Part 1: Workload Forecasting Skills
In contact centers today, roughly 65% to 75% of the total operating cost is consumed through paying the frontline staff. For that reason, the biggest opportunity for contact centers to manage or reduce cost is to optimize the utilization of their frontline workforce. To do this, most contact centers today have a workforce manager or an entire workforce management (WFM) department.
Simply put, the goal of WFM is to determine the optimal working schedules for the contact center's frontline staff that balances service quality on the one hand and the cost of delivering that service on the other hand. If you schedule too many employees, a part of the workforce will be idle, which creates unnecessary costs. If you schedule too few employees, the waiting times for your customers goes up and your agents can become stressed because of overload, both resulting in a lower service quality. The challenge is to get it just right. What makes this process all the more difficult are the limiting factors of shifts, labor contracts, different contact channels, agents will different skill sets, and so on. Workforce management is a challenging role, but the right preparation for the job (and continuous training on the job) can make all the difference.
Traditionally, the process of WFM is divided over the following steps; forecasting workload, scheduling staff, and intraday management. In this series of blog posts we will dive more deeply into the specific skills your WFM team needs for each of those steps. This list of skills can be beneficial for purposes of employee evaluation and training. First up in this series is the step of forecasting workload.
Workforce Management Starts with Forecasting Workload
In order to schedule the right number employees at any given time, you need to know how much work needs to be done at any given time: the workload. There are two key components that determine the workload: the amount of contacts that need to be handled (calls, emails, chats, etc.), and the average time it takes an agent to finish all the work related to this contact (often referred to as the handling time). Both these factors need to forecasted, in order to create a schedule.
In order to forecast both the contact volume and the average handle time, a workforce manager needs a broad set of skills. Generally, the skills needed for a Workforce Manager to be effective include:
A good workforce manager knows;
- Which systems generate the data for volume and handle time of specific contacts
- How this data can be extracted from these systems
- In what kind of format the data is stored
There can be many reasons why the data may be invalid, so a good workforce manager is able to;
- Identify abnormalities in the data
- Fix any deviations in the data, before using it for forecasting purposes
Forecasts can be made for the next day in order to check if the schedule is still accurate, or for the next year in order to determine a recruiting strategy. A good workforce manager therefore knows;
- Which scenario requires which forecast interval
- How to forecast for different intervals
- How to communicate the level of uncertainty associated with a forecast of a certain length
Identifying Business Drivers
If the workload would be stable over time, optimizing scheduling wouldn’t be very complicated, but workloads are not stable for both foreseeable reasons (marketing campaigns, storms, etc.) and unforeseeable reasons (outages, unexpected media coverage). Many factors that increase or decrease the workload are foreseeable, therefore a good workforce manager;
- Knows what kind of foreseeable events can impact the workload
- Actively checks both internally and externally if any such events are to take place within the forecasted period
- Is able to provide accurate forecasts with such events included
There is a range of different methods available for forecasting the workload (e.g. correlation coefficients, time series analysis, regression analysis). Each method has its strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, a good workforce manager;
- Is familiar with a variety of forecasting methods
- is able to select the forecasting model with the highest accuracy for the situation
- is able to analyze the accuracy of the forecast over time
Having a solid theoretical background in statistical models is a great start, but it is useless if you don't know how to apply this knowledge in the WFM tools available. Therefore, a good workforce manager;
- Knows which WFM tools are available and how to use them
- Knows which tool to use for which task
- Knows how to make, save and share forecasts with others
Workforce management is an essential part of running a contact center. It's goal is to balance the service quality and cost associated with the human resources to deliver that service. The WFM process starts with creating accurate forecasts for the expected workload. To do just that, a workforce manager needs a broad set of skills. In order to set your planners up for success, you should make sure to adequately train your staff on these topics, keep track of these skills in frequent assessments, and support staff members with development opportunities. And come back for our next part in this series: Skills for Creating Optimized Schedules.
We hope you found this list of skills useful and that it will help you determine development plans for your WFM staff. If you are looking for training to develop the forecasting skills of your WFM staff, then we suggest to take a look that "WFM - Forecasting" course from The Call Center School. This course focuses on the forecasting specialization of the workforce management process. It provides the fundamental knowledge needed to accurately predict workload. Students will learn how to collect and analyze historical workload data. They will master advanced forecasting techniques. And they will learn how to accurately forecast call volume and average handling time (AHT) down to 30-minute intervals per day.