What is Capacity Planning in a Contact Center?

Capacity planning, which is also known as resource planning or strategic workforce planning, is the process of determining how many workforce resources an organization needs today, tomorrow, and as much as five years into the future. In the contact center space, capacity planning allows leaders to determine the perfect mix of employees—based on their associated skills, capabilities, and preferences—to perfectly handle customer demand: No more, no less.

  • At the job level, capacity planning ensures that the right talent is in the right job at the right time.
  • At the company level, capacity planning ensures that the organization is neither understaffed nor overstaffed.
  • At the strategic level, capacity planning identifies the gaps between the current and future workforce (two to five years out), and takes steps to assure the desired quantity, quality, cost, and agility of personnel are in place as the company advances.

Why is Capacity Planning Important in a Contact Center?

Capacity planning enables contact center leaders to optimize workforce investments, both in the short term and the long term. By ensuring the right agents are on-hand to provide the right support when and where customers need it, capacity planning is critical to delivering a positive customer experience (CX). Above and beyond CX, effective capacity planning generates value in other ways, including:

Cost Reduction

By analyzing a range of future scenarios, contact center leaders are empowered with data to effectively balance workforce costs. Armed with insights, leaders can confidently determine if it’s most cost-efficient to hire, outsource, or upskill based on a dynamic blend of inputs. With a precise understanding of how many workers will be needed at any given time (including up to five years into the future), leaders can proactively plan for turnover and reduce unexpected attrition costs through improved talent recruitment and management strategies.

Efficient Talent Recruitment and Management

Capacity planning fuels smarter recruitment efforts in which the right skillsets can be targeted and onboarded at the right time.  In anticipation of future needs, training programs can be created and rolled out to upskill current employees against any number of changes ahead, including technology transformations (such as the adoption of a new application, system, or service, like automation) and evolving products or company offerings. Moreover, by strategically aligning continuous skill-building efforts with future business objectives contact centers can:

  • Boost the success of hiring and retention efforts. Seventy-one percent of American workers report being “extremely interested” in paid training and upskilling opportunities. Moreover, 48% of workers would switch to a new job if it offered desired skills training opportunities, and 65% believe employer-provided upskilling is very important when evaluating a potential new job. Modern workforce development systems can seamlessly deploy customized learning and development programs based on interests, job requirements, and business needs while performance data and insights enable managers to monitor training engagement, progress, and opportunities for growth.
  • Prepare for the future by forecasting and internally building the workforce skills you’ll need ahead. By 2025, as many as half of your current employees will require reskilling if they remain in their current roles. Contact center leaders must proactively invest in skill-building programs that efficiently build the capabilities you’ll need in the future.

Improved Business Agility

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, companies had to find new ways of doing business, seemingly overnight. Revenue projections and forecasts for growth had to be reevaluated. Contact centers suddenly had too many employees who could not work on-site with jobs that couldn’t be performed remotely. Even the best-laid workforce plans were worthless, and contact center leaders were forced to quickly respond to the unexpected.
If COVID-19 taught us anything, it is to expect the unexpected. Scenario planning helps contact centers build resilience and flexibility into workforce planning, enabling leaders to follow a “business as usual” scenario while preparing for a wide range of “what ifs.” By proactively planning for potential scenarios, contact center leaders can quickly assess and adapt in the face of crisis, preventing disruptions to service while maintaining a positive customer and employee experience. 

What’s Needed for Effective Contact Center Capacity Planning?

Precise capacity planning requires an increasingly complex range of inputs, including:

  • Historical data
  • Forecasting and staffing parameters
  • Operational targets, such as service level objectives (SLAs), occupancy, and shrinkage

Moreover, workforce planning requires contact center leaders to see into the future and plan for various scenarios. Ideally, workforce planners should be able to model any number of scenarios based on different forecast data. If forecast data is accurate, the resulting plans are converted into scheduling, hiring, onboarding, and training activities. If forecasts are off, planners can easily model the “new reality” and adjust the plan quickly.

How AI is Advancing Forecasting

Ongoing developments in artificial intelligence (AI) are enabling increasingly accurate projections. Advanced statistical methods are helping contact centers realize consistent customer service, improve retention, and lower costs through better forecasting. A precise forecast requires not only an understanding of traffic during normal, day-to-day operations but also the ability to account for a wide range of scenarios. AI-based forecasting enables contact centers to:

  • Automatically evaluate dozens of forecasting algorithms and determine the model with the greatest accuracy.
  • Increase the accuracy of the staffing plan.
  • Increase the operational efficiency of the staffing plan.
  • Adapt to changing data patterns.

How Do I Get Started in Capacity Planning?

Business conditions can change in the blink of an eye but contact center leaders don’t have to simply react to short-term chaos. By adopting best practices related to planning, leaders can better anticipate and prepare for an uncertain future. The following four steps provide a framework for capacity planning, and a starting point for contact center leaders seeking an advantage amidst constant change.

Step 1: Capacity planning begins with the business and organizational strategy of the contact center and its client(s).

Long-term capacity planning requires input from the entire organization and/or the contact center’s clients to ensure staffing levels and capabilities are aligned with future strategic business objectives.
To determine the human resources your contact center needs, you must first know where you want to go. For a contact center, that must include understanding your future objectives and the future objectives of your external clients or the internal businesses you serve. 

Questions to ask your client to understand their future business objectives:

  • Do you plan on growing or expanding your current product lines?
  • Are you venturing into new markets or services?
  • Are you phasing out older products and services?
  • Do you anticipate technological advances or incoming competitors that will disrupt the market?
  • In what segments do you expect your customer base to grow or shrink in the next five years?

