Is workforce management really necessary for call centers?
The short answer is yes, but if you’re currently swimming in a sea of workforce management softwares, or looking for ways to make your call center processes more efficient, it might seem overwhelming. However, if you want to:
- improve the cost-effectiveness of your call center
- raise your service levels effectively
- improve CSAT and provide better customer experiences
- understand staffing needs to manage demand and call volume
- improve employee retention and satisfaction
…then you need workforce management.
But first, what exactly is workforce management (WFM)?
Workforce management is a series of processes that enable your organization to optimize operational efficiency by accurately forecasting call volume to schedule the right number of agents at the right time. It also takes into account the skill sets of different agents to better optimize staffing, and forecasts future needs so call center teams can adequately train current and future agents to effortlessly meet demand and maintain quality.
In short, workforce management has five key aspects:
- workforce planning
- forecasting and scheduling
- real-time management
- performance management
- analytics and reporting
In this article, we’ll break down each of these five aspects and how to effectively implement them for WFM success.
Workforce planning is the first step of WFM, and it encompasses both forecasting and scheduling as well as hiring, training and other planning.
Forecasting and scheduling, which we’ll discuss in more depth below, involves estimating both the call volume and the appropriate number of staff needed for each call period. The appropriate number of staff and shifts are typically based on that forecasted call volume. WFM software will help you forecast and schedule more accurately—in fact, many WFM software tools can help you calculate this for up to one year in advance, given the right data!
Once you know what workforce you need, you need to ensure you actually have that workforce. As such, workforce planning involves both understanding both your current team and their abilities, and what gaps exist in your workforce.
For example, your forecasting may highlight an upcoming period of exceptionally high demand, alerting you to the need to scale up your team. Understanding this in advance gives you time to scale or outsource to meet demand without compromising service levels. You also might have a new product launch coming up in six months. Workforce planning would help you understand what the likely call volume will be for that period so you can train and schedule the appropriate number of agents to field calls about the new product.
Forecasting and Scheduling
Forecasting allows you to analyze historical data and patterns in call volume to create predictive analytics for the future. Typically, this is done for distinct time ranges—for example, you might use historical data from sale periods, holidays, and general summer months to forecast the call data for this upcoming June.
Creating accurate forecasts is the first step in scheduling—once you have a reasonable forecast of call hours and volume, you can work on scheduling. You’ll need to find:
- the appropriate number and length of shifts for each period
- the appropriate number of agents needed for each shift
- and the right agents for each shift.
As you consider shifts and agent hours, you’ll also want to ensure you factor in “non-call” work such as after-call processing, training and coaching, breaks, time off and other responsibilities that add to agents’ weekly or daily time.
Finding the right agents is typically the most difficult step, as you’ll need to factor in expertise, shift preferences, seniority, time off, performance, hourly rates, and so on. You don’t want to schedule your newest agents during your busiest periods, for example. But you also don’t want to schedule all of your most experienced agents for the slowest periods, even if those are their preferred working hours.
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Workforce management software can help you achieve a balance between staff productivity and preferences and business needs, while ensuring that your call center gets adequately staffed and avoiding overworking your agents.
Using forecasting and anticipated call patterns and concerns to schedule staff provides many benefits for call centers, including:
- improved service levels and KPIs
- increased customer satisfaction
- adequate staffing levels to avoid overwork and burnout, thus improving employee satisfaction and retention
- improving cost efficiency by avoiding scheduling too many agents during slower periods
After all, the more accurate your forecasting and scheduling are, the less “downtime” you have among agents and the further your budget stretches. Also, by scheduling the right agents at the right times, you’re able to provide better service and offer enough agents to effectively meet customer needs, even if the question is complex or the call center is busy.
Even with the best planning, it’s rare that everything always goes according to plan. Real-time management involves adjusting to needs in real-time, and involves both predictive planning—how will you plan ahead to be able to adequately adjust as needed?—and real-time implementation—what are the procedures for when what you’ve planned for doesn’t work?
Call center volume can spike or diminish rapidly based on:
- unplanned outages
- severe weather or phone lines being down
- sudden product recalls
- press coverage or relevant current events
In addition, unexpected changes to staffing and scheduling can occur due to illnesses, transportation dilemmas such as train strikes, severe weather and so on.
