The Impact of Increased Handle Times

Written by Michel Niere

In our third instalment in the WFM and New Normal series, we talk about the impacts of increased handle times. As a lot of contact centers have quickly had to adopt work from home strategies to maintain business as usual status, there have been some things to be wary of, and increased Average Handle Time (AHT) is one of them. Some of the causes of increased AHT might be due to:

  1. Technical issues like the internet not being fast enough, therefore taking longer to load information and as a result increasing talk or hold times
  2. If a secondary team is involved and the agent can’t get a hold of anyone and has to place the customer on hold for extended periods
  3. New staff coming on board and taking longer to find and resolve the issue

(These incidents can, of course, occur even when staff aren’t working from home, and there is no pandemic).

Average Handle Time

Let’s focus on Average Handle Time. Average Handle Time is the sum of talk time, time on hold, and wrap-up time divided by the total number of calls. Targets are often set for individuals to maximize performance, keep hold and wrap times low, or manage talk times but still provide excellent customer service. A business can implement a learning curve or glide path to help the employee meet personal goals and for the group to meet capacity targets. Any change to call flow or products and services offered can lead to a change in handle time duration.

How WFM Can Help

From a WFM perspective about forecasting, changes in AHT can be either permanent or temporary. With guidance from the business and an understanding of the external factors influencing the changes, a WFM practitioner would adjust their forecast as necessary. For example, if the causes of the change are permanent, this could lead to revisions in capacity plans or budget forecasts, quarterly forecasts and even intraday level forecasts. However, if the change is temporary, then perhaps a quick forecast for the next three days or week would suffice. As much as we want to be proactive in forecasting if you can’t change schedules in a short period, forecasting at short notice may not be beneficial. 

If however, you believe it is the “new norm” then it is essential to make the changes to ensure more accurate forecasting and planning.


Effective Strategies for Managing a Contact Center

Contact centers are the frontline of your customer service operation, which means that your contact center must be operating at optimum capacity at all times. The management of your contact center is an essential element to operating successfully and providing your customers with the very best customer service. The success of your contact center relies on the strength of your agents and management teams. Without the right management, even the best contact centers will suffer. Below, we have 4 effective strategies for managing a contact center.

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Making Your Contact Center Work Better

Contact center changes are never an easy venture, but it's crucial to embrace an opportunity for change. While the world is slowly returning to normal after a global pandemic, now is the time to identify how your contact center can be improved. For some organizations, there may be an influx of calls from customers asking about your services. Your team will need to be ready, so it's essential to streamline your operations to address the needs of your customers and provide the touchpoints that they are looking for in order for them to interact more effectively with you.

Providing a great customer experience

A multi-faceted and customizable customer support solution is vital during a crisis to provide a great customer experience. Customers often struggle to reach businesses at a time when they need them most. During the recent pandemic, some contact centers faced increasingly high volumes of calls, which caused longer hold times, reduced callback numbers and increased frustration for their customers. It’s important to learn from this and to make the necessary changes to provide better support in the future. With the right tools and processes in place, your contact center will be able to field the calls that are coming in better and continue to provide a great customer experience regardless of whether your staff are working from home or in the office.

How automation helps

Automation includes Interactive Voice Response, Chat Bots, and self-help applications (web browser or smartphone app-based). However, all automation needs integration to source systems to make it truly useful in providing benefit to a customer. With an IVR, customers can access business functions you choose to make available to them in order to take calls away from agents, and only send those calls to an agent when a customer needs more assistance than they can get from the IVR. Careful crafting of your customized menus and transactions gives your customers a choice to make their own decisions. Additionally, when needed, it can route your customers to specialized agents that can be ready to answer their questions without hesitation, based on the interaction that the customer has had within the IVR.

Proactive outreach for positive touchpoints

Depending on your industry, this crisis might be an excellent opportunity for your agents to proactively reach out to your customers to ensure them that your team is still available and standing by to assist them with whatever they need. Whether this is through an outbound dialer, email campaign, social media, or even a widespread text message, it's essential to establish that your company is still in operation and that your customer's needs come first.

Identify all touchpoints

Touchpoints are all the places online that your customers can interact with your brand. These touchpoints could range anywhere from adding a product to their online shopping cart, engaging with a post on one of your social media channels, opening an email, or interacting with the customer service chatbot on your website. Once you identify these touchpoints, you'll get some immediate insight into what the customer experience is. Are there too many? Maybe your company website is too complicated, requiring too many steps to get to a purchase or a download. If, on the other hand, you find that there are fewer touchpoints than you realized, it's time to create some new touchpoints on your website. It's all about balance and making sure that the right pieces are in the right place.

Improve your Workforce Planning capabilities

Making sure you have the right staff, in the right place, with the right skills, at the right time is an essential part of optimizing the customer experience.  Unfortunately, it is something that is often not done well. Investing in the success of your workforce planning team is critical to achieving success.  When looking at ways to improve your contact center, review both your Workforce Planning software functionality and the team’s skills in both best practice WFM and using the tool.

How Call Design Can Help

Call Design is the ideal solutions partner for elevating the operations and processes of your contact center. Our consulting and technology solutions empower your staff to improve the customer experience, giving your company the competitive edge you need. By improving your operations and giving your customers options, you are improving their experience with your brand. Contact Call Design today to learn how we can help you.


Call Design - Increasing Agent Satisfaction with Better WFM Tools

Increasing Agent Satisfaction with Better WFM Tools

Aspect Software’s most recent Contact Center agent survey listed agents’ top factors that drive their sense of engagement: Work/life balance came in 3rd, two spots above competitive wage with flexible work schedule not far behind.

 

A skilled scheduling team can do great work with spreadsheets, but when you add a best-fit Workforce Management tool, you open up new possibilities for truly transformational improvements in agent satisfaction. Adding more flexibility to the scheduling process can help agents find that work/life balance they want, but contact centers still need to maintain the right staffing levels to achieve their service goals. The right WFM tool can help you find the right balance.

 

More options in the scheduling process - Agents can feel more engaged when they feel more control over and connection with their work lives. You’ve forecasted the staffing levels to meet your service goals, and you can control the methods you use to fill those staffing levels. The right tools can add new options that might not have been feasible in the past.

  • Preference-Based Scheduling – Allowing agents some input into the scheduling process can be a very effective way to make agents feel more involved and invested. You can reward experienced senior employees with schedules build on their preferences for days worked and start times, or add another layer by adding performance scores to the mix as an incentive for above-average work. You can take a subset of agent and create preference-based schedules as a base, then building rules-based schedules on top to make sure all your requirements are covered.
  • Dynamic Scheduling – For flex agents or work-at-home agents, could you increase your options for schedule flexibility? If your work-at-home agents would like to work some hours in the morning, some in the afternoon or some in the evening, it could be a win-win for them and you. Giving them a schedule that better fits their lives while allowing you to have them working at the busiest times of your day without having to keep them on the clock at slower times when they aren’t needed. With manual scheduling, the logistics are daunting; but the right WFM tool can help you break down your staffing requirements into configurable blocks and then present the available blocks to agents so they can effectively build their own schedules.  
  • Shift Bids – Many contact centers use shift bidding to fill schedules and give agents a method to move from less-favored schedules to ones they like better when those schedules become available. But creating and executing a shift bid can be extremely time-consuming when done manually, limiting the frequency you can offer new bids, which limits the chances your agents have to move to a schedule they like. Having a WFM tool that helps automate this process means that you can offer shift bids more often, not only assisting agents to feel more involved, but also giving you the chance to use fresher schedules that are a more optimal fit for your current business requirements.

 

More options for intra-day changes – Agents want flexibility when it comes to meeting their need for planned time off as well as accommodating things that come up at the last minute.

  • Automated Vacation – Rather than going through a cumbersome process of contacting a manager to find out if vacation time is available, sending emails to the scheduling team, then waiting for those extremely busy people to have a chance to respond, an agent using an automated WFM request process can see available vacation hours and use self-service tools to enter vacation requests that are processed in a fraction of the time. Agents feel more control over their vacation strategy, team supervisors don’t need to stop what they’re doing to deal with vacation requests, and the scheduling team knows that staffing levels are protected against any accidental overpromising of vacation or feelings that favoritism is used in the process.
  • Ease of VTO and VOT – Some agents look for any opportunity for overtime, and others might need to leave early to deal with family emergencies; either way, it’s another opportunity to satisfy your requirements and satisfy agents at the same time. When you’re busier than expected and need additional agents, the right WFM tool can help you identify the agents who want overtime, while still tracking who is working OT and setting any limits to avoid giving too much OT to the same people. Similarly, you can make voluntary time off available to agents who need it, alleviating unexpected overstaffing by allowing those agents to request VTO though an automated process that gets them off the clock sooner and saving the contact center unnecessary staffing costs.  
  • Automated Trades – Opening the shift swap process to larger groups of agents, even agents at different sites means more opportunities for trades for your agents; but it also brings more complexity. An automated tool can keep tight control over the trade process, allowing agents to have more possible trade partners while automatically checking skill compatibility, staffing levels, protecting against overtime, controlling the number of times agents are trading, and other configurable rules that you would otherwise have to check manually. As with automated vacation request, agents get a response faster, and all users can be alerted so they can keep an eye on the trade process.

 

Mobile Access

Many agents would love 24/7 mobile access to their schedules, vacation requests, and trades; the newest generation of agents may even expect that they will be able to interact with their work schedules anytime from their phones. A Mobile WFM app can add another level of agent satisfaction to your scheduling process by making all of your schedule optimization efforts accessible even when agents aren’t online at work. This can be extremely helpful in streamlining and automating your callout process when agents can’t make it to work, as well as allowing you to communicate things like overtime availability to agents who might be willing to start work early if you need them. Shift bidding can be facilitated if you give agents the ability to meet their bid window even if they aren’t at work.

 

Added options for schedule flexibility is just one way that a best-fit Workforce Management tool can make a real difference to your agents’ satisfaction with their jobs, helping you keep your top performers and attract new talent. Contact us or email the Call Design team today to find out how we can help make it happen for you!

 


4 features to look for in your next workforce planning tool

 

Workforce planning tools are essential to the smooth running of any contact center or back office. Choose an effective workforce planning tool and you'll have access to a suite of human resource features that help you get the right staff in the right place at the right time. Choose an ineffective tool and you're at risk of falling behind the competition.

When it comes time to upgrade your suite, it is essential to choose software that doesn't just meet your needs now, but that will continue to do so long into the future. So today, we discuss what features to look for when investing in new workforce planning software.

Your new software must be quick to scale or upgrade if you are to keep up in the future.

1. A solution that is future-proofed

Business needs are always changing, and you must be able to keep up not only with the wider market, but with your own growth. By moving your business away from clunky legacy systems (like spreadsheets) to a modern, intuitive suite, you're laying a foundation that you can build upon in the coming years.

For example, choosing a cloud-based workforce planning solution enables you to access the scalability and ease of use that is inherent with cloud tech. Cloud-based software can be installed easily into your business (requiring little to no on-site infrastructure), upgraded in a timely manner by the software host, and scaled up and down depending on how many users require access.

 

2. A solution that is easy to use

If your new software is hard to use, people aren't going to use it. It's as simple as that. And if this is the case, you're not getting the most from your investment.

So, it's vital that you find a suite that makes life easier. Take Aspect WFM for example. Aspect WFM is one of the global leaders in workforce management and planning not only for its functionality, but its usability too. The user interface is designed to be fast to learn and quick to use, pulling inspiration from common UI designs such as those from Microsoft, Apple and Google.

3. A solution you can use on any device

Being able to use smartphones at work could increase staff productivity by 34 percent.

The modern office is a multi-device office. Your workforce planners are using multiple devices everywhere in their lives, so why not at work too? In fact, a combined Frost & Sullivan/Samsung report found that enabling staff to use smartphones at work can increase their productivity by 34 percent.

Combine your next workforce planning suite like Aspect WFM with a user-based mobile app such as Call Design's ME. This would allow staff to access the software from their mobile device even if they are out of office, without sacrificing the security or administrative oversight that on-site software would provide.

4. A solution that packs bang for buck

Finally, like any major software investment, your next workforce planning tool must come packed with a host of modern features. That means strong, data-backed forecasting and scheduling, accurate productivity and performance monitoring, and robust leave management and shift swapping - all the foundations of any good contact center or back office success story.

At Call Design, we believe Aspect WFM is the tool for the job. And we back that decision with expertise - we have vast amounts of experience in the workforce optimization and management space, with a team of consultants who have an average 15+ years of experience. If you'd like to find out more about how Aspect WFM and Call Design's accompanying apps can help you business, contact us today. 


Workforce Management as we know it is changing

 

Workforce management has long been the go-to for team leaders to keep operations running smoothly, but as our world has transformed, so too has the way we need to manage contact centers. Customers have changed, technology has changed, and your WFM system must do so as well.

So what are the must-knows in WFM in today's world?

Customers communicate across a multitude of channels now, which makes WFM slightly tricker.WFM is changing.

1. Forecasting can't be done like it used to be

The increasing variety of customer channels and changing expectations of newer generations have made forecasting a more complex problem. But how?

Omnichannel forecasting

According to a Deloitte survey, phone communications with contact centers is expected to drop from having 64 percent market share (2017's figure) to just 47 percent. The modern contact center's WFM software must readily integrate with new platforms to make gathering data easy for forecasters, so they can accurately examine historic trends and predict new scenarios based on an omnichannel approach. This means having the ability to apply service level goals for channels such as chat that are quite different to those used in traditional voice channels.

Newer generations

In addressing generational shifts driving customer expectations, see our article titled "3 contact center strategies to adopt for Generation Z customers", you'll see that these people have unique requirements that influence their loyalty. Workforce planners working with younger customers must ensure forecasts are predicted with their needs in mind, so the right amount of staff are in place at the right times on the right channels. This segmentation of customers is expecting to reach out to you at a time that is convenient for them, on the channel of their choice, and be easily identified as a customer across these channels.

More people

regularly work from home.

2. Employees are changing, too

As customers change, so too do those entering the workforce. Engagement and shrinkage have been issues for a long time, but changing expectations and advancing technology could affect these even more.

Look at working from home as an example. According to Gallup, 43 percent of employed Americans worked from home at least some of the time in their main job - digital technology makes it easier for employees to telecommute, and many (such as those with young families) are calling for it as an option.

So should your business offer work at home?

On one hand, a Stanford study found that, when call center agents worked from home, there was a 13 percent increase in performance, and staff attrition halved. However, a conflicting study - from the London School of Economics and Political Science - found that home working could negatively impact organisational performance and cause tension in company culture.

Bringing this back to workforce management, using technology to offer more flexible ways of working might be of benefit to your company, but it would be wise to talk to a professional WFM consultant before making changes to ensure they have a positive effect.

Many employees desire the option to work from home, but studies disagree as to whether it is beneficial.Does your company offer working from home?

3. Automation and simplification are vital to future success

Automation has the power to make employees' lives easier. Around the globe and across industries, business leaders are deploying automation to handle menial tasks that would otherwise take someone a disproportionate amount of time to complete. Not only does this allow them to focus on more important duties, but it reduces the chance of human error in key areas.

In the WFM space, workforce planners should be using software that enables streamlining and simplification across tasks. For example, software like Aspect WFM will need to be able to easily schedule people across different tasks in different channels throughout the day. Additionally, enabling staff to bid on shifts remotely, selecting shifts that meet their requirements that week, will become more and more important as organizations try to offer more flexibility while increasing productivity.

Choose Call Design for your WFM upgrade

If you're ready to talk to the professionals about upgrading your WFM platform, talk to Call Design. Our consultants can work hand-in-hand with your business to find the best solution for you and your staff, deploying some of the world's leading WFM technology.

To learn more, contact us today.


How good software can help with your staff management needs

 

A recent Deloitte survey highlighted the sheer number of priorities contact center leaders must address to run their business effectively. Staff management is just one of these priorities, and this alone includes considerations such as ensuring you have the right number of agents at all times, that they're performing well, and that there are high levels of job satisfaction.

In the 21st century, people are looking with increasing frequency to digital solutions to solve their problems. Indeed, all of the respondents to the Deloitte Contact Center Survey, some 450 executives, said they were planning to invest in technologies to support their work.

Let's take a look at one example of workforce management software, and how it can make your day-to-day easier.

Staff management software can help you take control of your contact centre.Staff management software can provide solutions to common leadership priorities.

Aspect Workforce Optimization

Aspect workforce optimization (WFO) is a cost-effective and multifaceted suite of software that is accessible from a variety of platforms.

Aspect WFO solutions increase productivity while enhancing the worklife of staff around the world every day, from real time coaching to providing the ability to manage their schedules from an app on their smartphones.

This staff management software provides a solution to many of the most common areas of concern for contact center team leaders:

1. Accurate forecasting

With 90 percent of customers being frustrated by long hold times, according to an Accenture survey, it's important that you're able to accurately predict expected workloads. Too few staff and you risk giving clients a bad experience of your company, while too many will lead to money being wasted on labor costs for agents you don't really need.

Aspect Workforce Management uses historic data patterns as well as 'what-if' scenarios to help you plan for times where business might spike or fall away, meaning you can adjust staffing numbers to meet these expectations.

2. Performance monitoring

Without exception, Deloitte's survey respondents said they will put money into programs to improve talent in their organizations. Within this sector of the survey, the use of analytics to both align staff and improve training finished first and second respectively as priority investments.

Performance monitoring is crucial for staff management. Aspect Performance Management allows you to pull key insights on agent productivity and performance, as well as set thresholds that allow you to determine the strengths and weaknesses of your team, and therefore plan upskilling or reward strategies accordingly.

Tracking performance using staff management software lets you see where extra training is needed. Use staff management software to track agent performance.

3. Employee empowerment

In an industry where staff retention can prove tricky, taking steps to empower your employees and increase their job satisfaction is a vital consideration. This can take a range of forms, from giving agents greater control of their scheduling to opening up communication channels between workers and company leadership teams.

Aspect WFM, along with the Call Design ME app option, allows staff to view their shifts on their smartphone, swap shifts among themselves, and apply for time off. This not only gives them a heightened sense of responsibility but also takes the pressure off your workforce management department. In addition, the Performance Management application  presents employees with near-real-time insights into how their performance works towards fulfilling the business's needs, inspiring them to take ownership of their tasks.

4. Maximizing efficiency

For managers, time is always a limited commodity. The last thing you need is a series of complicated spreadsheets each requiring individual analysis in order to produce anything meaningful. Workforce optimization software such as Aspect WFM, Aspect Quality Management, and Aspect Performance Management is a real time saver in the way that it centralizes data, allowing you to readily compare information from across your organization and create actionable insights to actively improve internal standards.

While workforce optimization software clearly has benefits for staff and team leaders, putting WFO strategies into practice doesn't happen on a one-size-fits-all basis. Call Design will work with you to understand your pain points and provide recommendations for a solution that meets your needs. For more information, get in touch with our team today.


Contact centres: methods for accurate forecasting

 

As a contact centre manager, you should always seek balance. You need to make sure that the workload is handled effectively and professionally, without having so many agents that staffing costs become too great. Learning how to accurately forecast supply and demand in contact centres will lead to greater customer satisfaction, improved staff morale and better productivity.

Here are some useful forecasting methods for contact centres.

1. Time series analysis

Time series analysis is a popular method for contact centre forecasting, and uses historical data to help predict future workloads. This may seem overly simplistic, but time series analysis allows workforce managers to isolate data to see the effects of certain factors such as trend seasonality, as well as changes that might come about after a targeted sales drive, for example.

In addition to this it's important to analyse average handle time (AHT) patterns as these tend to vary throughout the day, as well as by day of week. Using inaccurate data can lead to under or overstaffing.

By isolating variables in this way workforce planners can get a better idea of how similar changes are likely to impact the call centre workload in the future.

Accurate forecasting means you can better predict the workload in your contact centre.Better forecasting leads to happier customers, and staff.

 2. Workload

With the above mentioned contact volume and AHT information, workload can be calculated. This is done by multiplying the number of forecast contacts for the interval by the average handle time, and then dividing by the number of seconds in the interval.

3. Erlang C calculations

Erlang C calculations are based on the work of a Danish mathematician, and allow you to establish how many staff are required for a given contact volume based on meeting a certain service level goal.  This calculation provides the bums in seats requirement, i.e. how many staff would be required if they didn't take breaks, have meetings and one on ones or take annual leave etc.

4. Shrinkage

In order to work out the total staffing requirement, shrinkage needs to be included. Shrinkage refers to the time during which agents are being paid to be on the phone but are unavailable to take calls, or aren't working for other reasons such as being on a break, being in one on ones or in meetings etc . Including accurate shrinkage assumptions is critical to calculating staffing requirements as using incorrect data will lead to under and over staffing.

5. Attrition

It's no secret that attrition, or employee turnover, is high in the contact centre industry. Hiring and training new employees is an expensive and time-consuming business, so having a firm grasp on the numbers when it comes to attrition rates is important in making sure there are always enough agents to meet the workload requirements.

Being aware of the rate at which agents leave the business can also be useful in working out manageable shift patterns and how flexible you can be with working hours - measures that may help you better retain your staff.

6. Outbound forecasting

While some of the same tools can be used for workforce management in outbound call centres, there are also some important differences. Outbound contact centres are more targeted, as staff often need to speak to a specific person.  Although the workload can be managed a little easier than inbound calls, as the business is more in control, they still need to ensure there are sufficient staff to handle the workload and that their staff can make the calls when the targeted recipient is most likely to be available.

Understanding how to forecast contact centre staffing requirements is a good first step, but effective implementation and management of schedules are key. Call Design creates tailored workforce management courses and solutions to hone your skills and maximise the potential of your workforce. For more information, get in touch with Call Design today.


Shift Bidding for Better Efficiency and Engagement

Without flexibility and room for change, schedules can get stale. Companies can find that schedules are becoming less and less of a good fit for evolving staffing requirements. Some agents, especially Millennial and Gen Z agents, can find that static schedules don’t offer the flexibility they crave. Perhaps junior workers get stranded in less-desirable schedules on weekends, holidays, or in late shifts they they’d prefer not to work. In many cases offering shift bidding more often can increase schedule efficiency and improve overall agent satisfaction. But without a world-class WFM system, Shift Bidding can be complicated and time-consuming. Many businesses find it impractical if not impossible to run a shift bid more than twice a year.

Bid More Often

Here's where our Workforce Management application comes in: with powerful tools to facilitate bids, WFM administrators can create and execute bids in a fraction of the time it took in the past, allowing them to run bids much more often. Some find they can bid for schedules monthly, semi-monthly or even weekly. WFM even makes it possible to run special bids for holidays, or for intraday offerings for OT or Voluntary Time Off.

Balancing Fairness with Performance

Using optimal schedules based on the most up-to-date staffing needs forecast, you can ensure a more efficient fit with changing business requirements. And you control the crucial step of ordering your employees to determine their order in the bid. Consider a ranking method that aligns with your business goals, emphasizes fairness but also incentivizes better performance. Think about a merit-based possibility to engage your staff more. Rather than an abrupt change that causes distress among your agents, you can gradually evolve towards a merit-based shift bid. You can also strike a balance between performance and quality scores for example by using them both in weighted combination.

Communication

Before diving in, carefully consider your strategy for communicating with agents and supervisors. Create a clear, compelling message that tell them why a new Shift Bidding process is under consideration, especially if you are thinking about moving towards a performance-based bidding system. Use Workforce Management to create What-If scenarios that show the benefit of using new schedules for bidding: better staffing efficiency, better customer experience, increased fairness, and the opportunity for agents to have more control over the schedules they work. Listen to agent concerns, make them feel that they are being heard.

And be absolutely sure that your first bid is set up and executed properly; if the agents’ first new bidding experience is poor, they can form a negative opinion that undermines morale. Take advantage of our experienced consultants who have been through this process many times and can help guide you past any pitfalls.

Results in Less Time

When it’s time for agents to bid, you’ll need an efficient interface that allows agents to quickly make their choices and see the results. Make sure they know their position in the bid order so that they can take this into account when ranking their preferred schedules. Our Workforce Optimization Agent Portal provides a clear, easy-to-use interface that shows agents their position in the bid, the schedules available for bidding, and let’s them rank the schedules according to their preferences. Once schedules are assigned and made official, agents immediately see the results in the WFO portal and the optional ME mobile app. All done with no need for manual sign-up sheets or manual reports to communicate results.

The benefits of efficient shift bidding can be impactful: users have seen increases in schedule adherence of 4% or more as well as productivity improvements of 5% or more. Improved schedule efficiency, time savings for WFM admins, improved agent satisfaction offered by shift bidding are only some of the ways that WFM creates impactful change for our customers. Contact the experts at Call Design to discover more.