A call center is one of the busiest places to be in the corporate world. Creating the perfect schedule, be it hourly, shift-wise or weekly, is critical toward maintaining the success of a business.
Having a good quality of support staff is very important to ensure that the businesses always have enough personnel to tend to customer calls and provide valid feedback.
The difficulty in scheduling shifts for call centers lies in the fact that businesses that hire call centers for telecommunication services always want enough personnel available 24 hours a day, each day of the week, to use their call center software to attend customer queries.
To these businesses, it is critical that not a single call goes unanswered, because their reputation survives on the sort of customer service that the call centers provide.
When a company is unable to provide top-notch support to its customers, it is likely to lose business. Thus it would migrate to a different call center agency to tap into their resources.
Therefore, for a call center, proper shift scheduling is the key to retention of business. In addition, pure scheduling could lead to call center employees facing longer working hours and unsure about their daily schedules, which would lead to their frustration and disinterest in work.
The challenge of shift scheduling is identifying the busiest hours of the day, and allocating more resources to those hours as per the necessity.
Having too many employees scheduled during down hours and ending up with too few to manage the peak hours would lead to a substandard quality of customer service.
Author and management services director Michael Hyatt puts it in a simple sentence – “What gets scheduled gets done.”
Todd Stocker has an even more interesting viewpoint. “Preparation is the pressure valve on a busy schedule,” he says, emphasizing that managers should understand at what times more resources are required and plan accordingly to deal with the rush seamlessly.
In a competitive environment, scheduling of staff plays an important role in getting the best performance out of your team.
This process is too complicated to take lightly, and too important for a business to ignore. Such complex scheduling processes are done using management software that deal specifically with the employee scheduling.
Once you are clear about the process of shift scheduling and why it is crucial to maintain business levels, let us delve into some tips for effective shift scheduling at call centers.
1. Companies look at hiring temporary agents to deal with an imminent increase in call volumes to counter seasonal spikes or event-triggered spikes.
This means that if the cause of a future increase in load is well-known, these temporary agents can be assigned on-phone duties to counter the issue of resources.
2. The official business hours are from 9 AM to 5 PM. It is important to ensure that top performing agents are on duty during these hours to take up any calls and answer customer queries most comprehensively.
3. Another strategy used by call center management is to provide incentives to agents to work during peak hours. Incentives can be monetary in the form of bonuses for overtime during peak times, or other perks such as allowing holidays if a certain number of hours are met, etc.
4. Managers must stay alert and monitor call metrics to ascertain at which time of day the volume of calls starts rising so that they can allocate resources as a reactionary measure as soon as they understand that the peak is approaching.
5. Adjust off the phone activities, such as meetings, breaks, training programs, etc. so that they are held at times when the lines are not busy. This ensures that all the staff’s are ready to attend calls at the peak times.
6. Distribute work among employees which can be completed at times when the employee is not fielding calls. In this manner, attending calls is given higher priority over off phone activities.
7. When the schedule is being created, care must be taken to ensure that the experience of the agent, types of calls specialization and skills are taken into account to ascertain the load he or she can deal with.
8. Ensure that all the agents are familiar with the schedule and are well aware of their shift. Employees must adhere to the plan strictly to prevent disruptions in providing the customer service.
9. Managers could provide agents with the options of customizing their working hours so that they can choose to work fewer days but longer shifts. In this way, more people could be concentrated for peak occasions.
10. Take the preferences of agents into account while building the schedule so that the maximum numbers of agents are able to work according to their convenience, leading to a greater productivity and more availability during the rush hours.
11. Training programs are established to create backup agents who can be called into action during peak hours in case the existing number of employees is not enough to cope with the high traffic that is experienced.
These reserve agents provide assurance that the scheduling can proceed as normal and in case of an emergency, a contingency plan is always available.
12. Agents should be allowed to work from home while delegated to on-phone duties because that leaves a wide range of options open for the managers who are building the schedule.
13. In case of a need for immediate reinforcements, companies often enter staff sharing practices, whereby two companies agree to share their staff for their respective peak times so that both end up with adequate resources to deal with their respective influx of traffic.
14. Opt for a robust software to determine shift scheduling, so that it can take into account various factors like the preferences of the employees, specializations, and call volume fluctuations and so on.
15. The accuracy of scheduling is dependent on the accuracy of forecasting capabilities. Extensive data analysis must be carried out to determine the times of high volume so as to allocate agents beforehand.
