Accurate Forecasting in the Call Center

In this current economy, call center managers are under intense pressure to schedule agents as accurately as possible: Schedule too many agents for any particular shift and the manager will have staffers sitting around idly, doing nothing, wasting precious company dollars.

Not only does this lead to unnecessarily high staffing costs, it also leads to agent boredom, which in turn affects job satisfaction. Schedule not enough agents and call hold times and abandonment rates will increase, service levels will erode, and customer satisfaction will take a dive. What’s more you’ll end up with longer calls, leading to higher telephone network usage and costs, as well as increased agent stress and burnout, leading to higher turnover.

Therefore the biggest challenge call center managers face today is accurately forecasting how many agents will be needed for any particular shift. This has actually become more difficult in the past couple of years, due to the fact that patterns in customer behavior have shifted dramatically due to the recession.

For example, a call center manager working for an ecommerce company might have a difficult time forecasting call and contact volume based on past customer contact patterns. Not only is it likely that the overall volume of contacts is way down, compared to previous years, the timing of when those contacts come in may have also changed significantly – in other words, customers may no longer be calling in and making purchases at the same time of year, same days of the week, or even the same hours of the day, as they used to in the past.

Add the fact that customers are using new channels – such as email and Web chat – to place orders and make inquiries, and it’s easy to see how challenging it is to forecast contact volume and schedule the proper number of agents. What’s more, call center managers need to schedule agents based on their unique skill sets: Some agents might be trained to handle Web chat and email, while others are trained to only handle phone calls. Put these factors together and it’s easy to see how getting the right “mix” of agents for each shift can be incredibly challenging.

But just how accurate do call center managers need to be when it comes to forecasting call and contact volume? A close look at this topic reveals that small inaccuracies in forecasting can have a huge impact on the bottom line. In fact, by some estimates, being off by as little as 5 percent can have profoundly negative effect on call center efficiency. As such, getting this area of planning right can be essential to the overall health of the business.

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