September 7, 2022

7 ways to improve schedule adherence

Brad Cleveland

Scoring agent productivity has never been easy. In fact, it’s often somewhat controversial. That’s because, no matter which way you slice it, support interactions aren’t always as straightforward as some attempts to measure them would suggest. 

When it comes to performance metrics, it’s easy to question:

  • Are these standards fair?
  • Are they truly within the agent’s control?
  • How do we account for luck of the draw—that is, the specific customers that come each agent’s way? (That last one can certainly make for some lively water cooler talk.)

In the past, I encountered many managers who equated productivity with the number of customers served. Simple enough, right? Well, not so fast. In a customer service environment—whether that’s a contact center, restaurant, retail store, or hospital emergency department—work shows up randomly from one moment to the next.

Those who deliver service have no control over customer arrival rate, the specific issues customers need help with, customers’ communication styles and abilities, or how accurate forecasts and schedules are. These are all factors that’ll affect how many customers service industry folks will even have a chance to help.

In manufacturing and production environments, judging productivity by the number of goods produced in a specified period of time is the norm—and that makes perfect sense. But given the random and unpredictable nature of customer service interactions, applying that same approach to customer service is misguided.

The same can be said for using average handling time or average time with customers as a productivity metric. This is especially true as self-service alternatives become more common, which means the customer interactions that agents are dealing with are inherently more complex.

By now you may be wondering—if we don’t assess productivity by the quantity of work or how long it takes to handle it, then what’s the alternative? The answer can be found in the two parts of the equation that truly matter: being in the right place at the right time (adherence to schedule) and doing the right things (quality). Together, they make a powerful pair.

The reality is that support teams operate in time-driven environments. You could have the most incredible knowledge and expertise, but it wouldn’t mean a thing if you weren’t there when customers need you the most.

You could have the most incredible knowledge and expertise, but it wouldn’t mean a thing if you weren’t there when customers need you the most.

Most contact centers that set goals around adherence keep track of the amount of time that agents are available. Many also consider the issue of timing. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to determining what specific activities are and are not subject to adherence. 

Whatever the case, establishing adherence guidelines and putting them into place should be a team effort—one that includes agents. At the end of the day, they are the ones who will be assessed by it.

Adherence averages should be determined individually and for agent groups as a whole. On an individual level, this will make it easier to identify which agents need specific coaching or training that isn’t relevant to the whole group. Collectively, it will reveal how good of a job management is doing at creating an environment where customers are satisfied and agents can thrive.

In order for adherence monitoring to be successful, it must be a constructive collaboration between agents and team leaders who have a good perspective on what’s happening within their groups. Strict mandates create an adversarial environment, forcing supervisors into acting as adherence police.

Here are seven actionable tips for creating a supportive culture and getting the best results:

  • Demonstrate the impact that each member of your team has on the queue.
  • Set goals for service levels and response times that everybody knows and understands.
  • Demystify resource planning so agents can see what goes into scheduling.
  • Clarify priorities within the broad range of tasks agents handle and prepare them for how to respond to real-time changes.
  • Don’t just provide agents with real-time service-level information—arm them with the knowledge of how to interpret it and respond.
  • Zoom in and manage schedule adherence on individual and team levels.
  • Reflect on your team’s adherence results and use them to assess the efficacy of existing processes.

Adherence to schedule is an important metric for success. But only when it’s carefully applied, collaboratively agreed upon, and supported by the right education on why it matters.

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