16. Forecasting accuracy can be fairly assessed only if the sample size is large enough. Therefore the company must first make sure it has accumulated requisite amount of data so that analysis can be run and predictive models can be established.
17. Analysis of the amount of time spent by the agents off the phone engaged in other activities would help to identify areas where time could be translated on the phone, thus further creating a backup of additional resources if need be.
18. Testing must be carried out to determine the efficacy of the schedule that has been formulated. Testing is done with dry runs that encompass both expected situations and plausible outliers.
19. Continuous evaluation and monitoring of the setup has to be carried out to determine if any changes need to be made with respect to shift scheduling.
20. External factors can also play a role in fluctuating call volumes. Thus a schedule has to be created keeping in mind factors such as any significant event, a political flashpoint, economic ups and downs, cultural events, etc.
The Case Study
The issue of shift scheduling is critical to the performance of a call center and correlates directly with the business that the parent company makes.
It demands the best call center software to take into account all the factors and deploy a suitable schedule to provide seamless customer service.
I hope the tips provided above gives an insight into the type of call center solutions that are implemented to deal with the increased load and rotating all employees to the man hours.
Let us highlight the necessity of such practices by taking the case study of a real life example. To keep the company anonymous, let us adopt the moniker PQR for it. For this example, PQR is a call center providing telemarketing solutions for a large corporation.
In this case study, we will take a look at the situation that the company was in, the challenges it faced and the solutions that its top leaders managed to incorporate to eradicate those challenges.
We will also devote some time in understanding the effects of the changes that were brought about and how the results showed a positive change.
The Problem Scenario
The company which has hired PQR for telemarketing demands that PQR always have enough personnel available to man the phones.
They want their customer services to be absolutely top notch; hence there must be a receiver for every call no matter how high the call volume is or what obscure time of the day it is.
PQR is a call center with 100 agents assigned to on-phone duties during the peak hours. Their total payroll consists of 150 agents.
However, they find that during the business hours, on most days there is a tremendous rush of calls coming in. In addition, whenever the company makes a significant announcement – launching a new product, offering discounts, etc. – the call volume is very high, rising to over 10,000 calls during the day, making it impossible for the 100 agents to deal with it effectively.
There were a lot of challenges faced by the company, but here we will discuss only those challenges that fall within the grasp of this topic. Some of the major hurdles are listed below.
1. It was noticed that the 50 agents who were assigned duties at night mostly have very few calls to attend to, meaning a lot of resources were being wasted.
On the other hand, during the office hours even 100 agents were proving insufficient to deal with the heavy call volume.
2. The company was unable to foresee when the peak times in the season would occur and so it was forced against the wall every time the call volume skyrocketed.
In addition, it was very difficult to find extra agents because nobody had been informed prior to the requirement.
3. The company was maintaining its scheduling with archaic spreadsheets, so it provided very little opportunity for dynamic change as and when required.
This meant that a large part of the changes that were implemented were actually done, so after the damage had been caused.
4. The schedules that were being built were often failing because the employees found it difficult to adjust to the time frames that they were being allocated.
The employees wanted to work in time slots that were most convenient for them, but this factor was not being taken into account.
This led to a lot of employees feeling disinterested and unmotivated at work, leading to a drop in the quality of customer service that they were providing.
The managerial rung of the organization recognized the need to change things around to reflect positive performances. They deliberated and came up with a list of solutions to counter the challenges that they were facing.
1. Call center software solutions were implemented to take care of the scheduling so that all internal and external factors could be taken into account by the software and the most efficient schedule could be produced.
2. They adopted analysis of the data at hand to figure out predictive models of forecasting to determine when a peak is likely to occur.
Once they achieved accuracy in forecasting, they were able to sufficiently allocate resources to deal with the imminent crisis.
3. Employee preferences were taken into account and work-from-home option was provided to on-phone agents so that their productivity was high.
In addition, the company entered an agreement with another company to share resources during each other’s peak times so that both companies could mutually benefit out of the move.
The effect of the changes could be seen very soon. Effective scheduling meant that there were optimal numbers of resources to deal with the fluctuating call volumes.
Employees could work from home as well, so there was no question of falling short of people to take the calls. Customer service became significantly better because of enough agents as well as their willingness to work.
Business rose to an all time high within two months of implementation of shift scheduling software.
Scheduling staff effectively is the cornerstone of providing service, regardless of the volume of traffic ploughing through. With the use of efficient software’s, such scheduling can be done so that customer service is never compromised.