Beginner’s Guide

Beginner’s Guide

Three Steps for Attacking Adherence Problems

Ask a group of workforce management professionals about their biggest problem and a high percentage will tell you that it is schedule adherence. Enormous effort goes into forecasting workload, calculating staff requirements, and creating staff schedules. But all that hard work goes down the drain when the frontline staff don’t stick to the schedule plan.

This lack of schedule adherence is frustrating and it’s expensive. So what can be done about it?

This article will outline some of the reasons that agents may not be adhering to their planned schedules and explore some potential solutions to the problem. For all you workforce planners out there, it’s time to step away from erlang and workload distributions and enter the world of psychology and behavior analytics.

Performance Management Approach

Figuring out why people behave a certain way is called behavior analytics and the application of this psychological
science in the workplace is called performance management. A structured performance management model is made up of the following steps.

  1. Define performance standards and objectives.
  2. Measure existing performance.
  3. Identify gaps in “what we want” versus “what we have.”
  4. Determine root cause(s) for the performance gap(s).
  5. Apply a behavioral solution to address the underlying cause.

Let’s take a look at this model as it applies to schedule adherence.

The first step is to define performance standards and communicate them to the staff. This involves defining the precise times that a person is expected to be on the phones, take breaks, go
to lunch, work on other activities, and so on. This needs to be defined and then communicated clearly as the expectation. Don’t assume that when you specify a start time of 7:30 am that it’s perfectly clear what that means. Some staff might take that to mean in the parking lot or in the front door at 7:30, clocked in at the time clock and in the break room getting coffee at 7:30, or even at their desk getting organized at 7:30. If you mean logged in at 7:30 ready to take a call, then be explicit.

Another part of this definition will involve the leeway that exists in meeting the exact numbers. What percent time out of adherence will be allowed at a maximum? Are there various levels of adherence that will earn them a better “grade” than others? And what are the rewards and/or consequences for meeting the goal or not meeting it? All this needs to be clearly defined for everyone in the center and communicated clearly and often.

Part of the communication about schedule adherence needs to be education about the numbers. Be sure the staff understand the relevance of adherence and why it’s so important that each person be in their seat on time. Every member of the team should understand the “power of one” when it comes to call center staffing and know the impact they make on speed of service, occupancy, and bottom-line cost.

The next step is to measure performance. Unlike some other qualitative measures of performance, schedule adherence lends itself to being measured quite easily. Note the login/logout times compared to schedule and note the deviations, both in terms of total minutes as well as a percentage of total hours scheduled. If the deviation meets your defined “grace period,” then there’s no performance gap. However, if the deviation from schedule is more than allowed, the next step is to identify the reason that person is not meeting the expectation.

Three Reasons for Non-Performance

There are three basic reasons why an employee doesn’t do what is expected. These reasons are:

  1. Don’t Know
  2. Can’t
  3. Won’t

Let’s take a look at these from a schedule adherence perspective

The first step is to define performance standards and communicate them to the staff. This involves defining the precise times that a person is expected to be on the phones, take breaks, go
to lunch, work on other activities, and so on. This needs to be defined and then communicated clearly as the expectation. Don’t assume that when you specify a start time of 7:30 am that it’s perfectly clear what that means. Some staff might take that to mean in the parking lot or in the front door at 7:30, clocked in at the time clock and in the break room getting coffee at 7:30, or even at their desk getting organized at 7:30. If you mean logged in at 7:30 ready to take a call, then be explicit.

Another part of this definition will involve the leeway that exists in meeting the exact numbers. What percent time out of adherence will be allowed at a maximum? Are there various levels of adherence that will earn them a better “grade” than others? And what are the rewards and/or consequences for meeting the goal or not meeting it? All this needs to be clearly defined for everyone in the center and communicated clearly and often.

Part of the communication about schedule adherence needs to be education about the numbers. Be sure the staff understand the relevance of adherence and why it’s so important that each person be in their seat on time. Every member of the team should understand the “power of one” when it comes to call center staffing and know the impact they make on speed of service, occupancy, and bottom-line cost.

The next step is to measure performance. Unlike some other qualitative measures of performance, schedule adherence lends itself to being measured quite easily. Note the login/logout times compared to schedule and note the deviations, both in terms of total minutes as well as a percentage of total hours scheduled. If the deviation meets your defined “grace period,” then there’s no performance gap. However, if the deviation from schedule is more than allowed, the next step is to identify the reason that person is not meeting the expectation

 

Lack of Schedule Adherence Consequences Positive/
Negative
Personal/
General
Immediate/
Future
Certain/
Uncertain
Impact on service level N G I C
Impact on peer occupancy N G I C
Bad appraisal N P F U
Loss of bonus N P F U
10-minutes extra sleep P P I C
More time to socialize P P I C
Fewer calls to take P P I C

 

The chart is an example where positive aspects for adherence and negative aspects for non-adherence are in place, but still don’t yield the desired result. Examine both the positive and negative effects associated with this lack of schedule adherence, along with the personal, immediacy, and certainty aspects of the consequences. Even though there are many negative consequences associated with a lack of schedule adherence, the employee may continue to do it. Two of the negative consequences are of benefit to the overall call center and customers, but not felt as a personal effect. The bad appraisal and loss of bonus are also negative, but they are not immediate. Those things will likely happen sometime out in the future, and may be viewed as uncertain by the employee. These negative consequences may be outweighed by the positive consequences. The benefits may include an extra ten minutes of “snooze” time in the morning, or an extra few minutes to socialize in the break room, not to mention fewer calls to take. All these consequences are personally felt by the employee, and they’re all  immediate and certain. Even though they’re not as significant as the negative ones, the fact that they’re personal, immediate, and certain may sway the employee to continue his errant schedule behavior. The key when developing a plan of consequences is to apply consequences that are positive to shape desired behavior. However, it’s not enough that the consequence is positive. It also has to be personal (something that means something to the employee), immediate, and certain for it to work as an influence on behavior.
With this in mind, think about ways to make the positive and negative consequences more immediate. A supervisor that is waiting at the agent’s workstation with a warning note when he comes back from break may send a stronger message than simply reporting adherence numbers at the end of the week along with a warning. Some call centers choose to project the real-time adherence screen up for all to see, so that other employees can apply some peer pressure on the spot for agents coming back late from break.

Conclusion

The job of the workforce planner isn’t over when the schedules are complete. Making the plan a success involves working with supervisors and frontline staff to ensure that everyone is
where they’re supposed to be. Schedule adherence will be much higher when the frontline staff have been educated on the relevance and importance of sticking to the plan and provided with regular feedback on how they’re doing. Couple this with a system of appropriate rewards and consequences and you’ll see schedule adherence steadily and surely improve.

Thanks to The Call Center School for the ongoing Beginners Guide series. For more information about The Call Center School, please visit their website at www.thecallcenterschool.com.