By anticipating the unexpected in your WFM planning and scheduling, you can ensure service levels are met even when someone calls out sick or has a car break down. This is a key area where WFM software can really support your team. With WFM software, you can monitor call volume and performance in real time and understand when and where call backlogs are happening to act accordingly.
Call routing and queue management software are also essential to optimize wait times and improve speed of answer and FCR. By automatically routing customers to departments or agents who are most suited to handle their calls, you can improve customer experiences and optimize scheduling and staffing.
It’s also necessary to prepare for and implement SOP for less frequent, but more disruptive situations like unplanned outages or severe weather. By creating and implementing agreed-upon processes, you can reduce negative effects on revenue, customer satisfaction and service.
Performance management ensures that agents are:
- making good use of their shift and working efficiently
- using downtime effectively
- adhering to agreed-upon schedules and processes
- maintaining quality and service levels
Without performance management, all your carefully forecasted schedules and processes can easily slip away. Performance management also ensures that your customers are getting the highest quality service on every call. You don’t want agents rushing through calls without really completing the customers’ requests, nor do you want them taking calls too slowly. You should also have SOP for how agents can maximize downtime, either through training, coaching, reporting or some other function, so that slower periods are still creating business value.
Like the planning, scheduling and forecasting functions, this is more about the behind-the-scenes of making sure your call center workforce functions optimally. However, performance management also deals with optimal functioning from the customer’s perspective as well.
Typically, this involves a standardized quality assurance (QA) process so that agents know exactly what the quality standards are and how to meet them. In addition, tracking key metrics or KPIs like First Contact Resolution, Average Handle Time, CSAT and so on can help monitor performance. Of course, just measuring results won’t create better performance—agents also need regular reviews, coaching and ongoing training as well. According to recent surveys, some 62% of call center agents say that more skills-based training would help improve performance, highlighting the need for (and rarity of) specialized and ongoing training.
All of this will improve and optimize your workforce by making your agents more efficient and effective in their work: a key part of workforce management. WFM isn’t just about filling seats and getting calls answered, it’s about creating the best workforce possible to serve your customers.
Reporting and Analytics
Finally, like all call center processes, analyzing—and improving—your workforce management will help you increase efficiency and strengthen results.
The best WFM software allows you to do much of this automatically. From tracking call volume, time spent on customer interactions, staffing levels and more, you can improve the accuracy of your future forecasts. WFM software should also provide you with the capability to track agent stats as well, so you can understand agent productivity, efficiency, downtime and service levels.
Of course, simply tracking these metrics and analytics isn’t enough—you also need to take action on what you find to create improvements. Do agents need more training? Are your forecasting models accurate? Analyzing and actioning the data you uncover in your reports is what really allows your team to minimize wasted time, give agents better feedback and training, and improve your WFM in the future.
With better answering times, improved FCR, improved staffing levels and stronger agent performance, workforce management can improve customer satisfaction and develop stronger brand loyalty among your customers. But customers aren’t the only ones who win—you also improve employee satisfaction and retention. WFM helps balance employee workloads, ensuring you’re not understaffed or overstaffed, and aids in implementing SOPs for handling unexpected rushes or events, preventing burnout and supporting employees.
And of course, happier employees offer better service, which again improves customer satisfaction. All of this will ultimately positively impact the bottom line and make your business more profitable.
So, how do you get started?
If you’re struggling with WFM, outsourcing can help you get on top of your workforce management needs quickly. Outsourcing some, or all, of your workforce management can help you:
- improve forecasting and scheduling abilities
- increase your data analytics and reporting
- take action on internal data and KPIs to improve service levels
- develop stronger real-time management capabilities and procedures
- strengthen agent training and performance management
Of course, outsourcing your call center entirely to a great provider will net you all of the above benefits automatically. Experienced call center providers, like Global Response, will use workforce management tools and software to improve their workforce and your results.
Whether you need an outsourced team, or just want help implementing effective WFM strategies, Global Response is here to help you meet your goals. Connect with an agent from Global Response today and see how we can help support your organization.