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Tracey E.Schelmetic

[October 27, 2004]

Exceeding High Expectations: A Case Study in Workforce Management

By Tracey E. Schelmetic
Editorial Director, CUSTOMER [email protected] Solutions´┐Ż

Hilton Reservations is an independent entity that handles all reservations for the Hilton hotel chain. The reservations group is comprised of five domestic call centers (FL, TX, PA, CA, IL); one in Mexico; and one in Toronto. Overall, the extended group of call centers has 800 seats and 1,300 agents and handles 25 million calls annually. Up until 2003, the five different domestic centers were managing their own schedules individually. There was very little real communication between the centers. Scheduling information was being input by remote offices, sent to the main office for central processing, then pushed back to the satellites in a re-packaged format. To add more complexity, there were (and continue to be) some agents on staff who were hired with “no bid” schedules, meaning it was understood their schedules would never change.

As a result, understaffing and overstaffing were rife, and training was not coordinated. Schedule bidding, or allowing agents to choose the shifts and days they prefer, was done locally, rather than centrally, which compounded the over- and under-staffing problems. The organization realized they needed to step in and establish some centralized practices and rules, or schedules would remain out of sync.

As with all businesses today, the company was under pressure to make more with less. Ambitious goals were introduced: to reduce costs AND increase efficiencies at every level. They need to better manage relationships between the enterprise and the customer, and balance the needs of the enterprise with the needs of the employees.

Sounds easy, huh?

To embark on such a goal, the company first needed to begin accurately predicting call volumes and arrival patterns in order to understand how best to meet the centers’ needs and avoid expensive overstaffing. In particular, the company wanted to maximize the use of the lower-cost call centers. As one would imagine with the hotel booking business, call volumes vary wildly from month to month, with peaks happening in the summer months.

The ultimate goal was 90 percent occupancy rates (agents occupied 90 percent of the time). The calls-handled rate needed to be 96 percent or better. Along with every other company in the world, they were also under pressure to increase customer satisfaction and at the same time trim the fat from operations: maximizing performance at lower cost.

In current corporate lingo, they needed to “right-size.”

Proper workforce management (news - alert) between the company’s call centers was critical. By 2003, after the implementation of GeoTel in 2002 and Aspect eWorkforce Management 6.2 in the spring of 2003, the calls handled rate rose to 95.3 percent, and occupancy was at 90.1 percent. Annual call volume remained steady from one year to the next, though 9.8 million reservations were booked … an escalation from 2002’s 9.4 million … and all with fewer agents.

In a vacuum, everyone who runs a call center knows that fewer agents frequently lead to higher agent burnout. Morale is important and cannot be skimped on, or you end up with unhappy agents and the expensive litany of high turnover. Cutting agents out of the budget while keeping all other factors equal is a disastrous path of downward spiraling repercussions: errors, longer handle times, poor agent attitudes, high turnover, escalating hiring and training costs and lost customers.

Hilton Reservations initially chose Aspect eWorkforce Management because they realized they desperately needed to start building more accurate forecasts. They had to build predictions on people and economics (predicted call volume), add quality and still keep flexibility in the process. The centralized solution to workforce management keeps each center on the same page, helping them understand each call centers unique patterns and make sure that agent availability is kept steady.

The implementation of eWorkforce Management 6.2, and later Empower in June 2004, realized some major benefits very quickly. The feature that allows agents to swap schedules via self-service gave agents a better sense of control over their work environments. Schedule swapping features often help agents perceive the process is more fair: there is no manager “playing favorites”; no perceptions of preferences. The feature was an instant boost to agent morale.

Additionally, the company was able to increase the amount of flexibility in agents’ schedules, allowing for longer and shorter workdays and varied start times, balancing the hours throughout the week, while still maintaining optimum agent staffing levels.

The upgrade to eWorkforce Management 6.2 enabled them to hold daily debriefing meetings, weekly planning meetings (to adjust schedules to meet predicted volume), improved monthly performance reviews with feedback based on real data, and monthly forecasting reviews, at which time they can do long-term forecasting and adjustments to hiring plans.

One of the key features Hilton Reservations sought in eWorkforce Management 6.2 the multi-skill feature. In order to hit that 90 percent occupancy goal, the company had to make as much use of multi-skilled agents as possible. As 60 percent of their call volume is virtual and routed through the difference centers, a lack of proper skills based routing was costing the company points off their efficiency metrics on all scores. The centralized multi-skill management meant that efficiency was raised, helping the company hit their occupancy rate by maximizing their agents, and specific customer queries were answered quicker, helping improve customer satisfaction.

After implementation of eWorkforce Management 6.2, in 2004, they hit their 90 percent occupancy rates in every month but one (April). Attrition rates dropped from 70 percent in 2002 to 50 percent in 2004.

Additionally, the company found it had a resource it never had before: metrics based on historical data that could be used to better adjust schedules to ensure that service levels were even and economical. If errors occur, the centers can check over the historical data for the day, and look at the communications between centers and find out who said what to whom, and where the glitch occurred. The company is now able to measure schedule adherence, shrinkage management, schedule compliance and turnover.

For more information on Aspect eWorkforce Management 6.2, visit http://www.aspect.com.

Tracey Schelmetic may be reached for comment at [email protected].

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