The Art and Science of Workforce Forecasting
When planning for a road trip, there’s likely a specific set of activities you always do to prepare, regardless of the destination. You pack your luggage, book a hotel and plan a route. You consider traffic patterns, and, if you’re not traveling alone, how often and where your passengers might want to stop along the way. But what happens if you forget to check the weather or your car’s tire pressure before you go? When overlooked, seemingly simple factors like these can have a significant impact on your needs and the outcome of your trip, particularly if you find yourself changing a flat tire on the side of the freeway in 90-degree weather.
The same holds true in workforce management. The basis of any good plan is an accurate forecast, and workforce managers consider some kind of a forecast in virtually every decision they make. But a forecast is only as good as its inputs — failing to take critical factors into account can cause your contact center to fall short of its goals. To properly anticipate customer needs, workforce managers must create the perfect recipe that includes the key factors, or ingredients, that help drive comprehensive, accurate forecasts.
More often than not, however, key factors are being overlooked in contact center forecasting, according to a report by ICMI. Among them are shrinkage, forecast accuracy, back-office activities, non-inbound call channels and agent engagement. Here’s why they are important:
Shrinkage, or the time lost to breaks, training, meetings, and other events in the contact center, can account for up to 35 percent of agent time. That’s a big chunk out of your agents’ days, yet only 45.6 percent of contact centers create schedules using a rostered staff factor calculated after base staff is determined. Workforce managers should take shrinkage into account in order to better serve customers at every level. Accounting for these inevitable workplace activities enables a more precise forecast.
Do you know how accurate your forecasts are and whether you’re truly using the best model for your contact center? Although forecast accuracy is clearly linked to improved customer service delivery, many contact centers fail to effectively measure how close their forecasted needs are to actual intraday requirements. A recent study found that nearly one in five contact centers does not measure forecast accuracy, and almost 40 percent of contact centers that do measure accuracy have a variance of +/- 6-20 percent – a large discrepancy. Assessing how closely your forecasting model meets your contact center’s scheduling requirements can help identify areas of improvement. This can be done with modern, AI-driven platforms that simulate best-fit models and identify which is the best to help your contact center adapt to changing staffing requirements.
Back-office employees and blended agents are often excluded or only partially included in forecasts. More than 70 percent of contact centers that employ back-office employees do not use a WFM solution to schedule their activities. Achieving greater visibility into back-office activities can help workforce management teams align staffing levels with business goals and incorporate the back office into the forecast. As a part of this process, managers should review data on back-office employees’ real-time adherence, desktop activity, process information and more.
Non-inbound Call Channels
As the multichannel contact center continues to evolve, workforce forecasting needs are changing as well. The demand for email, social media and web chat support is growing and should be accounted for in the workforce forecast, but that’s not yet happening consistently:
- Only 37.1 percent of contact centers are forecasting for email
- Only 22.8 percent of contact centers are forecasting for web-based chat
- Only 4.3 percent are forecasting for live agent-assisted social media
Any channel that your contact center offers should be included in the forecast to ensure that appropriate agents are available and to prevent scheduling gaps.
Most supervisors agree that agent engagement is critical, and allowing agents to manage their schedules is one of the most powerful ways to raise engagement. Engaged employees not only lead to happier customers but also higher productivity and lower employee turnover rates.
We all make bets about the future, whether we call them that or not. In the contact center, these bets take the form of forecasts that enable managers to predict workload and have the right number of employees in place at any given time. Considering the forgotten factors of workforce forecasting — shrinkage, forecast accuracy, back-office activities, non-inbound call channels and agent engagement — can increase accuracy, engage employees and drive your contact center toward its customer service goals.