Imagine for a moment that you're planning a monthly lunch-and-learn for your department. This event happens every month, and it always has more-or-less the same number of attendees. You don’t even need to think about how much catering to get—you just know.
However, for this next event, your boss wants you to invite two other departments that she thinks might benefit. Your familiar food forecast has been upended, but it’s critical that this event goes well. Oh, and the budget needs to be approved in advance. What are you going to do?
Well, you can always panic, take a wild guess, and hope you don’t end up with hangry attendees. There’s a better way, though. It involves breaking down your normal order and using data to estimate how many more plates you’ll need to feed these new teams (and how much it’ll cost).
That’s Special Event Forecasting in a nutshell. It can save your lunch-and-learn, and it can also save your support team a major headache during the holidays and other events that have the potential to interrupt your normal flow.
Does this matter to you? Keep reading if...
- There are holidays coming up on the calendar and you have to adjust accordingly (this applies even if your business is closed over the holidays, as you might experience post-holiday shifts in customer demand).
- Your business has a regular cadence of product launches or marketing promotions that create a seemingly unpredictable inflow of customer contacts.
- You have planned downtime or some disruption to service that is sure to drive more customer inquiries and contact.
- There are factors external to your business that you expect to cause an impact to contact volume. Take Super Bowl Sunday as an example, where volume will dip during the game but could rebound sharply after.
What is Special Event Forecasting?
It’s exactly what it sounds like: a forecast for special events. In all seriousness, let’s break this down a little further.
Special event forecasts plan for events that don’t follow your normal pattern for contact volume. In other words, it’s a plan for times that are out of the ordinary. This could be a special sales or marketing campaign, a maintenance period, a new product launch, or a holiday—that’s probably the most common and universal example.
The common thread for all these events is that they require some extra attention during forecasting and scheduling in order to ensure you meet (or exceed) your normal customer experience and performance goals.
It’s also important to keep in mind that sometimes the major impact doesn’t actually fall during the event, but before or after. For example, if you’re closed over the holidays, you can likely expect higher than average volume both before and after the holiday itself.
Of course, there’s no perfect way to predict what will happen (we wish there was!) but there are ways to make educated assumptions. With that in mind, remember that your forecast variance on these days will likely be higher than normal days—that’s not a failure, it’s just a normal part of the process.
An important step in the process is to do some form of “post mortem” analysis after the event’s impacts are over. Combining these findings with the historical data from other events will help your future forecasts get better each time, especially for rotating holidays.
The benefits of Special Event Forecasting
If you’ve previously just rolled with the punches of special events that threw a wrench at your support team, we can’t blame you for wondering why you should try this type of forecast now.
After all, there’s no way to know for sure what’s going to happen anyway—so why not just keep reacting to reality? There are a few reasons that Special Event Forecasting is well worth your time and effort.
1. You’ll preserve the customer experience through the inevitable ups and downs of customer support demand
Special events should never mean a worse experience for your customers—if anything, the experience should be better, especially if the event is something like a campaign or launch that’s within your business’ control and reflects directly on your brand.
Special Event Forecasting means that you’ll use the data you have available to create the best possible forecast and maintain the positive customer interactions you’ve (hopefully) become known for, regardless of what’s happening.
2. You’ll have a plan to “spend” your resources wisely
You don’t want to just blindly burn resources. A proper Special Event Forecast enables you to more accurately predict how much overtime you might need for that holiday rush—or, alternatively, how much you can afford to cut back.
Having that information handy also makes it much easier to keep stakeholders and managers in the loop. Proactive updates can go a long way toward building confidence in your entire team.
3. You’ll be prepared for the inevitable ripple effect
Many special events are linked to specific times or days, but the impact rarely ends there.
Think about the holiday shopping season as one example. A retailer will almost certainly experience higher volumes over the Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend (that’s the actual special event).
However, that volume then drives more deliveries and returns than normal over the coming weeks. It’s a ripple effect that you and your support team will want to be prepared for.
You’ll need to plan for this, and that’s why it’s always important to look at the historical data for the surrounding days or weeks when planning, and not just the special event itself. You want to get the whole picture.
Hear Jake from Patreon talk about how they plan for the coming weeks after a holiday!
How to build your forecast
Special events come in all shapes and sizes, but the most common types across all industries are holidays. Even if your business operates like normal on a holiday, there is a good chance some portion of your customers will be impacted. Take a look at holidays you wouldn’t normally consider—you just might find something worth making an adjustment for.
Predictions of pent-up consumer demand are making the rounds, and it’s hard not to stress about how this will impact already-busy support teams. Add in the naturally high volume fluctuations and frequent PTO requests that are common during the holiday months, and it’s enough to make even the best planners feel like their heads are spinning.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though—that’s exactly where your Special Event Forecast comes in. Let’s break down how to create one using a holiday as an example.
Step #1: Look at last year’s holiday volume
Start by looking at the data for the same holiday last year. How many contacts did you receive? Was there a clear arrival pattern? Did volume spike in the morning and then level off or did it stay steady throughout the day? Either way, note the actual volume you received on the holiday in question.
