Taking the Pain Out of Forecasting - Q&A with Calabrio
Question: Just how difficult is it to forecast for a contact center?
Answer: Forecasting is one of the hardest jobs within the contact center. Predicting call volume is difficult enough, but compound that with any unexpected issues that may occur, such as a website that goes down, and the result can be a poor experience for both customers and agents. It’s also not just about call volume; it’s about having the right team available at the right time.
Question: Why is forecasting so important?
Answer: Labor usually accounts for 70 to 80 percent of a contact center’s total budget. Understaffing can torpedo employee morale and the customer experience, but overstaffing can lead to bloated costs for calls that never come. Forecasting is also important to capture sales revenue. If customers are hanging up their phones due to long wait times, contact centers risk losing out on sales. On the flip side, accurate forecasting keeps labor budgets in line, and allows agents to better do their jobs and create an experience that drives customer loyalty.
Question: How have contact centers traditionally forecasted staffing needs?
Answer: Typically, contact centers use three metrics to forecast staffing needs: contact/call volume, handle time, and daily contact arrival pattern.
· Contact/call volume measures how closely the forecasted number of customer interactions match the actual number of interactions that agents handle every day.
· Handle time is the average duration of one transaction.
· Daily contact arrival pattern refers to the times of day where the contact center is the most and least busy.
Question: Are these metrics working? Why or why not?
Answer: Yes and no. These metrics can work and do provide valuable insight, but it’s important to view them within the right context. New solutions now allow contact centers to capture huge amounts of data, but it’s critical to incorporate both historical data and industry expertise. Utilizing historical data, contact center managers can identify trends and use those in conjunction with a forecasting analyst’s knowledge of the contact center’s business drivers and marketing objectives. Then, by layering in analytics, managers can see if the contact center is performing as expected.
Question: With an increase in the number of communication channels, do contact centers need to alter forecasting plans?
Answer: Absolutely. Customers are communicating with companies using social, email, webchat, phone and more—and all of those interactions require resources. It’s not just calls that require agents’ time and effort—all types of interactions must be taken into account and incorporated into forecasting strategies.
Question: What are some of the new tools and technology that contact centers are using and how are they beneficial?
Answer: The biggest improvement in new workforce optimization tools is the ability to significantly automate forecasting and have clear visibility into contact center data across channels. The ability to identify trends and make changes is what allows managers to ensure that the right agents are available when customers need them most. Advanced workforce management technology can now build precise forecasts in minutes, streamlining workflows and reducing overstaffing, all of which leads to more satisfied and engaged employees and frees up a manager’s time to better train employees.
Question: Given these new tools and the availability of data, how are forecasting metrics changing?
Answer: The metrics aren’t necessarily changing, rather the data available adds deeper context to the numbers. This additional visibility allows contact center managers to better hone their forecasts and use concrete data to net more accurate results.
For example, prior year data may show spikes around a certain time, which gives managers a baseline idea of seasonal needs. However, that doesn't look at activities such as current marketing campaigns, product launches or promotions. With the right mix of analytics and forecasting metrics, analysts have a clearer picture of performance and can make informed decisions. For example, if call volume is trending up, they can determine why customers are calling, enabling them to make the smaller adjustments along the way that can save labor costs while giving customers the service they need.
Question: What are some of your suggestions for contact centers to improve forecasting accuracy?
Answer: It’s important to first define what forecasting accuracy means and determine a metric that makes sense for the individual contact center and workload. Contact centers expect to see variances in the forecast to actual, so the goal should be based on staffing tolerance and the point at which the increase in work will lead to higher abandons, higher occupancy, and less satisfied agents and customers. While it is typical for agents to have periods of higher occupancy, how long that can be sustained may be unique to each center.
As I mentioned above, improving accuracy is not just about having the right metrics, it’s about applying the right mix of analytics and historical data to those metrics to gain a clear understanding of what’s going on in the contact center and forecast accordingly.
Question: If you could give one piece of advice to contact center managers about forecasting, what would it be?
Answer: I’d say invest in technology that allows you to invest in your people. Agents can make or break the customer experience, and if managers are forecasting accurately, it will prevent agent burnout while ensuring that customer needs are met, every time.