We all know what it feels like to be completely overwhelmed at work. Whether it’s last-minute preparations for a big meeting or the scramble to complete a project on deadline, that feeling of rising stress is unmistakable. For people working in a call center, this dread can be non-stop, as agents struggle to appease customers and managers play whack-a-mole with schedules to adjust for fluctuating call demand.
But it doesn’t have to be this way! Successful workforce management (WFM) in call centers can mitigate the issues that plague agents, all while protecting the department’s bottom line. When people aren’t so over-or-under-worked, and scheduling is simplified, everybody benefits.
Here’s how effective contact center workforce management can protect the happiness of your employees, the productivity of your call center, and the satisfaction of your customers.
What is workforce management in call centers?
Workforce management is the processes, strategies, and technologies call centers implement in order to optimize productivity. In simpler terms, it’s how you ensure you have the right people in the right place at the right time.
This may seem straightforward, but pulling off effective workforce management that keeps agents, customers, and the company happy is no easy feat. Because of the fluctuating nature of a call center’s work—a promotional period here, a service outage there—it can be hard to forecast changes in demand and schedule everyone accordingly. The difficulty increases now that call centers engage with customers on multiple channels, adding chat, email, and SMS to an already-busy workload.
What are the core challenges call centers face?
Managers in contact centers face unique challenges that make it extra beneficial for them to take the process seriously. The main reason for this is twofold:
- The daily workload is determined by external factors. How many calls will your center get tomorrow? You’d probably love to know that exact number, but customer call volume can be unpredictable. Some booms and busts might be foreseeable, like if your company is running a promotion, or if things are always quiet at a certain time of year. Others, not so much—like when there’s equipment failure, or when Elon Musk tweets about your product.
- Call centers are often open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It’s hard enough to manage a workforce when everyone’s shift is 9 to 5, let alone a major operation that never sleeps. Making sure you have the right amount of people available at any given time can be a huge challenge, but it’s necessary when you want your customers to be able to reach you 24/7.
Benefits of workforce management in call centers
Workforce management can do more for a call center than just make scheduling easier for the manager (although, it does that, too). There are a number of benefits successful WFM provides, including:
- A more positive customer experience. When your call center is always adequately staffed, your customers won’t have to spend as much time in line waiting for the next customer service agent . The faster your customer can speak to a real person about what they need, the happier they’ll be, and the more likely they’ll stick with your company for the long haul.
- Improved employee satisfaction. Optimized schedules mean agents won’t be over-or- under-worked, which can be an absolute game-changer when it comes to employee satisfaction and retention. Satisfied employees with realistic workloads are less likely to burn out, and are more likely to stick around. According to the Center for American Progress, it can cost an estimated 16-20% of an employee’s annual salary to hire a new employee—not even including recruitment costs or productivity lost during the lengthy onboarding process.
- Optimized operational efficiency. It’s the ultimate goal for any call center: Match staffing to call volumes. It ensures a job well done, while saving money on overstaffing. Using tools to streamline workforce management is the best way to optimize, since it takes the guesswork—and stress—out of the equation.
How workforce management works
Workforce management is the best way to keep both efficiency and morale high in your call center. Here’s a rundown of how WFM actually works, and the key components WFM needs to ensure success.
In workforce management, forecasting is what determines the expected workload for specific intervals of time, like days, weeks or months. This requires an analysis of historical data and current business trends, as well as consideration of upcoming promotions and other events that might affect call load. This is the foundation of workforce management in call centers, because it allows you to anticipate future call volumes so you can always be sure to schedule the appropriate number of agents for the expected workload.
Manual forecasting—that is, making these predictions without workforce management tools—has become harder and harder as consumer touchpoints have expanded. Customers aren’t just calling on the phone; agents now have to juggle chat, emails, SMS, and more. Solid workforce management ensures that all these possible connections are accounted for, so that everyone’s workload is optimized for their available time.
Once the upcoming workload has been forecasted, it’s time to create the schedule. Scheduling assigns agents to shifts to best meet customer demand, while accommodating employee availability. By accounting for established call patterns, upcoming promotions, and more, scheduling is sure to optimize agents’ productivity during their shifts.
