As the Covid-19 pandemic demonstrated to contact centre managers up and down the country, there are some types of events you can’t predict or control, with the potential to cause significant upheaval to your business.
When a major, unexpected issue crops up, it can have a huge impact on daily, weekly and monthly workforce management in a call centre. But for companies that are already using smart solutions – like cloud-based workforce management software – to power their operations, there are less hurdles to overcome. Let’s take a look at what workforce management actually means and why it’s so important to have an effective system in place.
What is workforce management?
Workforce management refers to the strategy, processes and tools you put in place to get the best possible performance out of your employees. This can include anything from effective staff resourcing and shift planning to making sure your team has the training, tools and motivation they need to stay happy and productive.
In addition to in-house employees, this strategy should take into account the management of your contingent workforce, like any independent contractors, freelancers, temp workers or other non-permanent staff members you rely on.
A good workforce management system should also allow you to easily collect and review data on your team’s performance, helping you identify if any additional support and training is needed.
What impact can workforce management have in a call centre?
To keep customers happy, contact and call centres are constantly balancing quality and efficiency. On the one hand, you want to make sure your customer service is second to none. On the other hand, you want to keep operating costs down.
Up to two-thirds of the cost in a contact centre can be attributed to labour, so hitting the right number of agents at the right time is crucial if you want to maximise your profit margin while delivering excellent customer support. Implementing a well thought-out workforce management process flow and investing in the right software can give you the edge.
When done well, a workforce management system can yield great ROI by helping you project staff needs and schedule your team more effectively. With analytics on team members’ individual strengths and performance at your fingertips, you’ll also be better equipped to make sure employees with the right skill sets are available when you need them.
Key elements of workforce management systems
The core components of workforce management in a call centre are:
- Forecasting contact volumes to estimate expected workload
- Scheduling staff around your contact volume forecast
- Managing day-to-day fluctuations in contact volumes and staff availability
- Creating a solid business continuity plan for any major disruptions
To know how many agents you’ll need for a certain time period you’ll need to predict your expected call or contact volume. It sounds easy in theory, but in reality it can be a pain to get right – especially if you’re using spreadsheets to work it out, as many call centres still do.
This manual, “old fashioned” approach to forecasting means you’ll have to deep dive into historical data. What happened last year during this time period, and can you identify any up- or downward trends? The seasonality of the business should also be considered, including national holidays and big events that impact your operations. Did you run a special promotion during a specific timeframe, or did something unusual happen that caused an increased call volume?
You’d then have to forecast your expected workload during the period you’re looking at, based on the stats you do have – and quite possibly your gut feeling.
By breaking down your forecast calculations to monthly and daily levels, you can see how the contact volume spreads through the day. Your saved historical ACD (Automatic Call Distributor) data and incoming call patterns might provide detailed information, but this whole process can be very time-consuming if you’re doing it manually.
An automated workforce management system can save you a lot of time, but it will still only be as good as the basic dataset it feeds from. If your agents are working remotely, for example, and can’t connect to your on-premise workforce management software, some of your data may not be properly recorded or processed.
When it comes to scheduling your contact centre workforce, you’ll need to figure out the following:
- How many agents are needed for each planned time segment?
- What will the shift pattern of the agents be?
And in order to establish the above you should be looking at a range of data, such as:
- Number of calls or contacts expected over a period of time
- Time period length
- Average handling time per call or contact
- Defined service level (% answered within target answer time)
- Target answer time
- Maximum occupancy
Arranging the available agents and supervisors into shift patterns that fit the company’s business model can be easier said than done. Your team members will all have their own individual requirements – whether it’s that they work part-time, prefer morning shifts, or have other responsibilities to juggle.
Having a bigger workforce that is able to work from home can make this puzzle easier to piece together. Agents working remotely also tend to be more flexible, as they don’t need to factor in commuting and may find it easier to work out-with regular office hours.
From product recalls and technical problems to unexpected media exposure and severe weather – there are any number of issues that can crop up suddenly and disrupt your workforce management process flow.
It’s not so much a case of if something will happen, but when. As such, incorporating measures for handling the unexpected into your day-to-day management planning can help you stay prepared and save you time and effort in the long run.
One way to stay on top of these types of situations as they unfold is to run daily team meetings at the beginning of each shift. This can be an effective way to keep everyone up-to-date on the latest developments and remind staff of any relevant standard operating procedures (guidelines that map out what should be done under certain circumstances).
It’s also a good idea to maintain a central point of contact, so different teams are not running in opposite directions with their short-term work shift adjustments.
Business continuity planning
As we saw above, when it comes to workforce management, contingency planning is a key success factor for call and contact centres. This includes having a robust business continuity plan in place, in case disaster strikes. Whether it’s a massive power outage, a fire or major public transport disruptions, you’ll need a backup plan. Without it, you could find yourself having to halt operations completely.
Some businesses might be able to work from a different office location, or have the luxury of a second call centre that can take on the extra work. Agents might also be able to answer calls on their mobile devices and work from home, but if they can’t seamlessly access your contact centre system remotely, this won’t be an efficient solution.
How can cloud-based workforce management software help?
Investing in intuitive and powerful software can offer your call or contact centre an excellent workforce optimisation solution, with a whole host of benefits:
- Cloud-based, integrated workforce management software lets you forecast variables to calculate your expected workload more precisely, with easy access to detailed, high-quality, real-time and historical data.
- The best systems can record and refer to individual working preferences, available skill sets and predicted availability, automatically creating shift plans for your agents. It can also allow agents to swap shifts, giving your team members more flexibility and making the shift scheduling process easier for you.
- Cloud software can provide real time analysis of what’s happening in the contact centre, letting you monitor waiting times in different queues and perform sentiment analysis of calls. This could give you a heads up should something start to go wrong, allowing you to intervene if you need to.
- For cloud-based contact centres, it doesn’t make a difference whether agents are working in the office, from home, or any other location. And with the right system, you’ll be able to gain direct insights into your agents’ day-to-day workload and activity.
- Consider a software solution that allows you to run quick virtual team meetings by voice or video call. This will make it simple for you to update your team, and it can help boost morale and motivation as agents feel more connected to their colleagues.
- With the right collaboration tools – like team messaging, or the creation of subject matter expert groups – changes can be communicated effortlessly and problematic subjects can be tackled quickly by the right team.
If you’re looking for more information on how to manage a cloud-based contact centre with home-based teams, visit the RingCentral remote work resource centre. Or, if you’d like to talk to someone about the right software solution for your business, just get in touch.
Originally published Apr 30, 2020, updated Jan 16, 2023