The Secret Weapon of Call Centers
Regardless of the size of the Call Center(s), you have this in your arsenal. It can be a tool of massive value. Be careful how it gets used. Forecasts of Demand make you more knowledgeable and powerful than others in your organization. A decent forecast backed by data and agreed upon by all is a point around which you can make decisions with high degrees of certainty. Let me explain.
1) Let’s check terms. A forecast is a calculated prediction of what traffic the center is likely to receive in the upcoming periods. It is not a goal, an objective or a schedule of staff. More on this later.
2) All centers and phone systems generate data, sometimes lots of data. At the heart of that data are three elements needed to create a forecast. Those are:
I. The number of calls and or other channel transactions received;
II. The date and time;
III. The duration of each call or other channel activity.
3) With as little as eighteen months of data and sometimes less, a forecast of expected calls/contacts can be calculated, with seasonal, monthly, weekly, daily and hourly load volumes.
This basic model, without adjustments, is the starting point for thinking and planning, both for your own management and for senior management, regarding what needs to be done for the duration of the planning horizon.
Let’s take a moment to consider what adjustments are likely to be needed for any forecast. The forecast we have generated above is purely based on historical volumes, yet there are other factors that will impact on contact center activity. A few common adjustments are:
- Customer or corporate growth or decline at a general level,
- Changes to channel adoption or shifts,
- Planned marketing efforts, both in general and by period and what the expected impact on the center will be,
- New equipment or tools, and when they will be deployed,
- New processes and policies that affect the customer journey.
Now on to the Forecast Process
Once the basic model and forecast are created, a discussion and review with senior management and other stakeholders is needed. Check that all are in agreement with the historical data of actual past calls/contact activity etc., and are in agreement with the corporate or organic growth rate used. Even if nothing else changes, then that growth increases or decrease the number of calls and overall load. The likelihood that nothing changes, by the way, is highly improbable.
Upon agreement, next review any initiatives, product launches, new tools, marketing efforts, and changes to event timing or other load affecting decisions etc. from the next year or eighteen months. Identify expected impacts on the center and adjust for those impacts.
Now at this point, you may experience some or a lot of resistance to looking ‘so far’ ahead, often from marketing or different departments. Remember, they may or may not do this type of forecasting themselves, nor are they likely to have the available data a Call Center generates. So be kind. Explain this is only a planning tool. Forecasts can, and do, change or adjust with new factors and inputs. It is not a ‘one and done’ process. Show that you are open to their needs and that you can and will adjust the forecast up to 3 to 4 weeks out. This 3 to 4-week window is your scheduling horizon for fine tuning staff levels and shifts. A recommended approach is to offer a forecast briefing session every six weeks or so, so that whoever is interested can contribute changes based on their circumstances and known events. With each round of briefing sessions, the forecast is updated. Nevertheless, the objective of this stage is an agreement to the overall direction and a high-level forecast. Job well done. Congratulations.
With this forecast in hand, you now have the tool to see what staffing needs the center will have and when over the period. This knowledge allows the center to determine when hiring has to start, for how many staff, with what skills and what training will they require, to be available when required in the center.
The load or the number of calls and transactions by period, (hour, day, day of the week, week) allows you to calculate the number of people needed to meet and achieve the service level the firm wants. You can do this using an Erlang calculator or Excel add-in or similar WFM software tools. That number, once compared to the existing staff, minus the expected turnover, adherence and occupancy factors for the center, provide the hiring plan for the period.
Does the forecast require more staff and stations? If so, the planning for budgeting and ordering needs to start far enough in advance to enable a smooth transition and change. A high level 12-18 month forecast enables you to ‘see’ these requirements.
Finally, once the forecast is set and all are in agreement, any discussion around budgets and changes, simply can be either rebutted with the argument that the forecast is ‘agreed to’ or if the budget can’t be adjusted, then either the service level or the customer experience has to change.
Operating a call and contact is about the numbers. Many overlook and gloss over this. A good forecast, agreed to, is the armor needed for many pointed discussions around resources, timing, and equipment.
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