Meet Customer Needs Without Overwhelming Your Agents: 6 Workforce Management Strategies to Engage your Team and Still Surpass High Customer Expectations
Workforce management in your contact center is all about finding balance. You balance the needs of your customers with the workload of your agents (and their development). Plus, you toss in overseeing your contact center budget, too.
But you shouldn’t have to sacrifice customer happiness to run a lean contact center. And, you shouldn’t have to worry that running a lean contact center puts agents at risk for burnout and disengagement.
With the right workforce management strategies in place, you can hit all of your priorities.
Why? Because modern WFM is shifting. Good leaders know that simply having agents in their seats doesn’t make for standout customer experiences.
To meet the sky-high expectations of today’s customers, agents need to be engaged at work. They need further development, connection to purpose, and time to step out of their queues.
According to Gallup, unhappy and unhealthy employees impact: absenteeism, performance, customer ratings, quality and profit. With that in mind, contact center leaders are no longer looking to simply manage their workforce. Now, they’re asking “How can I engage my workforce while they’re in the seats with headsets on?”
We’re here to help. Use these workforce management strategies to run an efficient contact center, keep agents happy and still top customer expectations.
1. Use customizable reports and historical data to forecast service needs.
Use your data as a roadmap for what’s happening in your contact center and what kind of interaction volume you can expect in the contact center. Pair historical data with recent data trends from your real-time numbers. Factor in current business trends, new product or service releases and the net new customer forecasts for each quarter.
And, look to your year-over-year metrics for added guidance, too. What happened in May of 2019, and how did volume compare with April and June of 2019? Did call volume decrease substantially in June because people flocked to the beach for summer vacation? When did it pick back up again?
Data from the previous year helps you predict and forecast seasonality among your customers. Then, you can align those numbers with your growth path for the current year to improve workforce management strategies.
Let’s cover an example:
Looking at past data, let’s say you IDed May as your busy season. In May of 2019, you handled an average of 2000 interactions per day. But during the average month in 2019, not peak season, you typically handled 1000 interactions per day. Flash forward to 2020, and your average interaction volume in January – April increased to 1250 interactions per day. That’s a 25% increase for the year. Apply the increase to your peak season in 2020, and you can forecast at least 2500 interactions per day (without accounting for any other business changes).
Once you have these predictions on deck, you can use WFM tools (like Sharpen + Community WFM) and additional service-level metrics to figure out how many agents you need to take care of incoming customer needs. If budgets are too tight to invest in WFM tools right now, you can seek out free resources, like this Erlang Calculator from Call Centre Helper.
Look to your historical data and reports to find metrics to input into the calculator fields. Then, you can see how many agents you need to handle predicted interaction volume during your busiest periods (and your slowest).
2. Err on the side of caution when staffing for known busy periods.
Empathy doesn’t scale when your agents are overworked and overwhelmed. Having the right number of agents on staff at the right time to help customers is the contact center conundrum. You don’t want to overstaff and waste time, money and resources. Agents will sit around with little to do and suffer in silence – bored, eyes glued to their phones in an endless scroll, feeling like invaluable team members.
At the same time, though, understaffing is detrimental to your customer experience. It means there aren’t enough agents to help customers. Or, if your agents can make it through all the interactions piled up in their queue, they’re exhausted (and bitter) by the end of the day.
Working in an always-on environment with no room for a breather swiftly leads to burnout. And burnout leads to a whole host of other problems that impact your business outcomes – like spikes in turnover and absenteeism. A study out of the American Psychological Association found that burned-out employees are 2.6x more likely to seek a new job and 63% more likely to call in sick.
Keep burnout in mind as your forecast and plan your agents’ schedules. It’s better to be cautious and have a few more agents at the ready to help customers. The alternative brings much higher costs to your business in the long-term (hello, millions in turnover costs).
3. Build in time for agent coaching.
To keep your team engaged and performing at their best, your agents need to be coached daily. Why? Because productivity without engagement is another key contributor to agent burnout – the Rube Goldberg Machine of bad outcomes.
