If you’ve never worked in or managed a call center, the job of call scheduling seems pretty straightforward: You get a certain number of employees and get them to either answer calls or make them. A call takes as long as it takes, and then they move on to the next call. Customers calling in must simply wait until an agent becomes available. Simple, right?
In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Like any solution that seems to “just work,” there’s enormous complexity that takes place behind the scenes to ensure effective workforce management scheduling. It is an immensely challenging logistical problem. The job of scheduling requires being able to balance daily and weekly work rotations and agent rosters, as well as respond proactively and, when necessary, dynamically to call volume fluctuations. It’s a task that requires consideration of both staff requirements and those of the customer, finding an optimal solution that allows the job to get done as efficiently as possible.
What are the best practices to follow to do this job well? Here are some of the most important ones to consider.
Hire to fill the gaps
Call center work lends itself to generalists, not necessarily with previous experience in a certain market, but with the ability to learn and use their customer service abilities to adapt. But despite the importance of these general skills, and the frequently high turnover in contact centers, it’s crucial that hiring managers get the new employees they need by being as specific as possible.
Right from the start, you should know the scheduling requirements you’re trying to fill, and hire people accordingly. Hiring and then trying to figure out a schedule later can leave employers and employees in an awkward situation. Once you know that you’ve got your full schedule requirements covered, you can then afford to be a bit more flexible -- for example, allowing employees to switch shifts with one another where needed.
No, we’re not referring to the popular elliptical machine gym equipment... As noted, great call center agents are generalists. Take advantage of this by making sure that agents are trained not just in the role they’re going to be doing most of the time, but also ready to step into other call-related roles as well.
Agents may appreciate the upskilling by learning to deal with different types of request, adding variation to the calls they’re making or receiving. Meanwhile, employers have a more rounded workforce who can step into the breach when there is a call volume spike or, for some other reason, a shortage of agents available.
Cross-training is a productivity hack that can greatly benefit both employer and employee -- not to mention the customers benefiting from the improved customer service experience.
The frenetic pace of call centers can easily mean that it becomes more of a reactive, rather than proactive, job. During busy times, it’s all hands-on-deck to get things done. But strategizing is a crucial aspect of managing this environment -- and, due to the nature of the job, the data is there to help.
Analytics tools and big data make it possible to look at information related to call resolution rates, call abandonment, average answering speeds, call volume and when these numbers spike, and more. These can also be correlated with metrics like average annual agent turnover, or the number of people working on a particular shift. Having this data available makes it possible to take a more analytical view of call metrics to improve scheduling. It can lead to a far more proactive, productive work environment, in which both employers and employees are prepared for what is likely to be thrown at them.
Use the right tools for the job
If you’re a customer phoning a call center, you want to be given fast, clear answers to your questions. That same clarity should apply when it comes to call center scheduling. Using bespoke software that is designed for call center schedule and workforce management makes it easier than ever to organize your workforce, while taking into account the big data already mentioned.
Modern scheduling tools aren’t just about digital calendars, however. The most adept solutions in the market also utilize cutting edge artificial intelligence and machine learning for learning how to improve workforce scheduling based on closed-loop optimization processes. Put simply: They adapt based on results to ensure that future forecasts are ever more accurately predicted. These tools can also spot problems -- and offer solutions -- to issues you might overlook, such as employees working uneven numbers of shifts or seeming to receive favorable or unfavorable rotations. This can help reduce workplace tensions, and further improve the way your business operates.
Create a good call center culture
Working in a call center can be rewarding and promote a good community environment. But employers need to do what they can to aid this situation, and make call center agents feel valued.
The steps above can help you get the job of managing a call center achieved more efficiently. But it can also ensure that employees are able to take proper breaks, and feel properly supported and treated fairly. It’s a tough balancing act to pull off. However, do it successfully and everyone reaps the rewards.
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