Questions to answer about your contact center’s future business objectives:

  • Do we plan on updating our technological service solutions to incorporate higher levels of automation or omnichannel engagement?
  • Do we hope to streamline operational structures to reduce management costs?
  • Should we be making changes to our work environment, allowing for more agent-driven autonomy around when and where they work?

The answers to these questions, and more, must be incorporated into capacity plans to truly fuel future readiness. Why? Because all these factors will require proactive upskilling, change management, recruitment, onboarding, and heightened performance management activities to ensure seamless, high-value support.

Step 2: Analyze your current workforce in terms of size, quality, cost, agility, performance, and future potential.

Once you understand the workforce formation you’ll need in the future, you can begin assessing your current state to identify gaps.
Mid-transformation, companies find mapping current workforce skills, potential, and costs to be especially challenging. However, contact centers can harness the advantage of time by working well in advance of change, allowing for more thoughtful current-state skills assessments.
The quality of your current state assessment will directly impact the value of resulting upskilling and recruitment strategies. Precise current state assessments ensure less waste through more targeted upskilling and the enhanced utilization of existing skills and capabilities.

Step 3: Envision the future in multiple scenarios and prepare for probable outcomes.

The future is unpredictable. Capacity planning includes the development of multiple scenarios and uses tangible examples to plot possible outcomes. This process often highlights weaker or unpleasant indications of change that contact center leaders might otherwise overlook. Think of this phase as an evaluation of various “if-then” scenarios that help you prepare for continuity, expansion, disruption, and even surprise.
Increase your “what ifs” to include:

  • Multiple long-term forecasts that account for the different potential volume and average handle time projections.
  • “What-if” plans for each potential staffing scenario.
  • A “what-if” plan that includes shutting down some contact types to focus on other contact types (if this is a possibility in your organization).

Step 4: Build the workforce you’ll need tomorrow while continuing to serve clients today.

Strategic workforce planning helps you foresee interim and ultimate formations of the workforce and prepare for them accordingly. Internal upskilling and reskilling programs allow contact center leaders to optimize existing resources; however, it can eat into utilization progress. To combat this, leaders can deploy training programs customized to build skills at the individual level to ensure every second of training time generates value, and automated intra-day scheduling tools can promote training during idle or slow periods.

How Do Workforce Capacity Planning Tools and Software Help?

As part of a workforce management suite, capacity planning is infused with real-time and long-term data, empowering advanced modeling for long-range planning with advanced interactive visualization capabilities. The manual collection and integration of the myriad dynamic inputs needed to effectively future-proof a workforce is simply impossible at the speed of change. Capacity planning tools and software enable rapid pivots to long-term workforce plans, empowering contact centers with the agility to survive and thrive amidst a whirlwind of continuous change.

Start Here: NICE Workforce Management Enhanced Strategic Planner

NICE Workforce Management (WFM) Enhanced Strategic Planner (ESP) helps contact centers capitalize on their full long-term planning potential by providing the answers and insights needed to make better workforce planning decisions for long-term success.
NICE WFM ESP helps you intelligently plan for the future by predicting how anticipated or potential staffing scenarios will impact your contact center’s ability to meet performance goals. By leveraging AI forecasting from NICE Workforce Management, Enhanced Strategic Planner considers the needs of your staff, channels, and business rules to make precise predictions. Armed with ESP’s powerful tools, you can consider all variables relevant to your contact center and make decisions based on its unique anticipated staffing needs. NICE WFM ESP helps you control costs, develop better hiring plans and improve customer service with these advanced features and capabilities:

  • Advanced statistical models: ESP leverages AI-generated forecasts from NICE Workforce Management that adapt to your historical data, enabling more accurate predictions helping you solve future challenges.
  • ‘Reverse-solve’ for performance targets: Projected performance based on actual supplied staffing to understand better impacts of staffing to result for projected service level, ASA, and Occupancy.
  • Digital channel management: ESP handles digital channels’ mean concurrency for long-term strategic planning.
  • Dynamic charting: ESP allows easily editable drag-n-drop dynamic charting with one, two, or four chart views at monthly, daily, or weekly levels.
  • Interactive reporting: ESP provides insightful chart and grid interaction to pinpoint anomalies.
  • Shrinkage sub-categories: ESP allows user-defined shrinkage, providing greater granularity at the rolled-up or sub-category level, empowering immediate insights for real-time discussions around shrinkage planning based on intelligent and accurate decisions on shrinkage tradeoffs.
  • Effective back-office planning: ESP supports non-workload FTE requirements.
  • “What-if” planning: ESP enables you to predict the potential impact of scenarios on your workforce and performance metrics, such as a business acquisition or staffing changes, so you can make a case for your contact center’s hiring needs and react faster to business changes.
  • Intuitive design: ESP has a user-friendly responsive UI design that automatically adapts to the browser space to ensure content consistency across devices with various screen sizes. Additionally, ESP provides an intuitive timeline orientation to enhance exploratory discussions.
  • Secure anywhere accessibility: Single sign-on, secure cloud connectivity with infrastructure, maintenance, and management by NICE ensures your contact center’s data safety while accessible from anywhere to fit the work anywhere work environments.

Strategic workforce planning can help contact centers reduce and optimize costs; prepare for market changes and talent pool fluctuations; create an effective recruitment strategy for both short and long term; and ultimately, improve the productivity and viability of the business.
To read more about workforce management and workforce optimization visit our Workforce Optimization (WFO) guide.

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