As you forecast for customer needs and plan agent schedules, build in time for coaching each agent. Account for agent 1:1s, team meetings and performance conversations with supervisors, too. Often, WFM will cancel scheduled agent coaching sessions when volume spikes. But your agents need coaching to gracefully (and accurately) handle the increasingly complex interactions they get.
Especially when complaints are aplenty and metrics trend down, agents need you to step in and get them back on track. Coaching builds confidence in your agents. It empowers them to auto-correct and fix problems, and it encourages them to put positive moments on repeat for the next interaction.
Pro tip: With in-line training and microlearning lessons, you don’t have to plan for tons of out-of-queue time to coach your team. Instead, you can plan for quick 5-minute coaching sessions where agents can zip through a coaching module that’s waiting in their queue between interactions.
4. Plan for all-company events and downtime.
I used to work for a company with high call volume. Throughout the week, our customer service reps would need to be on deck to help customers at all times of the day. But we had monthly company meetings and culture committee groups. Instead of locking agents down and not letting them attend, managers worked with agents to create a plan for who would attend which all-company events. We’d always have a handful of agents and supervisors present who could go back and report important messages to the team. And, at the next event, a different crop of agents would get the chance to attend.
Even better, when we had celebratory company events, we planned enough in advance to let everyone attend. We’d notify our customers of upcoming closures and be completely transparent about why we were shutting down – to celebrate our hard-working employees.
At the beginning, our execs feared letting customers know we’d be offline would bring negative repercussions from customers. But after our initial outreach, customers responded back to closure emails letting us know how great it was that we took time to celebrate with each other. We harbored some customer goodwill and boosted agent morale and inclusion in the process.
Remember – agents are an integral part of your company, too. They don’t need to be planted in their seats 100% of the time they’re at work. Plan for downtime, ahead of time. And, work with your agents so they can attend important company events. Connection to the larger purpose of your company fuels better agent well-being and drives up business results.
5. Dedicate resources to intraday management.
If you don’t have a workforce manager in your contact center, work with supervisors to create an oversight committee for intraday management. That way, if absenteeism spikes, an agent’s kid gets sick or a lunch break runs long, you can adjust on the fly to help your customers.
When you’re re-optimizing for unexpected variables (i.e. an early-morning traffic jam), make sure you still keep your agents’ well-being in mind. Don’t force them to work through lunch or bathroom breaks to adjust for hiccups during the day. Instead, manage shifts and stagger breaks, making sure each agent gets time for breaks, but customers still get the help they need.
Pro Tip: Use WFM technology to help plot your workforce management and optimization strategies. With more complicated customer requests, countless channels to reach out on, and varying agent skill sets, managing and engaging your workforce grows more complicated by the minute. WFM tools help you reallocate resources and update agent schedules to meet changes in customer demands as they happen. When you only use spreadsheets, your information is siloed, and you can’t make fast changes. By the time you update your spreadsheet and translate the changes back to your agents, your queues are full and customers are angry.
6. Include your agents in the scheduling process.
Now more than ever, offering flexibility to your team is important. Some of your agents are newly-minted substitute teachers, dog walkers and toddler-entertainers.
As you plan shifts and schedule your agents, work with your team members to build out schedules around their work-life needs. And, keep this practice in play for workforce management strategies when the pandemic ends, too.
Create requirements and set priority for how agents can select and submit their shift preferences. Does performance play a factor, how about family obligations and team seniority?
Account for PTO and vacation time, too. Create policies around scheduling vacations, so agents know how to request time off with enough advance time to get their request approved and not leave your team under-staffed.
Set guidelines and map out the needs for each shift, then let your agents give their input. And, now’s the perfect time to test out shift bidding – where agents get more control over their individual schedules.
“The end goal of using shift bidding is to create a sense of agent empowerment, boost morale, and establish a secure foundation for satisfied agents that will deliver a consistent customer experience no matter what shift is contacted.”
– Bob Brittan, Director of Marketing at WFMSG
Put up a virtual shift-swap board where agents can post full or partial shifts up for grabs (or where they can pick up a new one). Then, agents can work amongst themselves to move shifts around, without impacting customer service level.
Using these workforce optimization techniques gives your agents the development and flexibility they need to stay engaged and happy, all while showing up for your customers.