Part 2: Skills for Creating Optimized Schedules
"Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers."
This quote from Stephen R. Covey, business author and successful entrepreneur, is not just for executives to internalize. It also applies to workforce managers.
Workforce managers determine how many staff are assigned to a shift and which employee takes which specific shift. Their scheduling decisions, therefore, can have a huge impact on employee satisfaction. If they schedule too few agents for a shift, agents will become overloaded and stressed. Customers will notice this immediately. They have to wait longer until they are connected to an agent and then often have to deal with a stressed agent who has no time to answer all questions in detail.
Moreover, if workforce managers take little or no consideration of agents' preferences when planning shifts, agents may be less satisfied and be less motivated to perform well and provide good customer service. So when it comes to creating shift plans, workforce managers have a big responsibility.
This is the second part of a series of blog posts that deal with the specific skills your Workforce Management (WFM) team needs. The first part was about the skills required to take the first step in WFM, forecasting workload. In this part we will take a closer look at the skills needed to master the second step in WFM: scheduling staff.
Schedule the optimal number of employees
Once the workload for the upcoming period is forecasted, the next step is to schedule the optimal number of employees. The challenge is to make sure that you don't schedule too few employees, but not too many employees either. When too few agents are scheduled, the service level will be reduced and service quality suffers. On the other hand, if you schedule too many employees, unnecessary costs arise because agents are underutilized.
Therefore, when creating schedules, you need to balance different interests:
- Speed of answer. You need to ensure that customers are quickly connected to an agent.
- Agent preferences. You need to consider agents' shift preferences, make sure their workload is balanced, and provide sufficient breaks.
- Company interests. In the interest of the company, you want to maximize the utilization of resources.
Defining Service Goals
To calculate the staff requirements, you not only need the forecasted workload, but you also need to set a service goal. Typical metrics for the service goal are Service Level, Average Speed of Answer (ASA), or Response Time. A good workforce manager knows:
- The expectations of customers, agents, and management when setting the service goal.
- Which service metrics can be used for specific channels (e.g. telephone, email, chat, etc.) in order to to define and measure service goals.
Calculate Staff Requirements
When scheduling staff requirements, you need to consider whether the workload is sequential or random. A sequential workload, like emails, can be stored and handled later (that is not to say that response time is not relevant). A random workload, such as incoming phone calls, need to be handled as quickly as possible (as customers are not willing to hold forever).
The calculation of staff requirement for a sequential workload is relatively easy. Only the volume (number of incoming documents), the average handling time (AHT), and the targeted response time have to be taken into account.
For incoming calls or chat messages, the calculation becomes more complicated. Due to the random arrival and the need for immediate response, the staff requirement is usually calculated using a queue model (with Erlang C., for example). Therefore, a good workforce manager knows:
- How to calculate the basic workload for each channel by using the forecasted volume, the forecasted handling time and the service goal.
- How scheduling one more (or one fewer) employee influences the service metrics, utilization and cost.
Next to the forecasted workload and the defined service goal, shrinkage has the largest impact on your overall staffing requirements. Shrinkage is the percentage of time that agents spend on unproductive activities such as breaks, meetings, holidays, and sick leave. A good workforce manager actively takes shrinkage into account and therefore knows:
- How to calculate shrinkage on a weekly and daily basis.
- How to determine the amount of additional staff needed to compensate for shrinkage.
When it come to creating shift plans, the more flexibility you have, the easier it is to avoid over- and understaffing. Fixed start and end times for shifts, for example, complicate the optimal utilization of resources. Therefore, a good workforce manager:
- Knows all the constraints to be considered in scheduling (agent start times, shift lengths, breaks and lunch times, etc.).
- Finds creative solutions for shifts that are difficult to plan.
- Knows how to use the tools/software for shift planning.
Improve Schedule Efficiency
No process is perfect. A good workforce manager knows this and consequently optimizes the planning process constantly. A good workforce manager:
- Retrospectively analyzes how good the utilization of the agents was, and is able to identify opportunities for further improvement (e.g. by an optimized placement of meetings and breaks).
- Listens to front-line employees on a regular basis to gather their feedback on the schedules, the holiday and shift swap process, and other schedule-related topics.
When it comes to creating optimized schedules, the focus should not only be on customer satisfaction, but also on employee satisfaction. In order to find the ideal balance between the different interests in shift planning, workforce managers should take time regularly to develop their scheduling skills.
If you are looking for ways to develop the skills needed for scheduling staff, we suggest to take a look at our “WFM - Scheduling” course. It provides a step-by-step approach to create a well-balanced schedule. You will learn how to calculate staff requirements, include shrinkage, and analyze cost/service tradeoffs. You will also learn how to create custom work schedules based on previously calculated staffing requirements, to ensure the contact center reaches its service level goals.
We hope you found the list of skills for creating optimized schedules useful and you'll be back for part three of this series that is coming next: Skills for Intraday Management.