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Riding the Rollercoaster: Handling Weekly, Daily and Intraday Forecasts

June 25, 2014

Scheduling Roller CoasterOnce you have a handle on annual and monthly forecasting, the shorter term forecasting should feel comfortable. Where the longer term forecasting was about a broad stroke understanding, weekly-level forecasting is about minimizing the margin of error.

This tactical forecasting requires more intuition because this week’s 10:15 am interval could be last week’s 11:00 am interval; slight divergence in customer demand will be measured by your gut-driven understanding of daily activity. To reduce margin of error, CRM data or CIC’s wrap up codes can be helpful in predicting when calls will fall within the week, day, or even intraday. Use these invaluable data points to gain greater insight and adjust your volume forecast accordingly.

Headcount forecasting now comes to the fore. Having invested in annual and monthly volume forecasting, and refined this broad-stroke effort with allocation at the interval level, it is appropriate to apply some artful headcount forecasting and consider these points:

  • What known events will cause agents to leave their desks?
    • Special projects?
    • Email, fax or other written correspondence?
    • Vacation, meeting, training, or coaching sessions?
  • How many agents will miss their performance marks due to…
    • Absenteeism?
    • Distractions between scheduled activities?
    • Well-intended, but impromptu, meetings with supervisors?

Consider how these planned and unplanned contact center activities overlay with agents’ productive and paid time is to be spent while servicing your customers’ interactions. Did you quantify this staffing “shrinkage” in your headcount forecast?

The daily and weekly reality feels like a rollercoaster sometimes. The trick is to keep the calls on the rails, learn to bank right or left, and deal with operational pressures: so-called peaks and valleys in intraday management. Remember the saying, “You don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression”? If the volume forecast and overlaid headcount forecast predict a poor outcome in service levels, take control—adjust agents’ schedules to maximize availability and save the day!

Here are some goals and metrics to help make the ride an enjoyable (or at least survivable) experience.

Goal 1: Measure agents by occupancy

You must first define this measure. Does it include hold time? How about idle time? The measure is based on the agent’s minutes schedule to be engaging the customer (ex. on the phone, or writing emails). Whatever you choose, stick with it. A rule of thumb is that agents should have 80-90% customer-facing occupancy.

(Talk Time+Handle Time+Idle Time)/(Minutes Scheduled on Phone) ≥ 80%

An outbound–centric phone agent would likely have a higher rate (90%). While inbound agents could have lower occupancy (80%), this will depend on your unique customer demands on agents.

80% is good for agents with long calls and after call wrap up (ACW). These agents tend to have high stress, so be careful not to overload them and burn them out. A higher occupancy rate, say 90%, is possible for agents with shorter calls and minimal after call wrap up (ACW).

Once the goal is decided, be sure to explain the target(s) to your agents, how you arrived at this value and what the impacts are to both agents and customers.

Goal 2: 100% Utilization

Utilization measures the time an agent is addressing business needs; it should include training and everything else that they’ve been asked to do. The complementary measure of Utilization, is Adherence. Utilization is a more universal and representative aggregate of what an agent does throughout the day, whereas Adherence is a measure of addressing these business needs at the prescribed \ scheduled time. Utilization can include special projects, outbound work as well as call handling.

(Work Done)/(Total Available Time-Breaks-Lunch) = 100%

Goal 3: True Up Assumptions

Every forecast includes assumptions. Campaigns, for example, may be planned for Thursdays, but a holiday may skew the delivery date, thus change the contact center’s workload and subsequent expectation of service levels. As another example, a delay in bill printing may push out your best laid plans.

Goal 4: Stay Connected

To keep forecasts true to reality, be sure to stay in touch with internal influencers. Find out what has changed and adapt. The closer the time frame, the more likely changes will arise and be more fully understood. With an adjusted volume and headcount forecast, critical activities like agents’ training and coaching stand a good chance of not being canceled, which is a huge boost in the WFM Team’s credibility.

At every level of forecasting, for volume and headcount, it is critical to stay in communication with the rest of the organization; this takes effort on an ongoing basis. Adjust your forecast to keep your contact center’s activities on the rails, and you’ll enjoy a smoother ride!