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How to Create an Effective Call Center Planning Process

Creating schedules for the call center is a lot like putting together a puzzle; all the pieces have to fit together perfectly. If you’re missing a piece or have the wrong one, the puzzle will never come together. The same is true for the call center; one wrong element can throw off your scheduling and have disastrous results. So how can you be sure all the right pieces fall into place?

ICMI has developed a nine-step process to get your call center properly scheduled and staffed. By following the steps below, you can be sure that you’ll meet ICMI’s definition of proper call center management: having the right number of people at the right times to handle an accurately forecasted workload, at service level and with quality.

Step 1: Establish Accessibility Objectives. Accessibility — expressed as service level or response time, depending on the type of contact — is at the heart of effective contact center management. Accessibility objectives are essential in defining staffing and network requirements, and associated costs. Further, accessibility is an inherent part of quality.

Service level, defined as answering X percent of calls in Y seconds, is a concrete and stable objective for interactions that must be handled when they arrive. Targets of 90/20 (90 percent answered in 20 seconds) or 90/15 are typical high-end service level objectives, while 80/20 is a popular middle of the road target.

Response time is the appropriate objective for interactions that don’t have to be handled when they arrive, such as customer email, postal correspondence, faxes, customer voicemail and Web “call me back later” contacts. Today, many organizations have established 24-hour response for customer email, but some organizations are handling email and similar text messages as they arrive.

Step 2: Collect Data. This step is one of the most involved, politically charged and outwardly focused aspects of managing a call center. In fact, a major driver behind the development of customer relationship management software is the need to collect previously fragmented data located throughout the enterprise and unify the information into a shared, customer-focused knowledge base that is available on a real-time and historical basis.

Step 3: Forecast the Call Load. Forecasting must include all of the choices customers have for interacting with the organization. A good forecast predicts all three components of call load – talk time, after-call wrap-up and volume – accurately for future time periods, usually down to half-hours. The volumes and average handling times of virtually every type of interaction occur in predictable repeating patterns.

Step 4: Calculate Base Staff. Because of random call arrival, base staffing for those transactions that must be handled when they arrive must be calculated by using either a queuing formula that takes random call arrival into account (most commonly Erlang C) or computer simulation, which is proving to be more flexible for analyzing complex, contingency-based environments, such as skills based routing. The table illustrates the tradeoffs between staff, average speed of answer, service level, occupancy and trunk load.

Step 5: Calculate System Resources. The last column in the table illustrates the hours, or erlangs, of traffic that the trunks will carry. It is the product of (talk time + average speed of answer) X number of calls in an hour. Since Erlang B and other alternatives used for calculating trunks often require input in hours, these numbers can be readily used as is. The actual traffic carried by trunks in a half-hour, in each row, will be half of what is given. Note an important principle: Staffing and trunking needs are inextricably associated. The more staff you have handling a given call load, the less the load on the communications network.

Steps 6 and 7: Calculate Rostered Staff Factor and Organize Schedules. Schedules need to realistically reflect the many things that can keep agents from actually handling the workload (due to breaks, training, vacations, etc.). Rostered staff factor, alternatively called shrink factor, is a representation of the additional staff you need on schedule by specific time of day, over and above base staff requirements, to meet service level objectives.

Schedules are essentially forecasts of who needs to be where and when. They should lead to getting the right people in the right places at the right times. Creativity is the name of the game, and options range from simple approaches (utilizing staggered shifts and part-time agents) to more involved alternatives (using “internal part- timers” from other departments or sharing the load with an outsourcing partner).

Steps 8 and 9: Calculate Costs, and Repeat for Higher and Lower Levels of Service. These final steps in the process involve projecting costs for the resources required and preparing budgets. Organizing three budgets around different accessibility objectives provides an invaluable illustration of cost tradeoffs to financial decision-makers.

Author: Brad Cleveland