Call Center Management Feature Article
October 09, 2009
Scheduling Agents for Seasonal Peaks is a Major Call Center Management Challenge
By Patrick Barnard, Group Managing Editor, TMCnet
While this number is far below the ten-year average of 3.39 percent holiday season growth, it’s nothing compared to last year’s 3.4 percent drop in holiday retail sales -- or the overall 3 percent decline in annual retail industry sales expected for 2009.
In addition, a survey of top U.S. retailers conducted by Thompson Reuters (News - Alert) shows that consumer sales for the month of September increased 0.6 percent over September 2008. Even though September 2008 was a dismal month for retail sales, some analysts are expressing optimism that this might be a foreshadowing of better-than-expected holiday sales for 2009 and the beginning of a possible rebound in the economy.
But along with the optimism there is still plenty of pessimism out there – and when the proverbial storm clouds of the recession will clear is still anyone’s guess.
Still merchants must move forward with their holiday sales plans. While most of them are already finished with the recruiting and hiring process for their call centers, most are not committed to their staffing plans: Those merchants whose sales forecasts are way off will likely end up laying off some of their agents before the holiday shopping season is even over.
It is well known that one of biggest call center management challenges is the accurate scheduling of agents based on call volume. This challenge becomes even greater for seasonal businesses which have to dramatically scale up the number of agents in their call centers.
Making it more challenging still is the uncertainty of the economy. Merchants want to have the correct number of agents in place, in order to deliver prompt and efficient customer service – but at the same time they don’t want to over-schedule agents for any given shift, because they need to hold down operational costs (and as most people know, labor is the number one operational cost facing any call center).
This is where a call center workforce management solution can really prove its effectiveness. One of the advantages these solutions have over spreadsheets is their ability to help manage the intra-day forecasting and scheduling of agents. These systems are so powerful, yet so fast and easy to use, a call center manager can quickly run an intra-day forecast, based on an analysis of that morning’s call volume, and other metrics such as average hold/handling time, and make a well-informed decision to send a certain number of agents home mid-day, thus saving the merchant a bundle on operational costs while still delivering the required service levels.
By the same token, the workforce management system’s analytics capabilities might generate a forecast predicting that call volume will increase throughout the course of the day, based on past trends, or perhaps a current marketing campaign, thus prompting the manager to bring on a few extra agents for the shift.
The advanced analytics and forecasting capabilities of today’s workforce management systems is what gives them a distinct advantage over spreadsheets and other manual systems for scheduling agents. With these powerful software tools, call center managers can make fast and accurate decisions on where to set staffing levels, thus improving operational efficiency. The level of flexibility that these systems provide equates to a new level of flexibility in call center management that is essential for being able to react to quickly changing market conditions in these very uncertain times.
In addition, many of today’s WFM systems are being offered via the software-as-a-service model, which enables fast and simple deployment and also allows merchants to use the software on a “pay-as-you-go” basis.
In fact, with SaaS (News - Alert) a merchant can subscribe to a WFM solution just for the holiday season. It’s possible to pay a flat monthly fee and, if the merchant finds the solution works well, they can keep using it -- if not, they can simply cancel the service.
Patrick Barnard is a contributing writer for TMCnet. To read more of Patrick’s articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Patrick Barnard