What is Contact Center Workforce Management?
This guide will give you a good overview of what workforce management (WFM) in the contact center is. You can start reading below.
The goal of workforce management (WFM) is to optimize the deployment of the most valuable - and costly - resource in every contact center: the employees.
To quote Brad Cleveland:
“WFM is about having the right number of people in the right places at the right times, doing the right things.”
Why does WFM matter?
In contact centers, three opposing forces are in play:
- Exclusively focusing on the customer by always having plenty of agents to handle the contact volume is great for company reputation and may result in revenue growth, but could render the business unprofitable.
- Putting the agent first may make the company a great place to work, but if the customer experience is terrible and staffing costs are excessive, your contact center may be a place where nobody works in the long run.
- Well-run businesses are always looking for ways to optimize costs, but reducing staffing levels without regard to the customer experience or agent burnout is equally unsustainable.
WFM matters because it enables contact centers to optimize the balance between the three forces, simultaneously improving outcomes for the customer, the employees (or agents), and the business. If that sounds too good to be true, read on to learn how WFM performs this seemingly impossible balancing act.
How does WFM work?
WFM is a repeating process and that’s why it is often characterized as a cycle:
- It starts with forecasting, which accurately predicts future contact metrics such as volume and average handling time (AHT) using historical data and business intelligence that you add, such as upcoming marketing campaigns.
- The next step is staffing calculation, which determines the number of employees you will need to handle the forecast contacts to the desired service level.
- Scheduling is about creating shifts for employees which match supply and demand for staff as closely as possible, as often as possible. You must take into account skills, labor laws, employment contracts and other constraints.
- Agent engagement is about letting your employees interact with the planning process and feel more in control.
- Real-time management is about identifying where reality has deviated from plan, for example, an unexpected volume spike or unusually high sickness levels. It enables you to take swift and effective corrective action to defend your KPIs.
- Finally, reporting and analysis give you insights that will help you to constantly improve. For example, you can measure your shrinkage, which will feed into your staffing calculations next time round the cycle.
What impact does WFM have?
Here is what “the right number of people in the right places at the right times, doing the right things” looks like:
In both charts, the green line shows the demand-driven requirement for a single activity for a single day. That’s the number of agents required in each time interval to handle the volume of contacts (e.g. calls, chat messages, emails, etc.) in that interval. The horizontal bars show the shifts assigned to staff across the day.
In the first chart, it’s clear that we rarely have the right number of agents in the right places at the right times. There are periods in the morning and afternoon, highlighted in orange, when insufficient agents are scheduled. At those times, the customer experience suffers, the service level goal isn’t met and the employees get stressed. At other times, highlighted in red, there are too many agents on duty. This is a waste of the contact center’s budget.
The second chart shows what WFM does: supply and demand are much more closely aligned.
- Satisfied customers
- Happier employees
- Optimized business bottom line
Getting WFM right is definitely not a trivial task. Click on the chapter headings on the left to walk through the WFM cycle step by step, starting with Forecasting.
Rather talk than read? At injixo, we live, eat and breathe WFM. We don’t have any salespeople on commission. What we do have is a team of experts who are passionate about WFM and the transformation that it can bring about. If you’ve read enough about WFM to know that it’s worth investigating, why not arrange a call with us?
What is forecasting?
Contact center forecasting uses mathematics to calculate future workload for all relevant channels, e.g. calls, chat, email and social media, based on history. WFM is about having ‘the right number of people in the right places at the right times, doing the right things’ and forecasting is the first step in the process of determining ‘the right number of people’.
Sometimes, it simply isn’t possible to produce a forecast. Business process outsourcers (BPOs) are commonly provided by their clients with the forecast or the required staffing. In-house contact centers launching a new line of business will have no history with which to predict the future. Even in these cases, as soon as contact history begins to accumulate, the power of forecasting can be put to work.
Why does forecasting matter?
Forecasting is the foundation stone of workforce management. Without forecasting, it isn’t possible to balance the supply of staff with demand from customers, because the demand is unknown. If demand is unknown, it’s impossible to schedule the workforce efficiently.
How does forecasting work?
Forecasting can be broken down into 3 steps:
1. Collect and analyze historical data
The main input to the forecasting process is the number of contacts such as calls that arrived (or were “offered”) per interval (e.g. every 15, 30 or 60 minutes). Ideally, average handling time (AHT) will be subject to the same analysis. That’s because the number of staff needed to handle the workload is a function of both volume and AHT, and AHT typically varies over time. In many contact centers, handling times are longer in the evening than during the day, for example.
Long-term and short-term forecasting are both important. The more history that is available, the better you can detect seasonal patterns and special events in the data. It is important to collect data in short intervals like 15 minutes. That’s because the goal is to match supply and demand across each working day, observing the peaks and troughs and avoid under- and over- staffing. That isn’t possible If you only consider the total volume per day.
Typically, the data comes from your contact routing system, e.g. the automatic call distributor (ACD) that routes incoming calls to agents. You are dealing with huge volumes of data, so an automated integration with the ACD will save a lot of time and reduce the scope for errors.
Good forecasting practice includes analyzing the data to find anomalies such as gaps in history and one-off spikes in volume. These don’t belong in the forecast and must be removed. You should however keep a note of exceptions that you know will recur in future, such as billing runs, advertising campaigns, and public holidays. We’ll come back to that in step 3, below.
2. Predict future volume and AHT
Once you have a clean set of data, you are ready to generate your forecast down to interval level.
Multiple forecasting methods (or algorithms) exist, including:
- Moving weighted averages
- Triple exponential smoothing
- Auto-regressive integrated moving average
- Neural networks
- Multiple temporal aggregation
For the simpler algorithms, it’s possible to do forecasting with a spreadsheet. The more powerful algorithms require a professional WFM application. injixo, for example, deploys multiple algorithms and uses artificial intelligence to constantly select and configure the algorithm that gives the best results with your data.
3. Apply business intelligence
Human intelligence is at least as important as artificial intelligence when it comes to forecast accuracy. No contact center experiences the same volume and pattern of calls 365 days a year, and frequently the planner will be aware of upcoming events that didn’t occur in the past. You have to deal with:
- Marketing campaigns and promotions
- Operational changes (e.g. billing, logistics, sales)
- Organizational crises (e.g. bad PR, competitive pressure)
- Corporate strategy and tactics (e.g. market development and expansion, new product launches, price changes, changes in customer base)
- Public holidays, some of which don’t happen on fixed dates
- Natural events (e.g. weather)
The impact of these exceptions must be factored into the forecast. This will be a manual process if you are using a spreadsheet, but if you are using a WFM application there should be a forecast calendar feature. Some of these drivers will have been revealed during the analysis in step 1. The rest need constant vigilance and good collaboration with colleagues in departments such as marketing. As with any process with a human element, there are several pitfalls to avoid.
What impact does forecasting have?
Forecasting opens the door to the rest of the WFM process. It’s only when the forecast is in place that you can calculate the number of heads needed in each time interval and schedule your agents accordingly. Without forecasting, scheduling is reduced to simple rostering, without regard to the underlying demand.
No forecast is ever completely accurate and that’s why the workforce management process includes real-time management. Without a good forecast, ideally, one that is updated continuously as new data becomes available, the job of real-time management is considerably harder. Instead of taking infrequent, considered corrective actions, planners are constantly fire-fighting.
What is staffing calculation?
Staffing calculation is the process of determining the number of staff needed to handle a forecast workload to a given grade of service. For example, when provided with a forecast volume and average handling time of sales calls for next month in 15-minute intervals, workforce planners need to calculate the number of agents required in each 15-minute interval to answer 80% of calls within 20 seconds.
Why does staffing calculation matter?
The result of the staffing calculation is the staffing requirement at interval level. This is the input to the scheduling process and without it, schedule optimization isn’t possible. Effective real-time management is difficult if you can’t compare actual staffing with required staffing. Staffing calculation is also used as part of the long-term capacity planning process, informing the contact center’s training and hiring programs, along with growth plans and estimated attrition rates.
