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What is Short Term Forecasting?
You’re going to host a dinner party. Broadly speaking, you know your plan. You’re going to prepare five different dishes. You’re feeding 10 people. Your guests arrive at 6pm.
But, is that enough information for you to actually pull the entire meal together—without frantically scurrying around the kitchen and panicking when you hear your doorbell ring? Probably not.
To save yourself some stress (and ensure that, you know, your guests actually get to eat), you’ll get even more granular with your plan. You figure out when you need to preheat the oven. You’ll do the math to understand how long the chicken needs to cook for. You’ll determine when the rolls should go in.
In short, you’ll create a more nitty gritty and hour-by-hour plan for yourself so you can maximize your time, save yourself some stress, and execute a delicious meal. Well, that’s Short Term Forecasting in action.
Does this matter to you? Keep reading if…
- You forecast on a weekly or monthly level and are ready to optimize your response times to a more granular degree.
- You’re not confident in your predictions for how many people you need to staff throughout the day.
- You find that you’re being reactive and not proactive, meaning you frequently need to adjust your plans on the fly.
- Your business is rapidly scaling and you haven’t analyzed the intra-day or intra-week patterns in when customers contact you.
- You’re launching a support channel and, for the first time, have to worry about customers abandoning (read: hanging up on you) if you don’t respond in time.
What is Short Term Forecasting?
To really get a good grasp on what exactly Short Term Forecasting is, let’s break it into its component terms:
- Short term: A more immediate time frame (e.g. for the rest of this week or the upcoming week).
- Forecast: A hypothesis about what will happen, based on the historical information you have available.
So, with that in mind, Short Term Forecasting is the process of predicting what’s going to happen in the near future (we typically think of it as hour-by-hour) and then using that information to create a plan to meet those needs.
Let’s put this in the context of your support team. You might already have forecasts created at the monthly, weekly, or even daily level. But, Short Term Forecasting gets even more granular than that to help you manage a team that’s as efficient and effective as possible.
For example, your existing forecast indicates that next week will have a lot of customer contact volume. That’s a good place to start—but it’s still not entirely enough information to staff appropriately. There are other questions left unanswered, such as:
- Are there certain days of that week that will be busier? Which ones?
- Are those days consistently busy? Or do you see more volume at a specific time of day?
Your Short Term Forecast drills down to answer those questions so that you’ll be better equipped to have the right agents staffed on the right support channels at the right times.
How short is “short term”?
Well, it depends. Generally speaking, we think of a Short Term Forecast as an hour-by-hour breakdown of what you anticipate for your customer contact volume and staffing needs.
However, for synchronous support such as phone or live chat, it’s worth considering forecasting even more granularly—even down to 15-minute intervals, if you can swing it.
Why get so specific? Well, because those support channels have a live customer waiting for support.
A recent survey found that customers are willing to wait on hold for an average of six minutes. If you take much longer than that, you run a much greater risk of customer frustration, dissatisfaction, and even abandonment.
How often should you do Short Term Forecasting?
Much like anything else, there’s a lot of nuance here depending on your team and your customer’s needs. But, the important thing to note is that Short Term Forecasting is an ongoing process—it’s not a “set it and forget it” sort of thing.
At minimum, aim to do Short Term Forecast updates once per week—looking specifically at your hour-by-hour (or even 15-minute-by-15-minute) breakdown of the upcoming week.
As you get closer to impacted times, you’ll have even more information available to make necessary adjustments. Your Short Term Forecasts should work hand-in-hand with your Intra-Day and Real-Time Management processes to ground your estimations in as much reality as possible.
3 reasons why Short Term Forecasting matters
Particularly if you already have monthly or weekly forecasts in your back pocket, you’re probably wondering: Why should I invest the extra work to create Short Term Forecasts? What does this actually do for me and my support team?
We’re glad you asked. Here are three compelling reasons that Short Term Forecasting is worth the added elbow grease.
1. You’ll have stronger operational control to predictably hit response times
Forecasts are powerful, but unless you have a crystal ball handy, here’s the truth: They’re still best estimates. No matter how strategic you are, there’s still a fair amount of guesswork involved.
However, once you’re in the Short Term Forecast range, you’re much closer to the actual times you’re forecasting for. That gives you the added benefit of having the most current and accurate data about how your contact volume is behaving.
Has volume been sharply increasing? Or are you seeing that Mondays are significantly busier than they used to be—especially in the afternoon? You now have the data available to adjust your plans with your Short Term Forecast, hit your response targets, and preserve a high-quality customer experience.
2. You’ll greatly reduce the chance of customer abandons
Your live contact channels—like phone and chat—will see customers abandon interactions if your forecast is off and they have to endure a long wait time to connect with an available support agent.
At its best, this leads to a frustrating experience for customers. But at its worst? It can lead to negative reviews, customer churn, and even major impacts to revenue. In fact, one in three customers admit that they’d walk away from a brand they love after only one bad customer service experience.
Beyond that, a hangup or disconnection often isn’t the end of the exchange. A customer might try to contact you again later on. That means one touchpoint has turned into two—or even more. That unnecessarily increases the workload for your agents (which could require extra hours or extra hands). And even worse? The customer probably won’t be too happy by the time they do get through.
