During the COVID-19 pandemic, workforce management became an area of intense focus and accelerated innovation.
Human resources teams at companies around the world developed new policies, practices and processes to enable a decentralized workforce, while keeping employees connected and productive. As innovation continues, especially around reducing operating costs and managing staffing while maintaining an optimal customer experience, it’s fair to say that a new era of workforce management has begun.
One of the consequences of this new reality is that contact center staffing cycles have become less predictable. Agents are largely able to work from anywhere, with hybrid and remote work environments now the norm. This makes adhering to targeted service levels and managing staffing costs especially important.
The solution to effective contact center staffing is accurate forecasting and proactive sourcing of contact center agents.
Managing Contact Center Agent Shortages
One of the ways to manage the ebb and flow of service level demands is to prepare for increased workloads for those times when call center agent hiring is most challenging. This might involve reprioritizing team and individual agent responsibilities. In times of increased stress, not all tasks have the same importance. Set new priorities and more achievable deadlines to help your team focus on getting through rough patches.
Another way to mitigate the negative impact of heightened service level demands is to actively and systematically look for hidden talent on your team of contact center agents. This might be as simple as giving certain employees the opportunity to take on new challenges or soliciting new ideas for greater productivity from team members. The advantage to these approaches is that if they don't work, you haven't lost any ground. If they do work, then you've improved your call center agents’ performance in a highly collaborative way.
One additional way to handle increased service level demand is through robotic process automation (RPAs), or having software do the highly repetitive and time-consuming work that would otherwise fall to agents. RPAs make business processes more efficient and enable your call center agents to do more complex and higher value tasks. RPAs can be used to address data capture, entry, retrieval and transfers; high-volume workflows; and managing security permissions. Freshly, the healthy food delivery service, shares several examples of RPAs they use to relieve their call center agents from being overburdened.
Managing Contact Center Staffing
Determining staffing levels for a call center is a mix of art and science. The science relates to accurate forecasting, and the art relates to finding and hiring the best agents available. Call Center Helper provides an excellent set of formulas for calculating the number of agents needed on a contact center.
Beyond formulas for throughput, however, managers need to have the ability to forecast staffing levels based on business changes, seasonality, customer demand and other factors that fluctuate over time.
There are three keys to accurate and timely forecasting:
- Include recurring and isolated events in your forecast - From holidays on the one hand to new product announcements on the other, best practices require you to consider as many drivers as you reasonably can to generate a more accurate forecast and support more successful scheduling.
- Plan for changes to your staffing needs - Agents get sick, show up late, need to leave early, etc. Minimize complexity and overhead costs by simplifying your scheduling processes to account for these “always there” variables and ensure your call center metrics can be met regardless of minor changes to agent availability.
- Consider what drives the business at the contact center and enterprise levels - Your company priorities may revolve around cost containment and profitability, causing your team to run a bit lean. This may actually be to the team’s advantage, shielding it from potential staffing cuts. Or your strategic priority may be world-class customer service, making an occasional surplus of agents desirable, even if it results in an increased payroll cost.
Enabling contact center agents with the right technology also ensures customer service standards remain high, even in the face of shortages and a dynamic work environment.
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The Call Centre Management Association reports that the industry has recently leapt forward several years in a matter of months because of the need to implement technology in support of working from home and digital transformation. The right tools are critical in helping your contact center balance staffing with desired customer experience levels.
Contact center staffing will continue to evolve as the next phase of the work from anywhere era unfolds. You can be sure your contact center agents are providing optimum levels of service, even if you have several agent vacancies on the team.
Rest assured, a combination of proactive management, accurate forecasting and integrated WFM technology makes any call center staffing shortage easy to navigate.