How does staffing calculation work?
Modern contact centers handle customer interaction via multiple channels: phone, web chat, email, etc. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all method of staffing calculation. The best-known method is Erlang, named after the Danish mathematician who invented it. Erlang is proven for inbound calls, but it’s no use for web-chat, because it doesn’t take into account the fact that agents can typically handle more than one chat at a time. It’s no good for emails either, because emails don’t hang up and the goal is typically to handle them in a timescale measured in hours not seconds.
There is a different calculation method for each contact channel:
- Inbound calls: Erlang. There is a family of Erlang methods, but Erlang C is most commonly used in contact centers. Erlang C takes into account the expected volume of calls, the expected average handling time and the desired service level (SL). Some WFM applications enable grade of service to be expressed as average speed of answer (ASA) or abandonment rate (ABR) as well as SL.
- Web chats: Staffing is calculated using a derivative of the Erlang C method but adapted to take into account concurrency and context-switching overhead.
- Email, back office, social media: A linear calculation is used, based on completing the number of contacts within a given time frame, taking into account the AHT.
- Outbound calls: Such calls are made at the discretion of the contact center, not the customer, and multiple approaches are possible. The simplest method is a constant requirement, based on the number of agents the planner wishes to schedule. A linear calculation based on the number of contacts in the campaign and the desired timescale can also be used. Some WFM applications provide a proprietary calculation that takes into account parameters such as right- and wrong-party connect rates.
- Non-demand: Sometimes, the planner needs to create a constant staffing requirement across opening hours, without an underlying forecast. This can happen when launching a completely new service, or for activities with such a low or volatile number of contacts that it is impractical to try to forecast, but the need for a certain number of agents is known. This is sometimes the case with social media, during the early stages of handling that channel.
Agents with more than one skill will naturally spend less time waiting for a contact they are qualified to handle. The occupancy and utilization of multi-skilled agents will therefore tend to be higher than that of single-skilled agents. This in turn means that the greater the extent of multi-skilling, the fewer agents are required to handle the workload. This effect is known as ‘pooling efficiency’. Modeling this pooling efficiency in the forecasting, staffing and scheduling process is complex and requires algorithms that are only available in powerful WFM applications such as injixo.
Shrinkage is the percentage of paid time that agents are not available to handle contacts. This includes unproductive at-work activities such as breaks, meetings, training sessions and 1:1s, plus out-of-office time for vacations, sickness, lateness, and other unexplained absences. 30% shrinkage means that each agent contributes the effort of 70% of one full-time equivalent. That means that the staffing requirement must be inflated by (1 / 0.7 = +43%) to counteract the effect of shrinkage.
What impact does staffing calculation have?
WFM is all about matching the ‘supply’ of agents with ‘demand’ for agents. Staffing calculation tells us the exact demand, down to interval level. Armed with this information, the planner can tackle the next stage in the WFM cycle: scheduling.
What is scheduling?
WFM is about having the right number of people in the right places at the right times, doing the right things. Scheduling is the part of the WFM cycle where agents are assigned to shifts and tasks so that workload fit is maximized.
Why does scheduling matter?
In a perfect world, the supply of agents always matches the demand for agents. There would always be exactly the right number of people needed to service customers within the desired service level. Schedule efficiency, also known as ‘workload fit’, is a measure of the extent to which the ‘supply’ of agents matches the ‘demand’ for agents. The goal is perfect coverage, i.e. zero under-staffing and zero over-staffing at all times.
The unfortunate fact is that unless you schedule your agents properly, you’ll be over- or under- staffed most of the time. Forecasting and staffing calculation are important, but if you don’t schedule agents to match the calculated demand, all your effort so far was wasted.
How does scheduling work?
- Rostering: The process of creating schedules for employees without regard for the underlying staffing demand.
