Call Center Staffing: Keep More Staff, Lower Costs and Improve Service

How many call center managers feel overwhelmed by cutbacks? Continuing economic uncertainty means continuing pressure to cut costs, staff and staff hours. But what about quality? Are cutbacks the only way to manage costs? I say no.How many call center managers feel overwhelmed by cutbacks? Continuing economic uncertainty means continuing pressure to cut costs, staff and staff hours. But what about quality? Are cutbacks the only way to manage costs? I say no. In fact, here are some strategies for optimizing your Customer Dynamics - that is, to help you not only maintain but even improve quality of service for increased customer satisfaction, while keeping more staff, improving their morale and lowering costs.

Use more part-time agents. I find it surprising that, according to a survey of contact center managers conducted by the Society of Workforce Planning Professionals (SWPP), nearly half (45%) of contact centers use few or no part-time agents. Specifically, their survey results show that 17% of respondents do not use part-time agents at all and 28% employ only 1 to 10% of their staff on a part-time basis.  Staffing contact centers with up to 25% part-time agents can deliver schedule flexibility and staffing cost savings over using full-time agents alone. By creating flexible schedules for part-time agents you can eliminate most overstaffing and, in many cases, improve customer service during peak intervals as well.

Offer voluntary time off (VTO). Enabling part- and full-time agents to volunteer for time off without pay is a great way to provide the best service at the lowest cost.  Because it is voluntary, the agents that sign up for it actually want the time off instead of the pay, so it can help improve employee satisfaction for a portion of your contact center staff. Plus, it can shave costs off the bottom line. SWPP 2007 Workforce Management Professional of the Year Kim Newkirk (Henderson) of Bluegreen Corporation launched a VTO program for her business, cutting $215,265 in payroll costs and eliminating 17,360 hours during off-peak periods.

Of course, there are some prerequisites to making VTO work.  You need to have intraday managers who have the time and workforce management tools to determine overstaffing conditions.  You also need change management capabilities, including the means to communicate the program effectively to supervisors and agents. And once the program is in place, it requires ongoing communication regarding time-off slots available, time-off granted, schedule changes and more. There are a lot of moving parts. The good news is that leading workforce management systems can help you automate some or all of this communication between the workforce management team and the agents and their supervisors.

While employing more part-time agents and VTO initiatives will take some time and effort, the rewards can be great.  If you are faced with layoffs, these programs can help retain a larger workforce because many agents would be willing to work fewer hours if it meant that they could keep their jobs.  These programs also can save the investments you have already made in those individuals.  Then, when the economy turns around, you can easily increase hours without incurring significant hiring and training costs.  In the meantime, you will save your company money while improving customer satisfaction:  a win-win-win, and a way to break away from the cutback mentality.

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