[Last Updated Dec 2020]
It’s Christmas Season! Hurray! This means mulled wine, mince pies and festive holiday films. All happy stuff.
But let’s not forget that the Christmas season for some, especially for contact centres depending on the industry they are in, can be a stressful time. Contact centres must often be ready to handle an influx of inbound customer requests, enquiries and purchases, ultimately affecting scheduling, service level expectations, staff morale and the customer experience.
Let’s spare a thought for those who are caught up in all of this. Better yet, let’s provide some expert tips on how to manage this seasonal period.
1.Use Your Historical Data and Profile Delivery Effectively
For Workforce Management professionals, accurate historical data volume and the profile (arrival rate of that volume) is key to forecasting the workload for each channel type. It’s important to include the whole seasonal period of Christmas, as the months before and after will also be influenced. Retail contact centres for example will need to incorporate the month of January into their historical data. January is a busy time for handling enquiries and returns/exchanges as well as January sales. And let’s not forget Black Friday in November. All of this means that the periods requiring bespoke forecasting outside ‘business as usual’ levels have become greater. If accurate data from previous years can be incorporated into these forecasts, then the greater the level of accuracy.
With a Workforce Management System, you will be able to create accurate forecasts for all channel and media types (email, chat, phone, social media) with the use of historical data and precise algorithms. The system will take seasonality into account and add in knowledge of future campaigns to forecasting periods making the process simple and insightful. This can be done for multiple years in advance.
2. Make Use of Powerful ‘What-If’ Scenarios
In order to prepare for the seasonal period, planners should put together different forecasts and should make use of a feature within many workforce management systems – ‘What-If Scenarios’. These scenarios can be based around many different situations such as achieving service levels, marketing initiatives, flexible shifts or outsourcing.
Let’s take the example of a marketing initiative or a product launch during Christmas time. The marketing team have mailed out a mass campaign with 50% off and free delivery if you order before a certain date. Or, if it’s a product launch of a new version, their offering a free upgrade for all customers who have previously purchased. You can expect that the contact centre might be flooded with inbound contact such as emails, webchat, or calls. If this type of marketing initiative has happened before, you’ll be able to use historical data.
If not, using the ‘what-if’ scenario feature will help you predict the impact on the demand and will help you plan accordingly to ensure you have the right number of staff available with the right skills. For current and future use, don’t forget that when using this feature, having different forecasts on hand that are ready to be pushed into your live scenario will be of huge benefit.
Pro Tip: Make sure using this feature isn’t a one-off exercise and is part of your planning cycle – keep repeating it to help you assess, take action and proactively nip challenges in the bud
3. Use Real-Time Management for Monitoring Adherence and Performance
It’s also important for workforce planners to use Real-Time Management during seasonal periods. Real-Time Management allows you to monitor your carefully laid plans, ensuring they are both occurring and being followed; if not dedicated alarms will proactively prompt for investigation. This will allow you to assess and feedback into the operation the variables which kept you off track such as training needs or undesirable behaviour.
Once these alerts are addressed, they are fed back into your planning cycle which after each pass will become stronger and more efficient as discrepancies are addressed.
Likewise, if something unexpected occurs such as being busier or quieter than anticipated, effective Real-Time Management will allow you to proactively react by making use of automation features – this leads us onto our next point below – number 4 – make use of workforce management automation features!
4. Make Use of WFM Automation Features
Real Time Monitoring working alongside re-optimisation features can ensure better use of the resource you have in the business before switching to measures that will equal additional costs (such as agents working overtime). Often with a workforce management tool this is at the touch of a button where activities such as meetings for example can be isolated, so they are not moved during the process.
If you find volumes are higher or lower than expected re-optimisation allows you to react and move resource around or re-jig offline activity such as meetings or training. Re-optimisation can also notify the agents immediately of the changing requirements. Furthermore, working variables such as overtime automation, shift trading, additional or reduced holidays (allowed on the day) can all be automated with quick agent notification, allowing pro-active protection of all your vital metrics such as service level performance, customer satisfaction and employee morale.
Overall automation will free you up to focus on other tasks which will also deliver great value to your business!
5. And Lastly… Engage Your Employees!
Our last tip is all about your employees and boosting their morale and employee engagement. If you manage to do this, you will be rewarded with lower sickness and attrition plus improved customer service – factors which can spell disaster if they rear their heads during Christmas time! In order to boost engagement, consider the following different options:
- Mobile App : Some workforce management tools have a mobile app so the agent can plan events and request them without being at work (an invaluable feature for all agents whether they are a parent with childcare arrangements needing to be met or whether they are a member of Generation Z looking for workplace flexibility.)
- Shift Trading : Allow shift trading, so that when holidays can’t be approved, there are alternative work shifts agents can consider which fit their lifestyle. It’s common to find that agents working the same shift and activity will usually trade their shifts in order to exchange their lunch and/or break for a more beneficial time. Often, having this option will reduce the chance of the agent going off sick.
- Self-Scheduling : Advanced WFM tools allow the ability for agents to move their own lunch or break within set parameters (i.e.: if the move improves service levels)
- Scheduling Methods : Don’t forget there are different scheduling types/methods to consider such as:
– Preference based scheduling where agents can provide input regarding required shifts. Preferences can be accepted or declined by the planner thus ensuring the perfect balance of service level attainment and employee satisfaction. Where a high number cannot be accepted it may be that an agent has a small number i.e.: Two “Must Have” preferences where those are guaranteed whereas the rest are not; again with the emphasis on balancing employees requirements whilst still attaining your targets.
And that’s it from us. The BSL team hope you have a fantastic Christmas and if you have any requirements or need any advice on scheduling your team during this busy period then please get in touch! Don’t forget that BSL have a team of expert consultants with real-life experience in Workforce Management, particularly in forecasting, scheduling and WFM implementations (especially switching from an excel only based environment to a WFM tool). Being vendor agnostic, we can recommend the best tool for you or provide expert consultancy to make the most of your current set-up!