- Rotas: A rota is a repeating pattern of shifts, typically used to rotate working hours so that each employee is asked to work an equal number of ‘popular’ and ‘unpopular’ shifts. For example, in a business which is open from 8am to 10pm, an employee may have a rota consisting of 8am to 4pm in week one, 11am to 7pm in week two and 2pm to 10pm in week three, repeating from week four onwards.
- Optimized scheduling: A scheduling method that aims to consistently minimize under- and over-staffing by matching the number of scheduled agents with the number of agents required, as closely as possible. This entails selecting the optimum start times, finish times and (optionally) break times, for all employees. Optimized scheduling maximizes schedule efficiency. It enables the consistent achievement of service level goals, while also minimizing employment costs and avoiding agent stress and burnout.
Optimized scheduling: the challenge
Schedule optimization is not a trivial task. Let’s look at some scenarios.
Scenario 1 (simplified)
- Scheduling 25 employees for 5 days
- 1 activity
- Possible starting times for employees: 8:00, 9:00 or 10:00
- With shifts of equal duration
That is 325 or about 847 billion possible schedules. That’s about 100 times the size of the Earth’s entire population. Or twice the number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy.
Scenario 2 (enhanced flexibility)
- Scheduling 25 employees for 5 days
- 1 activity
- Possible starting times for employees: Between 8:00 and 10:00 in 15-minute intervals
- Employees can work 4, 5, 6, 7 or 8 hours
That is 4525 possible schedules, i.e. a number with 41 digits. For comparison, the number of atoms in a typical human body has 27 digits.
Scenario 3 (realistic)
- Scheduling 100 employees for 5 days
- 10 different activities (including breaks)
- Starting times for employees are at 15-minute intervals between 8:00 and 16:00
- The length of shifts varies between 4 and 8 hours in 15-minute intervals
- Each employee can perform 5 different activities per day
That is 33,126,489100 possible schedules. That’s an almost unimaginably large ‘solution space’ and finding the optimum is like finding a ‘needle in a haystack’. But the challenge doesn’t end there.
To build a viable schedule, planners need to take into consideration all the relevant constraints, including:
- The working times specified in agents’ employment contracts
- Labor laws, e.g. minimum time off between shifts, maximum working hours
- Agent availability or preferences - if this is part of your agent engagement strategy - see Employee Engagement
- Agents must be scheduled for activities for which they have the necessary skills. Multi-skilled agents may be scheduled to perform different activities at different times; this is known as ‘block scheduling’. Alternatively, agents may be scheduled on a blended basis, as described below
It is possible to allow agents to state their preferences or ‘bid’ for shifts by breaking down the process of optimized scheduling into four steps:
- Create schedules that are aligned with demand but are not yet assigned to agents.
- Give agents the opportunity to state their preferences within the offered shifts, or ‘bid’ for shifts
- Allocate agents to shifts, respecting their bids as far as possible
- Allocate the remaining shifts to agents, while respecting the constraints
The goal of shift bidding is to combine optimization with agent engagement. It does however have some downsides. It requires much more effort by the planner. Three-stage optimization typically results in slightly inferior workload fit to that which one-stage optimization achieves. Agents need to be educated about how the bidding process works, to avoid the perception of lack of fairness. For example, if 10 agents bid for an attractive shift of which 5 are available, how are the ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ selected? Realistically, shift bidding is not possible without professional WFM software.
Multi-skill blended scheduling
As explained in multi-skill staffing calculation, employees with more than one skill will naturally spend less time waiting for work that they are qualified to handle. The greater the extent of multi-skilling, the fewer employees are required to handle the workload. This effect is known as ‘pooling efficiency. To unlock the pooling efficiency of multi-skilled agents in a contact center, three components are required:
- A communications platform that routes contacts to agents in real-time according to specified rules. A typical automatic call distributor (ACD) is configured to route each incoming call to the available agent with the required skill who has been idle longest
- Blended schedules, in which agents are scheduled to be present to handle any contact for which they have the necessary skills
- A scheduling method that generates optimized schedules, taking into account all the constraints and the multi-skill pooling efficiency. This is extremely complex and requires algorithms that are only available in powerful WFM applications
Breaks, lunches, and meetings
It is good practice to schedule breaks during the working day. Letting agents choose their own break times is empowering, but it does have potential drawbacks. If every agent went on break at the same time, service level and customer experience would be terrible.