Good scheduling makes sure the appropriate number of agents are on the phones at the right times; great scheduling however, leverages agent skills and experience to maximize customer satisfaction. Accounting for factors like seniority and scheduling preference can ensure your best agents know that they are valued. And putting your top agents forward during crucial times can add a lot to your company’s reputation.
Scheduling is also where overstaffing and understaffing is avoided. Having the wrong number of agents on a shift can have negative impacts on your company’s budget as well as customer service. Plus, agents who are overworked (or bored) are far less likely to stick around. Staff retention is absolutely vital to the success of your call center, and it’s about more than “numbers on a screen.” You’re dealing with the people who keep your call center running, so do what you can to keep workloads consistent and morale high.
Intraday scheduling management
Intraday schedule management is essentially the bridge between what was previously forecasted and what is actually happening. It’s your ability to roll with the punches and accommodate unexpected changes as they happen. Even the best laid plans will need a solid backup plan for intraday scheduling management in order to keep things running smoothly. For instance, when one agent calls in sick and another no-shows, you might look at the day’s workload and decide to call someone else in. Or, when managers have to readjust the schedule and remove agents from the phones to answer other mediums of communication.
Intraday scheduling management is similar to, but slightly different from, real time management. Think of intraday as day-by-day, while real-time is closer to minute-by-minute. In other words, how is the team doing right now? Is demand being met? Are agents performing their duties in the allotted amount of time?
Other call center key performance indicators (or KPIs), like adherence, can be tracked either at the team or the individual level. Either way, it can be a ton of work. Call center analysts can use this information to adjust schedules on the fly to ensure that calls are being answered and neither customers nor agents’ time is being wasted.
Why call center WFM software is important
Workforce management is always a challenge, but it gets increasingly difficult as you add more and more employees, hours of the day, days of the week, and more. That’s why WFM software is extra important for call centers.
Yet, according to Dimension Data, an estimated 41% of call centers still use manually created spreadsheets for workforce management instead of WFM software. That means 41% of contact centers aren’t maximizing their efficiency with automated forecasting and scheduling! Workforce management software doesn’t just make your schedules, it also offers vital insights about staff productivity and adherence, call volumes, and more—all of which can only boost the success of your call center.
WFM software is an important part of your call center operation, by contributing to the satisfaction of your customers and agents alike. Here are just some of the features of WFM software:
- Saves money by streamlining. Manual, Excel-based forecasting and scheduling takes a lot of time just to deliver passable—no offense—results. Letting the software handle this for you not only saves your time but also develops more accurate forecasts and schedules, cutting down your headcount when agents aren’t needed, and putting money back in your pocket.
- Helps agents prepare. Call volume forecasts aren’t just helpful for schedulers. Agents can be better prepared for a shift when they know what workload to expect.
- Cuts paperwork. WFM software can automatically track time spent on calls and tickets, cutting out the need for cumbersome paperwork that eats into productivity time.
- Creates intraday schedules. Intraday schedules can be extremely complex, but workforce management software can take the guesswork out and streamline the process for you.
- Offers reports and metrics. Real-time reporting offers important insights into employee productivity and can flag inefficiencies, so you can adjust on a dime and keep your call center on track.
Assembled, a workforce management solution
Running modern call centers is no simple feat. Agents are often expected to be available 24/7/365, and having the right number of agents available (without having too many) to handle fluctuating, often unpredictable call volumes is an art, as much as a science. Add chats, emails, and SMS to the mix, and forecasting and scheduling becomes daunting.
Luckily, you don’t have to juggle these balls manually. Allow us to introduce Assembled. It’s a powerful all-in-one scheduling, forecasting, and reporting tool specifically designed to help and support call centers.
Assembled is a cloud-based platform that offers accurate forecasts within 10% of your weekly call volume. It tracks real-time data for your teams for on-the-spot analysis and adjustments. Can your spreadsheet do that?
The WFM software can help analysts build SLA-proof schedules quickly, accommodating employee requirements, time zones, and more. It syncs with Google Calendars and Slack, and seamlessly integrates with Zendesk, Kustomer, Intercom, and more. And it’s future-proof: Assembled will scale with your company as it grows. Ready to get started? Request a demo today!