As organisations continue to grapple with post-COVID uncertainty, Graeme Meikle explains why it pays to ‘be prepared’ and offers his top tips for mastering the art of capacity planning.
‘Be prepared’—the motto of generations of scouts and girl guides—is the new mission statement for successful contact centres. Yet, it took a global pandemic to drive home just how anything can happen, at any time, and we all need to be equipped to handle anything. Rising customer expectations, sporadic demand, and a new world of remote and hybrid work have wreaked havoc with agent shifts and schedules. Forecasting contact volumes and planning the contact centre’s response has been much trickier than it ever has been before, but help is at hand.
7 demand planning tools and techniques every contact centre should have
New tools and techniques are constantly emerging to help planners better predict contact volumes, improve demand planning and maximise contact centre performance. Here are the essentials:
1. Expect the unexpected – make the most of powerful “What-If” scenario planning built into modern workforce management (WFM) solutions to model the impact of disruptive forces such as supply chain issues, extreme weather or even absence and sickness caused by potential COVID lockdowns in the future. Incorporate buffers that allow for other unexpected spikes in activity and unplanned absences.
2. Archive all forecasts – a recorded audit trail of previous forecasting activities provides a solid foundation for the future. However, schedules and forecasts just like demand are constantly changing so set a regular date in the diary – at least once a month – to review historical data and increase efficiencies.
3. Build behaviour profiles – “noise factors” such as holiday periods, marketing promotions and product launches impact contact volumes. Building behaviour profiles for each of these scenarios is a useful technique for planners. For example, a smart planner at a water company will calculate the likelihood of frost to schedule in more staff when freezing temperatures mean more burst pipes and spikes in call volumes. To stay prepared, create multiple forecasts for different scenarios showing how they change and why customers get in touch.
4. Use your ears – a planner’s most valuable tool is their ears. By simply listening to what advisors are saying, prevalent concerns and behaviours often come to light. These may explain significant planning trends that help planners do a better job while avoiding being labelled the ‘computer says no’ villains. Run planning forums that engage agents to uncover common frustrations and consider deploying the latest Voice of the Employee (VoE) analytics to capture how agents are feeling to identify those who are struggling and need extra support.
5. AI to the rescue – when combined with the latest WFM solutions, Artificial Intelligence (AI) boosts predictive scheduling and planning. The latest AI technology recognises patterns through deep learning in the same way that WFM solutions access historic data to predict, create and model future schedules. Harness them to keep one step ahead of high contact volumes by delivering the right-sized resources to the right place at the right time.
6. Shift bidding – allows agents to self-serve their shifts through an app or website. Such a flexible strategy enables planners to schedule more accurately and meet forecasted demand. Why? Because it allows for more intelligent shift design to better cover the demand. Instead, agents can view upcoming, unassigned shifts and bid for them, pinpointing their first and second choices – saving time for planners.
7. Triple Exponential Smoothing – has been around since the 1960s but is still a forecasting stalwart in many contact centres. It involves three elements:
- Level—the forecast from the previous month
- Trend—the expected increase or decrease in contacts from the previous month
- Seasonality—the impact of the seasons on data
The idea is to isolate each element and average the data—or “smooth” it—from one period to the next. The model does have its drawbacks, for example, many contact centres experiment with multiple models using home-grown algorithms which can take months. Fortunately, modern WFM tools are jam-packed with hundreds of algorithms, which organisations can test, using historical data, within an instant. Also, every 15 minutes, these forecasts update automatically, while planners may make manual adjustments based on Business Intelligence (BI) and their experience.
Enjoy the money saver benefits of effective capacity planning
Introducing these tools and techniques reaps additional rewards that are kind to the budget such as tangible reductions in agent staffing and overtime expenses. Designed to save time and increase forecasting accuracy, Workforce Management solutions encompassing innovative forecasting, what-if scenarios, scheduling, and shift planning tools make capacity planning effortless and add immense business value. For more information, visit Calabrio.
About the Author
Graeme Meikle is Senior Consultant at Calabrio
Calabrio is the customer experience intelligence company that empowers organisations to enrich human interactions. The scalability of our cloud platform allows for quick deployment of remote work models—and it gives our customers precise control over both operating costs and customer satisfaction levels. Our AI-driven analytics tools make it easy for contact centres to uncover customer sentiment and share compelling insights with other parts of the organisation. Customers choose Calabrio because we understand their needs and provide a best-in-class experience, from implementation to ongoing support. Find more at calabrio.com and follow @Calabrio on Twitter.