Introducing optimized break and lunch times has a significant positive impact on workload fit, even in contact centers where agents are working on fixed rosters or simple rotas. By the same token, workload fit benefits from the optimized scheduling of meetings, training sessions, and 1:1s.
In a perfect world, every agent would be fully multi-skilled and be willing to work any shift assigned to them. In the real world, staff turnover means that universal multi-skilling can never be achieved. And it’s rare to find a contact center with no agents working on legacy fixed-hours contracts. The good news is that even if just a subset of your employees can be optimized, there will be a disproportionate improvement in efficiency. Employing a ‘mix and match’ of fixed shifts, rotas and optimized scheduling is a smart and practical move.
What impact does scheduling have?
Scheduling is where most of the magic of WFM happens: It’s the part of the WFM cycle where agents are assigned to shifts and tasks so that the right number of people are in the right places at the right times, doing the right things. Scheduling is not a trivial task. The number of permutations and the complexity of the constraints mean that building optimized schedules is practically impossible without professional software. But without effective and efficient scheduling, the goals of WFM cannot be achieved.
What is agent engagement?
Agent engagement is the process of involving agents in the efficient operation of the contact center, in particular with the WFM process. Done properly, agent engagement creates a win-win culture and reduces staff turnover. It is about giving agents visibility of their shifts and some control over their working times in return for working shifts that are optimized around customer demand and adhering to their schedules.
Why does agent engagement matter?
The most valuable - and costly - resource in your contact center is not the technology, it’s the people. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a rising trend but human agents will not be eliminated from contact centers anytime soon, if ever. Agents who are disengaged will be demotivated and deliver a poor customer experience. They are more likely to have high levels of absenteeism. It’s more probable that they will leave the company, and staff turnover is both disruptive and costly. According to The Society of Workforce Planning Professionals, it costs between $10,000 and $20,000 to replace a typical agent.
How does agent engagement work?
Agent engagement requires a genuine dialog between the agent, management, and the planning team. WFM software acts as an enabler for engagement by providing a range of self-service functions. For example:
- Calendar: Visibility of the agent’s schedules, ideally for several weeks into the future. This predictability is a must-have for good work-life balance.
- Team calendar: Visibility of the schedules of the agent’s team. This helps agents collaborate with colleagues who have expertise in particular areas. And maybe to join them for lunch.
- Shift swaps: The ability to swaps shifts with colleagues, ideally with rapid or automatic approval. This boosts work-life balance for the agent and if proper controls are in place, there is no negative impact for the company.
- Time off: The ability to book time off, ideally with rapid or automatic approval. Agents are often more interested in the days when they are not working than the days they are working. Agents love being able to check vacation balances and make time-off requests on a self-service basis. Time off requests are typically handled as part of the real-time management process.
- Shift bidding: Agents feel more in control of their working lives if they can state their preferences among multiple alternative shifts rather than being presented with shifts without consultation. Shift bidding can boost agent satisfaction, but obviously has implications for the scheduling process.
- Availability preferences: Agents can apply constraints on the hours they will be scheduled to work, for example, to cover a recurring medical appointment or education session. This creates extra administration work for the planning team in validating the requests and in negotiation with the agents and their team leaders.
- Notifications: Agents should receive reminders about upcoming activities, which help them to adhere to their schedules. If the schedules are integrated into the agents’ own calendars, they will receive reminders in the same way they get reminders of personal events, on their mobile devices.
Agent engagement tips
- Each of the self-service features boosts employee engagement but it isn’t necessary to implement all of them.
- The planning team should not introduce an agent self-service function before coming to agreement with all the stakeholders, e.g. contact center management, team leaders, and HR.
- Several of the self-service features have negative consequences for schedule efficiency (workload fit) and some of them require additional effort by the planner. Choosing which to implement requires careful balancing of cost and benefit.
- Realistically, none of the options is viable without a professional WFM application.
Websites versus smartphone apps
Realistically, agent self-service requires software. Typically that means either a website, accessed with a browser, or a smartphone app. There is an app for everything nowadays, but a mobile-friendly web page can provide a similar user experience to an app without agents needing to install and keep updated yet another app on their smartphones.
Engagement versus empowerment
Engagement is not the same thing as empowerment. Empowerment is about giving agents access to the information they need to do a great job - and the autonomy to help customers without having to escalate every non-standard query to management. Both engagement and empowerment are essential to having a satisfied, productive and loyal workforce.
What impact does agent engagement have?
To quote a Tweet by the founder of Virgin Group, Richard Branson:
“If you look after your staff well, they will look after your customers. Simple.”
The reverse is also true. Deploying best practice in agent engagement is an integral part of looking after staff. The result is happy employees and happy customers. It’s also good for the company, since agent engagement reduces costly staff turnover and has the potential to increase revenue.
What is real-time management?
Contact center Real-time management, sometimes called ‘intraday management, is the process of monitoring how actual performance compares on the day with planned performance, then taking swift corrective action.
Why does real-time management matter?
Even if you’ve invested enormous effort in building accurate forecasts and efficient schedules, one thing is for sure: It won’t go 100% according to plan when the day arrives. “No plan survives contact with the enemy” is a military axiom that could have been coined for contact center planning.
How does real-time management work?
Intraday managers are responsible for monitoring key performance indicators (KPIs) on the day. They then take appropriate action when one or more KPIs deviate from the target by more than a threshold value. They are also typically responsible for managing ‘shrinkage events’ such as time off and meetings in order to minimize the impact of these events on KPI achievement.
The following KPIs are typically monitored:
- Forecast accuracy (i.e. by what amount actual volume and AHT deviate from the forecast)
- Customer experience metrics (e.g. service level, average speed of answer, abandonment rate or response time)
- Waiting time metrics (e.g. the number of calls in queue and measures of whether this is increasing or decreasing over time)
- Coverage (i.e. by what amount the operation is under or over staffed compared to plan. Understaffing is typically the result of agent absence due to sickness or other shrinkage events)
- Agent schedule adherence (i.e. the extent to which agents are complying with their schedules)
If KPIs are above target and more agents are present than are required to handle the workload, possible intraday corrective actions include:
- Offer to temporarily allocate under-utilized agents to other departments of the company and reschedule them as necessary
- Schedule training and development. On-demand e-learning is perfect for this
- Offer time off on short notice
If KPIs are below target and the service goals are not being met, possible intraday corrective actions include:
- Request backup staff from other departments of the company.
- Temporarily suspend cross-selling or up-selling to reduce AHT
- Reschedule training and other controllable shrinkage
- Ask team leaders and managers to log in as agents
- Extend existing shifts by offering overtime. Overtime has a bad reputation but is not necessarily a bad thing
Agent schedule adherence
Managing agent schedule adherence is a vital component of real-time management If agents show up late, spend too long on breaks, perform the wrong activities at the wrong times, or go home early, all the other KPIs will suffer.
Adherence is just as important during periods of over-performance as it is during periods of under-performance. Agents who at first glance appear to be over-delivering can damage performance, too. Consider an agent who delayed their break to finish an important call. They went on break 15 minutes late and returned 15 minutes late. During that 15 minute period, as forecast, volume was high and because one agent was missing, the service level goal was missed. This effect is called the power of one. Of course, it’s a bad idea for agents to cut short customer contacts to take a break at exactly the correct time, but it is important that agents have a clear understanding of the consequences of their absence, even for a short period of time.
The good news is that, unlike the other challenges faced by the intraday management team, adherence can be controlled. It requires suitable tools, fed with data in real-time, but improving adherence is one of the most powerful tools in the real-time manager’s toolkit.
Proactive versus reactive real-time management
Real-time management should not be confused with firefighting. It should not be characterized by panic or chaos. Well-managed contact centers have a planning culture, not a reactive culture, and this applies to real-time management as much as it applies to the other parts of the WFM cycle.
An effective real-time manager has a well-defined plan covering:
- The thresholds for KPIs, beyond which action is triggered
- A pre-agreed escalation plan
- The list of corrective actions that will be taken, in priority order
- How changes will be communicated to agents and managers
- Action that will be taken afterward, e.g. finding the root cause of the incident and implementing changes to prevent it from happening again
What impact does real-time management have?
In the real world, plan and reality rarely coincide. That doesn’t mean that you have to panic every time an unexpected spike of calls arrives or every time multiple agents call in sick. Real-time management enables the contact center to react swiftly and effectively in the face of challenges like these so that KPI goals are reached even when the unexpected happens. Without real-time management, all the effort spent on forecasting, staffing calculation, and scheduling may be wasted.
Reporting & analysis
What is reporting & analysis?
In order to continuously improve, contact centers need to analyze performance at the end of each WFM cycle and provide reports to contact center leadership. Outsourcing centers are usually contractually required to provide reports to their clients.
Why does reporting & analysis matter?
Even when you forecast accurately, schedule efficiently, and do a great job of real-time management, things can still go wrong. Planners learn from failure as much as from success, so it’s important to analyze the results, perform a root cause analysis, and put in place the changes needed to improve performance in the next cycle. Plus, reports are really useful to team leaders during appraisals and 1:1s with their agents.
How does reporting & analysis work?
Data is available from various sources, e.g.
- The tool used for WFM, e.g. a spreadsheet or WFM application
- The ACD or other contact routing platform
- The CRM system
The data is typically consolidated using a business intelligence tool or a spreadsheet. The goal is to automate the collection of the data and then apply templates to create reports which are required on a regular basis.
The KPIs that are usually analyzed and reported on are similar to those tracked in real-time management but with a different time frame applied. In real-time management, planners aim to detect deviations from plan in time to take corrective action on the day. Reporting takes a longer perspective, typically the length of the planning cycle, for example, one month.
- Forecast accuracy, i.e. how closely the forecast values for volume and AHT matched reality.
- Schedule efficiency, including coverage (i.e. under/overstaffing), occupancy and utilization
- Operational effectiveness, including customer experience metrics such as service level, waiting time metrics (e.g. number of calls in the queue), shrinkage by type (e.g. sickness, lateness) and agent schedule adherence
- Employee satisfaction with WFM, typically part of an employee survey
Reporting and analysis are typically performed at the end of each planning cycle. The key steps are:
- Report on how performance compared to target over the entire period.
- Identify root causes where performance goals are not met. For example, if the number of calls significantly exceeded forecast on a given day, find why that happened. Did the marketing department run a campaign but omit to tell the planning team so that business intelligence could be included in the forecast?
- Propose changes that eliminate the causes of failure next time around. Continuing the marketing example, the planner might propose a regular meeting with marketing to ensure shared visibility of upcoming campaigns. If the problem is insufficient staffing, there may be a case for hiring. In each case, the justification for the change should be clearly demonstrated by the analysis.
Reporting & analysis tips
- When calculating performance over a period of weeks, it is important to use proper calculations. For example, avoid taking ‘averages of averages’ and use weighted averages instead.
- ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ and charts have an important role to play in reporting. Be mindful of the impact of data visualization and learn how to tell a convincing story with your data.
What impact does reporting & analysis have?
By analyzing performance, doing root cause analysis, and learning lessons from each iteration, planning performance steadily improves over time. The forecast becomes more accurate, the staffing requirement always includes the right shrinkage, the schedule efficiency is higher, the agent schedule adherence is better, and so on. And sound analysis means that any changes to the contact center can be made on a data-driven basis, not based on hunches.
The value of reporting and analysis can be summed up with the axiom “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”. This principle has been attributed both to Peter F Drucker (the well-respected management thinker) and W Edwards Deming (the father of total quality management). Contact center planners are in the fortunate position of having ready access to data that is both available and useful.