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RE: Compliance Technologies & Solutions
July  2004

Schedule Adherence Monitoring:
Big Brother Or Better Bottom-Line?




By Penny Reynolds, The Call Center School


Getting the 'just right' number of staff in place to respond to incoming calls requires a four-step process of analyzing call history, forecasting future workload, calculating staff requirements and creating work schedules that match the workforce to the workload. Once an efficient set of work schedules has been designed, managing daily service means ongoing observation to ensure the frontline staff is actually working the assigned schedules. Some call centers monitor schedule adherence on a manual basis, simply walking around and checking to see if agents are in their seats when they're supposed to be. Larger centers may have workforce management tools in place to automate the checking and reporting process.

Managing schedule adherence brings up two issues. First, what is the cost to the center of non-adherence? We'll explore how much it may be costing the center in terms of staffing and service when agents aren't on the phones when scheduled. We'll then discuss briefly the payback of automated monitoring tools and the ways they can be used effectively to improve the bottom line without becoming too Orwellian.

Cost Of Lost Time
So what's a few minutes here and there? The table below illustrates the cost of lost time, assuming that the center loses only 20 minutes per agent per day ' only four percent of an eight-hour workday.
Calculation: 20 minutes per day x 5 days per week x 52 weeks / 60 = annual lost hours. Annual lost hours x fully loaded wage rate x number of agents = cost of lost time.

These costs can be viewed as hard dollar costs if the lost time is accounted for as shrinkage with additional staff factored into the scheduling plan to account for the lost productivity of non-adherence. If this lost time is not accounted for as shrinkage, then there is no cost of additional staff. But with fewer people on the phones, service would suffer, meaning longer delays for callers and possibly a higher telephone bill if toll-free services are provided by the call center.

While it is virtually impossible to recover all lost time, imagine the savings of cutting the costs (in the table below) in half by decreasing lost time from 20 minutes to 10 minutes a day. To the extent that real-time adherence monitoring tools can help an organization accomplish this adherence improvement, the tools typically can generate a very quick return on investment.

Making The Most Of The Tools
One of the most popular features of an automated workforce management system is real-time adherence monitoring and reporting. This capability takes activity and status information about each agent from the ACD and compares it against schedule information from the workforce management system. Agents out of adherence will show up on a supervisor's screen, providing a way to easily see only those agents who aren't doing what they're supposed to be doing at any given time.

While many call center managers view the arrival of a real-time adherence tool as a godsend in controlling and managing schedule adherence, others argue this will create too much of a 'Big Brother' atmosphere in the call center. However, the ability to 'see' what each person is doing all of the time is not new information. Managers have previously had access to log-in/log-out and activity records in the form of historical reports. These real-time tools simply make the information available much quicker and easier.

The tools will certainly be viewed negatively if the information is used only as a watchdog. However, if used constructively to identify good performance as well as consistent patterns of adherence abuse, it can only improve the availability, performance and morale of the staff. The use of such a tool can free supervisors from time-consuming reviews of historical information and give them more time to spend with their agents.

Keys To Improved Schedule Adherence
There are three ingredients to a successful schedule adherence program:
1. Education. Frontline staff must understand the relevance of schedule adherence. In a center of 100 staff, it may not seem like a big deal if someone is off the phones 10 extra minutes a day. Showing agents what impact even one person can make on service and occupancy of his or her peers is an important part of the process (see 'The Power Of One' article in Feb. 2004 issue of Customer Inter@ction Solutions').
2. Information. Feedback is another important ingredient of the process. Each agent should receive information on adherence statistics on a regular basis. Obviously, the more automated this process, the easier it is to report down to the agent level.
3. Consequences. There has to be a system of consequences in place to shape adherence behaviors. Staff who adhere regularly to the planned work schedule should be rewarded for doing so. And staff who are not where they're supposed to be on time should receive a negative consequence to help share the desired behaviors.

Penny Reynolds is a founding partner of The Call Center School, a Nashville, Tennessee-based consulting and education company. She is the author of several call center management books, including Call Center Staffing ' The Complete, Practical Guide to Workforce Management. Contact her at penny.reynolds@thecallcenterschool.com or call 615-812-8410.

[ Return To July 2004 Table Of Contents ]

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