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How to implement an effective call center workforce management system

Expert Donna Fluss explains how to effectively establish a call center workforce management system – from creating a flexible scheduling plan for employees to reduce operating expenses, improve efficiency, enhance employee morale and increase agent retention.

We are in the process of implementing a call center workforce management system and utilizing more flexible scheduling. What suggestions can you give as to rolling this system out to agents and soliciting more open availability from them?

 

Schedules are an important and sensitive issue for agents in all call centers. Whenever scheduling procedures change, it is crucial to take a proactive approach and provide as much information as possible about new processes and their purpose in order to increase agents’ understanding, acceptance and adherence. Moving from static, fixed scheduling to more flexible dynamic scheduling as part of a workforce management application implementation can be a stressful and unwelcome change that elicits a negative response from agents. Without proper explanation, agents may assume that their schedules will be extremely unpredictable and that these changes will impact them in many unwanted ways.

 

To avoid a negative response from agents, first communicate the overall goals and general timeline and process for the workforce management implementation early in the project. Share some of the new perks of the system such as new and flexible shifts, and automated agent self-service features like shift swapping, time-off requests and changes in agent schedule availability. Explain how the workforce management system can help prevent continual requests for overtime and excessive slow periods. Outline how a more efficient center better serves your customers and helps the center perform at a higher level, reducing customer frustration. Note how the system promotes consistent policy enforcement and fairness in the handling of time off, breaks, lunches, and off-phone training and meetings. Discuss how different agent skill levels and queue types can be better aligned, resulting in more equitably distributed contacts. Highlight that the call center workforce management system will free up leadership resources for activities such as team meetings, one-on-one meetings, training and other activities that agents look forward to. Explain the benefits of the workforce management solution for agents, emphasizing that schedules will be created further in advance, giving agents adequate notice of their shifts and time to plan their personal lives.

 

When asking agents for their availability, offer incentives for agents who offer the most flexibility, such as preference for new condensed work weeks (i.e., 4 days x 10 hours), preferred shifts, hours and days off. Ask agents as many scheduling questions as possible, such as preferred minimum and maximum total hours in a day and week and preferred days off, to better understand agents’ true needs. Instead of asking agents when they can work, ask them to block out specific periods of time that they absolutely cannot work; reassure agents that they will never be scheduled during time periods that they have indicated as not available. Offer scheduling or leadership resources to answer agents’ questions and to help complete availability profiles.

 

Provide a unified and consistent message regarding the new workforce management solution. Be sure to explain the new system thoroughly to front-line leadership staff so they can champion it (which will also make their lives much simpler). Include human resources, training, quality assurance and IT in informational meetings and project planning sessions. Form a special task force or focus group that includes several agents to get them directly involved in the process. Solicit agent, front-line leadership and human resources feedback as the new workforce management system goes live, and throughout the following months. Share the realized benefits of the roll-out with all staff, and also communicate what you are doing to address any identified weaknesses.

A successful transition to flexible scheduling that utilizes the full array of functionality in a workforce management application can reduce operating expenses, improve efficiency, enhance employee morale and increase agent retention.

 

For more information on best practices when implementing Workforce Management Solutions review DMG’s Contact Center Workforce Management Market Report and a new white paper, Building a Multi-Channel Contact Center in the Era of Social Networking . 

This was last published in October 2009

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