Optimizing Your Workforce: The Four Strategies That Make A Difference

Robust workforce planning ensures you keep your customers satisfied — but it isn't easy to get it right. In this blog we discuss the four pillars that all organizations need to have in place.

Right place, right time, right skill.

At the end of the day, that’s what contact center workforce optimization is all about. It sounds easy! So why not stop reading right here? Why aren’t you doing it already? The reality is that most organizations don’t get it right – even the big ones.

Without robust workforce planning in place your customers can wait in long queues, speak to over-worked and stressed agents or — worse still — not be answered at all. It does not matter how good your product or service is or how competitive your price is if your customers cannot speak or interact with you.

Timely service is essential as customers can chose other suppliers… and today’s consumers expect quick and efficient service.

The background

Each year, Stellar’s consulting team undertakes research in consumer behaviors and preferences. Over 1,300 consumers indicated the channel they interacted with, whether or not their issue was dealt with quickly and how this influenced how valued they felt as customers.

What we found was that slow resolution (regardless of channel) makes customers feel undervalued. Of the customers we surveyed who felt resolution timeframes were ‘slow’, only 9% felt valued. Of the customers who rated the interaction as ‘quick’, 74% felt valued. It is not surprising that customers who felt valued were more loyal and more likely to be promoters of the business.

The lesson is whether you are planning to support traditional telephone channels, webchat, social or support for digital products, having a robust workforce plan that ensures your people are ready to support customers when they contact you is critical.

Stellar’s consultants have provided workforce health checks for multiple companies across multiple industries, and there are four key pillars that all organizations need to have in place.

Your workforce processes can be divided into macro or longer-term planning activities (what and how many) and operational or short-term planning (making it work on the day). Below is an overview of the core activities for each.

1. Long-Term Forecast

You need to consider the range of issues that will impact customer demand over the next 12 months (maybe longer; you could look at three to five years). What happened last year? What marketing or new products are expected to be launched in the next 12 months? What legislation is expected? What are the seasonal issues affecting demand (housing sales, the holiday season, and so on)? Try to involve senior management, marketing, product managers and gather as much information as you can.

Building on last year you can create a baseline of demand for the coming year. You may also choose to add a buffer to allow for variations.

If you don’t have a formal workforce system, Excel and Erlang can be used to calculate resourcing requirements from your demand profile.

Tip: Don’t be afraid to use the “Excel – Erlang” method. A common misunderstanding is that you need a big, expensive system to get started. You’ll be told you need to “simulate” and the only way is in the system, but in most cases for initial modeling this is not true. Long-term, however, your goal should be to end up in “the system”, as things get complex and Erlang has limitations.

2. Recruitment Plans

Link your attrition profile to your resourcing requirements and you will be able to identify how many people you need each week and each month and when you have to recruit. Track your attrition each week and input the data into the plan. You should never be surprised when you need to recruit.

Involve your HR team – they will help you plan recruitment to meet demand and ensure you have the right number of resources at the right time to meet customer demand.

3. Short-Term Forecast

Your long-term forecast is a plan, and plans are fallible. Unless you have a crystal ball, things will change. Update the next two months with actual demand and fine tune your plan. As you make changes, make notes so you can track the changes and the reasons behind them. Focus in particular on the next two weeks – what do you expect to happen? Have your operational management sign off on the assumptions and plan.

You now have a plan that everyone agrees represents the most likely outcome and you will all work together to make it a reality.

4. Daily Game Plan or Real-Time Management

Some experts say that you do not need real time management if you have robust planning in place. In reality, no plan will ever be 100% perfect; and you should be prepared. There could be an unplanned event in the news or agent absenteeism is higher than expected or indeed lower than expected. You need tools to move schedules, reschedule training or postpone meetings if things change.

At the end of the day, effective workforce planning needs to be driven by discipline – never take it for granted – and processes that are understood with clear responsibilities assigned.

Stellar’s consultants can support your business with a three-week health check of your workforce processes. You only need to reduce your workforce by 0.3 of a resource to cover your costs – and the increased retention and sales you make by answering your customers makes the ROI undeniable. If you are struggling with your workforce plan or think there are opportunities to improve, call us now.

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