Our panel of experts share their workforce optimisation (WFO) best practices, highlighting key methods of improving your contact centre schedules.
1. Design Shifts Patterns That Suit Lifestyles
Schedules that don’t fit an advisor’s lifestyle, in terms of availability and preference, will cause high unplanned absence and contribute to low advisor satisfaction.
So, we need to find a way to match customer demand with shift patterns that advisors want to work. This needs to be the goal. Don’t design schedules for efficiency, design them so that people are happy to work them and work out the efficiency part after.
Don’t design schedules for efficiency, design them so that people are happy to work them and work out the efficiency part after.
Then, in recruitment, target people with the lifestyles you have designed your shifts for, thinking about offering shift-swaps, flexi-shifts and homeworking as well, to add flexibility.
Also, remember to think about things like what time the buses run. If an advisor’s working day finishes just after the last bus leaves, you will be irritating a number of advisors who would rather not drive.
2. Rethink Rotational Shifts
Does anyone live a rotational life? Not really. Nobody will have a lifestyle in which they are available in the mornings one week and in the afternoons in another.
Nobody will have a lifestyle in which they are available in the mornings one week and in the afternoons in another.
This will likely become an inconvenience for advisors who become more interested in job stability as time passes, and this system may become difficult for you to manage over time.
So, think carefully about your rotational shifts and also if you employ an annualised hours initiative.
While annualised hours can work well, it’s a system that needs to be monitored closely because of the unpredictable nature of contact volumes and advisors carrying over too many hours that they will never be able to reasonably pay back.
3. Simplify Shift-Swapping
When contact centres bring in shift-swaps, there often needs to be someone to manage the process, ensuring that the right skills are replaced with the right skills and that certain advisors aren’t working too often, risking burnout.
However, this management process can be rather overwhelming, which inhibits the success of many shift-swap programmes.
So, it may be best to create an online community where advisors can shift-swaps with one another. The manager can then cast their eyes over the group every once in a while, to ensure they are happy with each swap. This will help to remove the responsibility of having to give email confirmations.
Having a shift-swap capability in your WFM system would be another easy way to do this.
4. Offer 12 Flexi-Shifts a Year
When we visited the Vax contact centre in Droitwich we discovered that they had significantly reduced absenteeism and lateness by giving advisors twelve flexi-shifts a year.
Under this system, if an advisor knows they are running late, they can defer their shift by 90 minutes and simply add the missed time to the end of their shift.
While schedules normally seem too rigid to do this, the improvements in punctuality and attendance made WFM much more controllable, while it is a much easier scheme to implement than other traditional flexibility levers, such as banked hours.
Thanks to Charlie Mitchell at Call Centre Helper
Many of these insights came from a discussion that we recently had with Dougie Cameron, Director of addzest consulting
5. Get It Right From the Start
Take a closer look at your onboarding process. Are new joiners properly guided and nurtured from the beginning or are they left to sink or swim?
Use WFM to schedule in critical one-to-one time for agents, their managers and buddy mentors so they can quickly get to grips with team processes and new channels such as social media.
Allow them to try out technology in their own time and build confidence with listening and speech analytics to give positive feedback.
Make time to nurture new agents and they will thank you by sticking around in return.
Thanks to Peter Dempsey at Puzzel
6. Use a Workforce Optimisation System to Take Advisor Preferences Into Account
Engaging your workforce in this day and age can prove challenging. But being able to provide employees with schedules that enhance their work–life balance without affecting service levels will ultimately reduce attrition, overtime requirements and employee absence.
Being able to provide employees with schedules that enhance their work–life balance without affecting service levels will ultimately reduce attrition, overtime requirements and employee absence.
Many WFO systems allow agents to view their colleagues’ schedules to trade shifts for one or more days, based on a series of business rules.
These business rules are set up by the planning team with consideration for service levels, making sure that any changes made are not to their detriment, allowing agents to swap as few or as many shifts as they please.
7. Watch the News!
Keeping up to date on weather conditions, political or region-specific events that might affect the volume of calls/communications your contact centre receives is important to consider when creating schedules.
Why not put together an event calendar for the year? List all the events that will be happening, and once that’s done, sit down and decide which ones may affect your contact centre.
While some of these events may have little or no effect, some just might! As for the weather… well, no one can predict that with any real certainty!
Thanks to Neil Draycott at Business Systems
8. Automate Manual Scheduling Procedures
The challenge that many organisations face today is the sheer amount of manual work required to accommodate and adjust to employee demands and needs.
Advisors can trade shifts, swap with colleagues, earn voluntary time off, request unplanned time off, and work extra hours. This can all be monitored by preset rules to avoid any operational and service deficiencies, without creating additional work for supervisors or managers.
Additionally, with the ability to make changes through a cloud-based solution that is optimised for mobile and available anytime, anywhere, businesses can further increase their flexibility.
The trust that is created through this improved and agile process allows employees to balance their work schedule around their ever-changing personal lives.
Thanks to Rich Correia at NICE
9. Get Your Forecasting Right
If you’re not forecasting contact volumes accurately, you will either be overstaffing or understaffing. So you’ll be designing shift patterns and creating schedules in which advisors will be either overworked or underworked – negatively impacting both their job satisfaction and customer satisfaction.
To forecast, contact centres are mostly still using Excel spreadsheets and techniques like triple exponential smoothing, which can work well, put they tend to be less accurate than forecasts created with the help of a WFM system – especially if you have little data to work from.
So, to avoid advisor burnout and costly overstaffing, install WFM software to accurately forecast staffing requirements and automatically suggest shifts in accordance with the preferences of your workers.
Thanks to Colin Whelan at Aspect Software
10. Provide Instant Responses to Time-Off Requests
Advisors can feel a sense of dissatisfaction and frustration when there is a delayed response to requests for time off and schedule changes in the contact centre.
It may be hours or even days before the supervisor gets a chance to review the request, by which point the advisor has already lost the opportunity to partake in that great airline flash sale, for example, and now feels dissatisfied with their work–life balance.
Modern WFO technology can provide a mechanism for real-time response to requests using personalised schedules and rules-based automation. This allows contact centres to balance employee demands and organisational and customer requirements.
Managers can configure specific rules regarding time off and scheduling changes in the system, allowing employees to make requests with the assurance that what they ask for will be instantly approved.
Thanks to Lauren Comer at NICE inContact
11. Use AI-Based WFM Systems
Instead of relying on manual processes, contact centres can leverage automation to predict the best staffing schedules quickly and accurately.
The most advanced artificial intelligence (AI)-powered forecasting solutions available today have proven accuracy of 95–97%.
This is especially impressive considering that only 27.6% of contact centres can forecast to within a 5% accuracy, according to the Call Centre Helper poll above.
Certain WFM systems use AI models to produce schedules nearly 60 times faster than traditional methods. This enables planners to compare multiple schedules at once and make ad hoc changes whenever unexpected staffing changes come up.
Thanks to Cameron Smith at Genesys
For more from our panel of experts, read our articles: