The very forces that are making scheduling difficult — more complex products and services, additional contact channels, faster pace of change, and the need for diverse agent skills — are creating an environment in which accurate scheduling is absolutely essential. Fortunately, scheduling is a process that can be learned and continuously improved. You get better at it with practice!
We’ve found that organizations getting the best scheduling results commonly take steps beyond the mechanics of calculating required staff and putting schedules together. Here are five of their secrets.
1. Clarify Your Organization’s Values. This involves a dialog and set of decisions with the organization’s senior-level management around key questions, which might include the following: What is the contact center’s mission? How committed are you to providing good service even when the forecasts may be uncertain? What are your priorities — which activities get done first? What alternatives exist to maintain consistent service levels, from scheduling options to backup from other departments or outside help? Be ready for these discussions; they are opportunities to clarify direction and make a case for the resources and support that the contact center requires.
2. Model Different Scenarios. Modeling, or periodically creating test schedules with different sets of variables, can be a real eye-opener for possibilities and solutions. What’s the impact of changing call-routing alternatives? Agent group structure? Schedule horizon? Training and meeting schedules? Shifts? While modeling takes time — you’re basically having a person or team produce example schedules under different parameters — you’ll get this investment back in multiples in the form of better decisions that come from an understanding of tradeoffs and points of leverage. (Scheduling software can be a big help in this effort, particularly in larger or more complex centers.)
3. Ensure that All Activities Are Included. Too often, contact centers have extra work outside of the schedule that is unaccounted for but that exacts a heavy price in psychological weight and creates fires when it’s ignored for too long (e.g., unfinished projects, administrative work, reading updates, coaching sessions, and case work). Take an inventory of activities that is as comprehensive and specific as possible.
4. Resolve the “Power Struggles.” If power struggle sounds a bit dramatic, you ought to see some of the challenges those in forecasting and scheduling roles have encountered: requests from other areas preempting schedules, unplanned marketing campaigns, unannounced schedule exceptions among agent teams, and unclear lines of authority between supervisors and workforce planners. These challenges are not insurmountable — unless they go unaddressed. (Educating supervisors and agents on the basics of forecasting and scheduling is an important part of the solution!)
5. Ensure that the Process Is Simple, Flexible and Inclusive. Effective scheduling will always involve a certain amount of trial and error. It’s important to keep your routing contingencies simple enough to manage, and get people involved in helping to identify scheduling possibilities and solutions. Education on the implications of service level, quality and the impact of each person is essential.
Excerpt from Call Center Management on Fast Forward by Brad Cleveland.