The Art of Call Center Scheduling: Plan for the Unexpected
It would be nice if we could see into the future when it comes to business. We could know when every sale would come in, when busy times would happen and when things were about to fall flat. We could be prepared for sudden opportunities in advance, and put aside some money for tight times.
Alas, nobody has a crystal ball. Long-term planning and forecasting are the methods we use to deal with uncertainly. In the contact center, forecasting and scheduling serve a critical function: they use best-available intelligence to make a prediction about how many resources will be needed for the day, the week or the month.
For contact centers with very regular calling patterns, scheduling is not that much of a challenge. Few contact centers have the luxury of having completely steady calling patterns, however. Chuck Ciarlo, CEO of workforce optimization solutions provider Monet Software, recently blogged that contact centers sometimes experience periods of stability followed by periods of uncertainty when it comes to call volume.
“With other contact centers attached to companies where new special offers, seasonal promotions and other aggressive marketing tactics are employed, fluctuations are more commonplace and even more difficult to predict,” Ciarlo writes. “How can a manager create an accurate forecast and schedule in these circumstances?”
One of the ways to solve the challenge is to examine historical call history (or, preferably, have your scheduling solution do it for you). Using one to two years of call history, chances are, the contact center will be able to find a pattern of calls that will be similar to what will happen this week. It’s also critical to include all activities in the schedule and not just calls or other communications media. Employees will be taking breaks, doing after-call work, engaging in training, checking internal communications and more.
Ciarlo also recommends tracking factors that might be outside the company instead of just internal.
“You know about the big sale coming up, and what that is likely to do to call volume. You can see the holiday approaching on the calendar and can foresee its impact by what happened last year,” he writes. “But there are other factors that will be unique to the day for which you are forecasting and scheduling. For instance, if the weather is supposed to be bad more customers might shop from home, which would require more call center resources.”
Weather, time of year, current events and even national mood can all make a big difference in call volumes. Finally, Ciarlo recommends that companies consider running simulations of two to three different potential outcomes. It’s essentially a way of “practicing” so the contact center knows what to expect. By ensuring it’s equipped to deal with almost anything that comes along, contact centers can face fewer unpleasant surprises.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi