Call Center Forecasting and Scheduling - an Essential Guide

June 28, 2022
A focused woman with glasses is working on a computer with dual monitors displaying a calendar and a Gantt chart.

It is almost impossible to establish and effectively operate a call center environment without a deep understanding of the principles of forecasting and scheduling. The goal is usually to balance your workforce with the demand of calls, emails, and web chats to minimize wait times and ensure the highest customer satisfaction levels.

Experts maintain that applying the laws of supply and demand are key to the success of a call center. Supply, in this case, represents the number of agents available to assist customers.  Demand, on the other hand, represents the number of calls, emails, webchats, or any other forms of communication occurring at any point in time. As the law suggests, supply and demand need to be in almost perfect synchrony for an operation to run successfully.

When the demand is higher than supply, i.e. there are more calls, texts, emails, etc. compared to available agents, service levels significantly decline, agents become overwhelmed, morale drops, and overall customer satisfaction drops. Conversely, when the supply is greater than demand, i.e. there is more staff than the available emails, calls, webchats, etc. then service improves at the often undesirable cost of paying unproductive agents and idle advisors.

The key is finding the perfect balance between the available staff and the workload.

How to Optimize Call Center Forecasting and Scheduling

For many call center operators and managers, a majority of their time can be spent doing damage control and playing catch up because of poor forecasting and scheduling. We have compiled several tips that can help improve your call center effectiveness through proper forecasting and scheduling.

1. Analyze Call Metrics

To aid efficient forecasting and enhance call center agent scheduling, it is necessary to keep a record of call metrics and regularly analyze them. If your company has an automated call management system, you should take advantage of these facilities and generate reports directly from your data.  Understanding your call arrival data and patterns are at the heart of operating effectively.

Within the data, some of the most important call center metrics that should regularly be analyzed include:

  • call volume
  • handle time
  • first call resolution
  • agent utilization
  • average call answer speed
  • agent occupancy
  • call waiting time
  • agent turnover
  • call abandonment rate. 

If these metrics are properly analyzed, they can advise on the best practices to improve the effectiveness of your contact center.

2. Evaluate Skills of Agents

Each individual is different and everyone has a different set of skills, competencies, proficiencies, and schedule preferences. Call center operators and managers need to have a good grasp of the individual skills of each of their agents. Some representatives have limited skills while others can multi-task because of their broader knowledge base. Analyzing the nature of calls handled by agents will also indicate their preferences, proficiencies, and diversity of skills.

Agents with certain areas of specialization, such as sales skills, empathy, or data gathering,  will perform better when fielding calls in those areas and should be scheduled to work in those specific areas to increase their efficiency and productivity. This brings us to our next point.

3. Expect the Unexpected

Once you make your forecasts and projections, it is now time to start properly scheduling your contact center staff. In an ideal world, there would always be a precise number of highly experienced personnel to handle each call the moment it arrives to satisfy service levels and maintain high customer satisfaction while meeting cost and revenue objectives.

Sadly, a perfect world does not exist meaning that a balance between schedules and forecasts is essential for an efficiently functioning contact center. Numerous unpredictable and sometimes unavoidable circumstances arise which can cause drastic changes to the schedule. This means that your schedule should first and foremost be flexible.

Even schedules based on accurate forecasts are not cast in stone, and should easily adjust according to employee and contact center demands. The adjustments should be such that there is maximum workforce efficiency. Utilizing automated workforce management tools can make this task slightly easier.  Utilizing an “on-demand” workforce, or the gig economy, can be a lifesaver when there are surges of unexpected volume.

4. Schedule Your Top Agents in Peak Periods

When you conduct a comprehensive analysis of your call metrics, you will determine the periods during the month, week, or day when your contact center receives the maximum number of calls. During these peak times, you want your top agents to be present to handle the calls. You can identify your top agents through metrics and key performance indicators.  Ideally, your agents have a clear understanding of their ratings and your ranking system is fully transparent.

Top agents are likely to produce fast, efficient service and provide a great customer experience even during the busiest periods. You don’t want flustered agents dealing with high call volumes and delivering poor customer service. Investing in cross-training provides more efficient results during peak periods. The productivity of your call center can greatly improve when you train all your agents to be top agents.

5. Provide Multiple Work Options

Call centers are usually known for high staff turnover because of the monotonous nature of the work. Management should allow agents to have more flexible hours and schedules to minimize the turnover. For example, setting a total number of hours to be worked per week allows your agents the flexibility to choose the time that best suits their schedules, provided they hit the target.

If your system enables it, you can also allow them to work remotely for a couple of days each week. You should also allow your agents to change their schedules and swap shifts with each other when necessary. During times when you are understaffed, you can also offer overtime, or surge pay options, to willing agents. When overstaffed, you can offer time off to agents who would wish to leave early.

6. Utilize Elasticity

As we mentioned earlier, certain unforeseen events can occur even after accurate forecasting. Being prepared in these situations can set you apart from your competition. For smaller organizations, outsourcing during times of crisis can be wise and economical. However, with workforce elasticity in the gig economy, you can take advantage of a more flexible business model that allows you to both expand and contract your business accordingly.

Elastic infrastructure lets you pay only for what you use without committing to data centers or BPO contracts upfront. With the unpredictability that is typical of contact centers, elasticity might be the right solution for your business.

Final Thoughts

It has become increasingly difficult to accurately predict what is going to happen in customer service. Disruptions could happen at any moment and can sometimes arise from circumstances that no business could ever imagine. Such was the case of Covid-19 in the contact center industry.  Who could have predicted that a global pandemic would lead to a drastic spike in call center volumes, coupled with widespread lockdowns that forced agents to work remotely and businesses to reimagine themselves overnight? 

With the tips highlighted in this guide, you are now better equipped to improve the productivity and efficiency of your contact center, while building the contingency plans that you need to have to handle unexpected situations.

Like an ancient scale, balancing the workload with the workforce through accurate forecasting and scheduling is critical to running an efficient contact center. Whether you are a business looking for competent staff to handle your communications, or a qualified call center agent who wants to improve their work-life balance, Agents Only helps you leverage the gig economy to help you with your forecasting, scheduling, and workforce requirements.

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