Short Term Forecasting allows you to be more accurate so that you can reduce your response times (especially on live channels) and cut down on customer abandonment.
3. You’ll set clear expectations within your support team and with management
As your business and your team scales over time, things will inevitably become more hectic and complex. While that complexity increases, scrutiny does too. Your team will become frustrated if plans aren’t running smoothly and leadership will likely be watching to make sure your hiring plan is justified and well-executed. Cue the stress.
Fortunately, a Short Term Forecast ensures that all sides—from individual support agents to leadership—are aligned and in the loop on a coverage plan to hit your response time goals.
That added clarity will not only reduce miscommunications, frustrations, and hard conversations, but also boost everybody’s confidence in your team. You know what you’re working toward and you’re effectively able to keep everybody on that same page.
How Short Term Forecasting actually works
You’re sold on the benefits of getting more nitty gritty with your forecasts, but how do you actually do so? Here’s a step-by-step walkthrough of how to create and use your own Short Term Forecast.
Step #1: Retrieve the right data
To start, you want to grab data from the last few weeks (or months)—whatever you feel will best represent your average volume. Here’s how to do that in several popular contact platforms:
- Zendesk: Use Zendesk Explore to export a count of tickets.
- Intercom: Analyze the “New Conversations” report.
- Kustomer: Use the CSV Export feature.
- Salesforce: Use a Custom Report Type on Cases.
It’s important to extract data at whatever granularity you are going to forecast for. Again, that will be somewhere in the range of 15-60 minutes. You should also exclude any outlier times, such as an outage or any other event that impacted volume but is an exception to the norm.
Step #2: Use that knowledge to predict the future
Don’t worry—you don’t need to be a future teller. The simplest forecasting approach is to calculate the average number of contacts over a set interval based on your historical data.
For example, if you’re trying to figure out how many tickets you will receive at 9am on Monday, take the average of 9am contacts for the past several weeks. If your volume varies based on the day of the week (many times weekends are lighter than weekdays), average together only the 9am contacts on the past several Mondays or weekdays.
One notable exception is when you have a special event or holiday to plan for. Check out this article for more information on special event forecasting.
Step #3: Adjust your forecast
You’ll repeat the above process to determine averages and then use those to create your granular forecast of how much contact volume you’ll receive.
Let’s try to keep this as simple as possible: Not all days are created equal for your support team. Each day of the week will have an average percentage of the week’s volume, with the weekends typically being lower.
For example, Sunday volume could make up only 5% of the weekly volume, while Monday makes up 25% of weekly volume. Getting even more granular from there, each hour (or interval) of each day has its own percentage. 1am on Monday might be only 1% of Monday volume, while 8am could be 10%.
Why bother digging in so deep to set these percentage patterns for each day—and even each hour or interval of each day? Well, it makes it way easier to adjust your forecast accordingly.
For example, maybe going forward you need to increase the Monday volume percentage and decrease Friday. Instead of having to change those manually each week, you can set Monday to 30% and Friday down to 5%. Now, no matter how often you change the weekly volume going forward, each day will still have the correct percentage pattern you set.
Step #4: Update your performance expectations
Your Short Term Forecast does you zero good if you don’t act on it. You need to translate that forecast to your actual schedule—whether you do that or you pass it to your scheduling team, if you have one.
For example, if your forecast has increased volume for Monday, then you’ll want to check your scheduled staffing to see if you need to make any adjustments to maintain service levels.
At that same time, it’s important to loop other stakeholders and teams—from leadership to the finance team—in on your service level estimations and costs so that everybody is operating with the most up-to-date information.
Step #5: Measure your adjusted forecast’s accuracy
Short Term Forecasting provides an opportunity for continuous improvement, provided you’re willing to take a cold, hard look at what went well—and what didn’t.
Despite the fact that your Short Term Forecast used more recent averages, it’s possible that you could still experience large variations from your plan. Fortunately, there’s a simple calculation to help you check that:
forecasted volume - actual volume
For example, if your forecasted volume was 200 customer contacts and your actual volume was 190 contacts, you’d divide 10 by 200. That means you had a +5% variance compared to your actuals.
Forecasts are never perfect, and it’s reasonable to have up to 10% weekly variances when you start this process. But, a good rule of thumb to aim for is to get the majority of your intervals to be around 5% of variance.
While forecasting itself is somewhat standardized, the details for each company are different. That’s why it’s so important to calculate your forecast accuracy and use those findings to improve your process moving forward. After all, it doesn’t do you any good to have a structured forecast process that constantly has high variances and doesn’t adapt.
Eager to dial in your Short Term Forecast or save time putting one together? Assembled has proprietary forecasts that customarily achieve 90-110% of weekly forecasted volume. Let us know if you want to chat!
It’s time to get granular
Investing the time in Short Term Forecasting can help you understand expected contact volume and staffing needs on a far more granular basis.
Those more accurate and immediate forecasts mean your agents are better equipped to handle the contacts that come in, your customers have a far smoother experience, and you save yourself from constant frantic scrambles.
Remember our dinner party example? Rather than running around the kitchen to hastily prepare a salad while you realize that your rolls are burning, you’ll have a better idea of what’s needed from you hour by hour so that you can act accordingly without getting burned—quite literally.