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Schedule adherence and schedule conformance are two terms that often come up in scheduling, but in different contexts. What do they each measure and what's the difference?
When thinking about the efficiency of your scheduling, schedule adherence and schedule conformance are two terms that often come up, but in different contexts. Adherence metrics help teams identify coaching opportunities for any activities taking longer than they should and feed into more realistic operational calculations and intra-day scheduling changes. Conformance metrics help workforce managers test their own assumptions and ensure that you can meet your Service Levels with the existing workforce.
Schedule adherence is the amount of agent time actually spent in accordance with their scheduled tasks as a proportion of their total scheduled time. Schedule conformance is the amount of agent time actually spent working as a proportion of their total time scheduled to work, regardless of their adherence. In short, adherence refers to how closely an agent follows their total schedule, including non-productive time, while conformance refers to how much working time an agent completes versus their expectation, regardless of when they get it done.
With the growth and acceleration of distributed work, these metrics are more important now than ever. Without the day-to-day insight that comes with working in the same office, teams are often flying blind in terms of productivity or making up processes on the fly to account for it. Keeping track of these metrics in a transparent way helps agents plan their own schedules more realistically and identify the areas where they are getting stuck without a “big brother” feel.
Maintaining high schedule adherence is important because it allows managers and team leads to be confident of staffing levels throughout the day. It also allows managers to discover coaching opportunities when there are gaps in adherence. For example, we sometimes see agents forget to take much-needed breaks when things get busy.
- Example: An agent is scheduled for 480 minutes (8 hours) on a given day. This includes working time, breaks, meetings and meals. If there’s an influx of chat requests and they take lunch late but otherwise follow their schedule for 420 minutes (7 hours) of the day, their SA is 87.5%.
This is a great metric to monitor, especially if you’ve never looked at it before, but 100% adherence is not a reasonable or desirable goal. For example, if a call runs long, crossing into a scheduled break, we don't actually want them to mechanically end the call in service of the metric. Agents will also have non-productive time throughout the course of a normal day; we're all human and that’s a good thing. It means that we can adapt to unexpected circumstances as they arise, which reduces adherence but is for the best of the team.
The only issue arises when non-productive time occurs when agents are scheduled to work with customers. Particularly for real-time channels, this can affect the entire team very quickly. A common benchmark for schedule adherence is 90% . As you approach 100% adherence, you risk falling into a "big brother" culture and risk burnout amongst the team due to prolonged unrealistic expectations.
Identifying instances of low schedule conformance (benchmark: 90-95%) surfaces underlying issues to address. If an agent is spending their time throughout a day putting out fires on the operational backend instead of working with customers, for example, you may have a tooling issue that should be solved to allow agents to focus on their work.
- Example: An agent is scheduled for 360 minutes (6 hours) of productive time (chat and phones) during a given day, which does not include meetings, project work or breaks. At the end of the day, they've logged 324 minutes (5 hours, 24 min) on your contact platform. Their schedule conformance is 90%.
Schedule conformance is an absolute metric, focusing only on the work that is done, and not on when it is done. If an agent has a scheduled work block from 9:00 to 11:00 and they instead work form 8:45 to 10:15, take a break and work again from 11:00 to 11:30, this is still 100% conformance since two hours of work were scheduled and two hours of work were completed.
You can see how this goes hand-in-hand with adherence. Conformance measures an agent's alignment with their scheduled amount of work while adherence measures an agent's alignment with their schedule itself. It’s important that agents follow their given schedule but it’s also important that the work gets done, regardless of the timing.
Similarly to adherence, expecting 100% conformance is unreasonable for humans. Here though, moreso than with schedule adherence, 100% can be used as a goal while maintaining agent's autonomy to adapt to a day’s demands as they arise. Conformance is ultimately a measure of work done in a day—if this is not close to 100% consistently, that’s an issue which can be solved by either reducing other demands on an agent’s time or reducing the expected amount of productive time to allow them to focus on their other demands. But continuing with unmet expectations is a direct path to frustration or burnout.
Tools for time tracking
To get a baseline for schedule adherence and conformance, you can have agents granularly log their time throughout the day for one day per week or per month. Over time, this should surface any adherence issues. Most systems do not allow you to calculate adherence out of the box, so you may need to perform this task manually.
Your contact platforms can also come in handy when calculating schedule conformance. For real-time channels like chat or phone, the daily logs may be sufficient to give you a sense of conformance. For email or social support, it can be a bit trickier but the amount of time logged as “online” or “away” is a good place to start. Methods like vacation tracking and attendance tracking also help to increase schedule adherence.
Alternatively, you can use software which automatically analyzes schedule adherence. With this approach, you’ll have a much more comprehensive idea of adherence. Software solutions with direct integrations into your contact platforms help automate the toil of calculating these metrics.
In all, both schedule adherence and schedule conformance are important measures of agents’ time that give managers insight into potential coaching opportunities, trainings needed and efforts to be celebrated. Tracking and improving these metrics means more consistent and more plan-able workdays for the whole team.
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