For some holidays, you’ll want to consider a few days surrounding the holiday:
- Thanksgiving and Black Friday
- Christmas Eve and Christmas
- New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day
These are all examples of holidays where multiple days can work in tandem to disrupt your normal flow of contacts. Make sure to consider all possible days of the special event.
Lastly, remember that some holidays occur on the same day of the week each year, but on a different date; others occur on the same date but on a different day of the week. Make sure you forecast for the correct dates—you’d hate for a simple calendar slipup to sidetrack your plan.
Step #2: Compare the holiday with the weeks leading up
Next, you’ll want to look at the weeks prior to the holiday last year. It's relatively standard to compare the previous four to eight weeks, but you can also compare against a larger number of weeks or even multiple years past.
In any case, you’re looking to answer a simple question: What was the average volume you received over that time?
You'll use that number as a proxy for the volume you would receive if the day were not a holiday. Dividing your holiday volume by this proxy gives you your holiday multiplier, the number that you'll use to multiply your usual forecasted projections.
Here’s a simple formula:
volume received on holiday
━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━ = holiday multiplier
avg. volume received in weeks prior
Let’s look at a specific example. If a retail company received 1,500 contacts on Black Friday last year and 1,200 on average for the eight weeks prior, the number crunching would look like this:
━━━ = 1.25
That “1.25” holiday multiplier is the magic number you’ll use to build out your Special Event Forecast. Don’t worry—we’ll talk about what that means in greater detail in the next steps.
Step 3: Adjust your forecast accordingly
Once you know your holiday multiplier, you’ll simply multiply it by the number of contacts you’d expect for that time period normally and you have your holiday forecast:
holiday multiplier x expected contacts = holiday forecast
So, if the same retail company was forecasting 1,600 contacts for the day normally, the formula would look like this:
1.25 x 1600 = 2,000 contacts
Is your holiday higher or lower than the previous weeks? If it’s higher, you’ll want to think about baking a buffer into your forecast so that you’re prepared to handle that increased demand.
If it’s lower than the surrounding weeks, you may want to pare down the forecast to avoid overstaffing—both for the sake of your forecast and so your team can enjoy the holiday (which is always a morale-booster).
Hear Adrien - formerly Stripe/AWS/T-Mobile, now at Assembled - talk about how to adjust the forecast for Thanksgiving!
Step #4: Conduct a post-mortem analysis
You created your forecast, used it to strategically schedule your support team, and now that event and all of its lingering impacts are over and done with. That’s it, right?
Not so fast. It’s time to take a look at what went well—and what didn’t.
Let’s start by getting an actual multiplier rather than the best-guess one you used for your forecast. After all, you have actual data now. That means you can go back and use some simple math to calculate the true multiplier and compare it to what was assumed.
You’ll use the same formula you previously used to find your expected holiday multiplier—but this time you’ll use the real data from that actual holiday. So, let’s say you actually received 2,100 contacts on this Black Friday and 1,750 on average for the eight weeks prior to this Black Friday. Here’s the math:
━━━ = 1.2
Your true multiplier is 1.2, rather than the 1.25 you used for your Special Event Forecast. Hey, you weren’t too far off!
You can also take it a step further and dig in to see what exactly caused the numbers to be different. It may turn out that the overall day was higher than planned, but it was because your baseline volume had increased rather than any impact from the special event itself. You may also notice that the impacts were localized to a certain time and not the whole day (as you might see with an event like the Super Bowl).
As you get more experience forecasting, consider applying this same concept (using a multiplier) for specific times (morning/afternoon/night/graveyard or by interval) instead of the whole day. Remember, forecasting is an art as much as it is a science. Don’t be afraid to try different things. Just remember to go back and test them, as well!
Hear Talal - formerly from Looker, now at Assembled - talk about the post mortem analysis his team performed after the holidays!
The key takeaways
You probably have a pretty strong grasp of your workforce needs on any given day. However, special events are, by definition, not any given day. They’re special, and they require specialized forecasting to ensure your team delivers the outstanding service it’s known for.
Before you go, here are a few reminders to help you forecast for those special events as accurately as possible:
- Your usual ways of forecasting with recent averages will not work. Instead, you need to look for historical data to understand the unique impact of special events to your support demand.
- Even if you don’t have a perfect historical example, look at your past special events and pick which parts are applicable now. There’s probably still something you could use to inform your forecast.
- Bear in mind that some holidays move days each year. Make sure to apply the impact multiplier to the correct day.
- Don’t forget that the possible impacts of a special event may extend beyond the specific event times. Many events have a ripple effect that you need to be prepared to deal with.
Finally, don’t forget to do a post-mortem analysis so you can improve your forecast next time. After all, that’s ultimately what Special Event Forecasting is all about: learning from the past to better predict the future.
For Assembled customers - watch the tutorial on how to implement forecast adjustments using the Trends Report, Forecasted vs Actuals, and Forecast Configurations!