By Ritesh Parswani:- Co-Founder at WFM eLearning & Former Sr. Director WFM, Trascom
Top 5 workforce planning mistakes in a contact center
“Why are we not getting volumes according to our forecast?”
“ Why are we short-staffed while making schedules, when we hired the right number of staff?”
“Why are we consistently failing service level during certain intervals each week?”
A lot of workforce management professionals in contact centers come across these questions during their career, particularly when programs do not deliver performance as expected. So what exactly causes these programs to fail performance consistently? The answer may point towards gaps in the workforce management process.
Let’s first understand the various steps involved in the workforce management process. Here is a high-level overview of the workforce management process. I have tried to keep this simple, some of these steps may vary according to the organization. The first step in this process is forecasting transaction volumes at various levels (Long Term, Mid Term & Short Term). The next step is staff planning or capacity planning, in this step transaction forecast is converted to requirements (number of people) and is utilized to trigger new hire batches to meet the future requirements. Scheduling is the next step where employees are assigned schedules to meet short term forecast requirements and as per employee preferences. The last step in the process is real-time management which ensures the plan is adhered to and mitigation steps are taken for deviations in the plan. Reporting is also an important function of the workforce management process but depending on the organization, this activity may or may not be part of the workforce team.
As it can be seen, there are various steps involved in the Workforce Management process and there are good chances of break down between any of these steps. Let’s now look at what these breakdowns can be…
1.Inaccurate forecast: For a forecast to be accurate, it is important for the inputs to be accurate. When we talk about forecast inaccuracy, typically these questions come to mind.Was the historical data cleaned up to remove days with outages or days with very high or low volume? Were seasonality and annual growth factors considered? Were marketing campaigns accounted for, while making the forecast? Answers to these questions could help resolve some of the issues with inaccurate forecasts. In some cases the contact center’s WFM team does not create the forecast, the clients provide it instead. This is the perfect opportunity for a vendor to add value and create an internal forecast (provided inputs are available), this serves as an additional point of reference.
2.Inaccurate occupancy assumptions: It is a common mistake to use occupancy numbers incapacity plans without running scheduling simulations to verify it. The downside of this approach is that interval level arrival patterns, program objectives (SL, ASA, etc.) & schedule inflexibility may be ignored. A good practice is to cross-check the capacity plan staff requirements by running schedule simulations to find the optimal occupancy on which the program can run while achieving program objectives (Service level / ASA / Line adherence etc). Getting this optimal occupancy number is very important to ensure that the staff that has been planned will be sufficient to cover the peak or nonpeak intervals, and has already accounted for the scheduling constraints specific to the program.
3.Static assumptions in staff plans: If the overhead assumptions or handle time assumption in the capacity plan have not changed for some time, then this needs to be looked at. It means that the future plans are based on fixed or static assumptions, while the ground reality is maybe different. For example, if the program has accounted for a particular AHT (Avg handling time) in the staff plan but in reality, the actual AHT is too far from the plan, then this will certainly lead to a staffing gap on a daily basis while the staff plans may look perfect.
4.Incorrect distribution of shifts: It is a basic expectation that when schedules are made, shifts are evenly distributed throughout the week to meet staffing requirements. However, sometimes there are situations when schedules are not properly balanced between morning, afternoon, evening or night shifts or within the week. This results in exceeding program objectives in certain portions of the week while other parts of the week experience poor performance. Therefore prior to scheduled release, the staffing at interval level should be meticulously scrutinized and shift movements should be done to balance staffing consistently.
5.Wrong assumptions in scheduling process: Similar to the capacity planning process, scheduling also considers certain assumptions, like AHT, overheads, off- phone activities, etc. It is important to check the historical performance against these assumptions. It is very much possible that the assumptions that are accounted in the schedule are far from the actual and may result in staffing gaps.
I know that I have just scratched the surface and there is much more to this topic, but to keep this article simple, some advanced topics have been skipped. Please feel free to share your thoughts and expertise by commenting on this article.
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I will end by this wonderful quote.
“If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it.”