring – in the dark.
Make sure the team are aware of these difficulties and how providing this extra flexibility does require time and resources. This will help advisors to reconsider shift-swap requests when they are not important.
Incentivize the Proper Use of Shift-Swaps
Too many shift-swaps can be hard to track and take up too much leadership time. It can therefore be a good idea to think about incentives for those people do not often swap shifts.
One idea is to allow team members to take a couple of shift-swaps each month, but to reward those that don’t take any.
Incentives can also be good when looking for someone to swap their shift for an unpopular one.
Give Clear Guidance
Setting clear processes for swapping shifts can help to eliminate frustrations down the road. You need to highlight every step that is involved and introduce this in training.
One step which is often forgotten, according to Craig Farley, Head of Consulting at IP Integration, is gaining confirmations.
“While it can be a little cumbersome, you need to ensure you’ve got confirmation from both people of exactly what they’re swapping and have this on record,” says Craig.
Putting reminders in continuous training materials for those who are already on the job is a good way to remind advisors of the proper process.
So What Are the Best Ways to Organize Shift-Swaps?
Here are four platforms that can be used to facilitate shift-swaps in the contact centre.
1. Old-Fashioned Email
Emails are professional, free and simple to use. Managers can neatly arrange shift-swap requests into a folder, while the format also allows for a mass sending of messages.
But having to send one email after another can really take up time. Also, keeping track of who is switching shifts with whom can become a real nightmare.
Keeping track of who is switching shifts with whom can become a real nightmare.
Not only that, if managers are not responding quickly to each email – which is understandable when juggling priorities – requests can be ignored for a long time. This can frustrate the team.
- It’s free and professional.
- Everyone has a company email.
- It is simple and easy to use.
- It’s not time effective.
- Tracking shift-swaps over time is difficult.
- Emails are often ignored for a while.
For insight into how to better use email, read our article: 10 Top Tips to Improve Email in the Call Centre
2. A WhatsApp Group
This is a great way for advisors to stay in touch with one another and – as you will have a wide pool of advisors within the group – someone can quickly put themselves forward for the swap. It is a first-come, first-serve scenario!
You might want to turn your notifications off!
Yet, as contact centre manager Richard Deacon warns, “You might want to turn your notifications off, unless you like sounding like the most popular person of all time!”
In big contact centres especially, these notifications may prove to be a distraction for many advisors and be hard to keep track of for managers.
- Accessible to advisors.
- Advisors can swap shifts quickly, at any time.
- It makes it easy to ask anyone for a shift-swap.
- Difficult to track shift-swaps.
- It can be a distraction.
- It can be irritating to see work messages during your time off.
3. An Online Community Group
Online community groups could be hosted on platforms like Slack, Yammer or Workplace from Facebook. OVO Energy use Google Currents.
As Katie Bunting, Senior Internal Communications Manager at OVO Energy, once told us, “It gives the team the opportunity to have the conversations that would have previously happened over email. So there is special space for shift-swaps, lost and found, information from HR etc.”
This helped OVO Energy to streamline their email communications while – as shift-swaps had a dedicated space – advisors were not being overwhelmed with unnecessary communication.
One downside of online communities for shift-swapping, however, is that in many contact centres, only advisors with the right skills take certain shift-swaps, so monitoring is required.
- It reduces unnecessary communication.
- Advisors can comment on posts asking for shift-swaps.
- The manager can oversee the swaps, without being the “middle man”.
- It needs monitoring.
- It could become just another communication tool.
- Governance of shift-swaps may become tricky.
For more ideas for how you can use an online community in the contact centre, read our article: How to Improve Internal Communication in the Contact Centre
4. A Workforce Management Tool
Workforce management (WFM) tools can automate much of the shift-swapping process for managers, meaning that they have more time, while advisors get immediate responses to their requests.
“The rules engines within WFM systems can allow swaps to take place with automatic approval, safe in the knowledge that service levels are being safeguarded,” says Richard Pinnington, Director of Strategic Channel Partnerships at Calabrio.
WFM tools also allow advisors to shift-swap from special apps on their smartphone or desktop.
However, the major drawback is that these tools come with a price tag and are much better suited to large contact centres than smaller ones – i.e. up to 50 advisors.
- It automates much of the process.
- It saves managers and advisors time.
- It can manage requests on a short time frame.
- It comes with a price tag!
- WFM tools are better suited to large teams.
For insight into choosing the right WFM tool for your contact centre, read our article: Beginner’s Guide to Workforce Management Software
For more on optimizing classic WFM processes in the contact centre, read our articles:
- Shift Planning – What You Need to Know to Best Engage Your Team
- Seasonal WFM – How to Prepare for Peaks and Troughs in Contact Volumes
- A Guide to Workforce Forecasting in the Contact Centre
Originally published in September 2013. Recently updated.