Creating a Workforce Plan – Part II

By Maggie Klenke

Setting the operational goals for the center sets the stage for many other decisions that will be made, especially in the workforce management (WFM) area. There are three basic categories of goals to consider:

  1. Speed of answer – This goal sets the acceptable wait time that callers should have to endure. But in doing so, it also sets the staffing requirement to deliver that result which drives the budget and many other decisions.
  2. Financial goals – These are the goals that control the money in the center, both the income from sales and the expenses.
  3. Other operational goals – Each organization has some specific and unique goals to be met that are driven by the business. These might include regulatory requirements, contractual obligations, or business needs such as sales results.

Speed of Answer Goals

There are two primary ways that the speed of answer goal can be defined.
The most commonly used goal in North American call centers is service level (sometimes called Telephone Service Factor). This is defined as a goal to answer some set percentage of calls within a set number of seconds. For example, the goal might be 70% of calls answered in 60 seconds or 85% of calls answered in 20 seconds. Both the percentage and the number of seconds can change to match up to the desired result. However, any percentage below 70% leaves a lot of customers waiting longer than the set number of seconds. This is like drawing a line and saying that all the customers on one side of the line will be served within the goal number of seconds. But those on the other side of the line will wait an undefined length of time that is at least one second beyond the goal and may range to minutes.

The other option used in some centers is average speed of answer or ASA. This measures the average wait time for all callers, including both those who do not wait at all and those who have spent some time in the queue. In this case, every customer’s wait is included in the calculation. For example, if 100 callers dialed in during an hour, and half of them were answered immediately by an associate who was idle at the time and the others waited on average one minute, the average speed of answer would be 30 seconds.

It is important to know how the calculation is done in the various systems that are used so that they can be synchronized to a common method. Two of the factors that most often vary between calculations are how abandoned calls are treated and when the system is set to start the calculation. The calculation set at the manufacturer can differ and these are often parameters that can be adjusted to make the calculation follow the method desired.

Abandoned calls can be included in both the total number of calls offered and in the total of those that are either served in the goal time or not. By including all calls on both sides of the equation, a full picture is defined for the experience of callers. However, some systems are set so that callers who abandon are not included or only those that abandon after waiting the goal number of seconds are included. None of these is “right or wrong” but it is important to understand what is being measured and excluded and why.

The start time for the measurement of the wait is also variable. It can start at the moment that the caller enters the skill for the associate team and begins hearing the recorded announcement. However, most centers exclude the announcement time since it is often forced for legal reasons. These centers begin counting the wait the moment the announcement completes. Other centers exclude some number of seconds at the start of the queuing. For example, the management may believe that by dropping off all calls that waited less than 5 seconds, they have excluded those who may have misdialed and generally customers who did not really give the center a chance to answer. Once again, it is an individual center decision, but all systems need to do it the same way and everyone needs to know what is included and excluded.

Setting the speed of answer goal is a multifaceted process in many organizations. The goal may be set by outside regulators or by contracts between client and provider. Where neither of these applies, the considerations often include looking at the performance of competitors and the budgetary constraints within the department for staffing. There are many who think there is or should be an “industry standard” for these goals, but there really is not. Each situation is different and the goal should match. For example, a single center might have a faster goal for its sales lines than for the technical support calls.

There are three primary tradeoffs to consider in setting the speed of answer goal. The first is customer satisfaction and retention. Long waits annoy callers and can drive them to other alternatives. When there are long queues, associates rarely get a breath between calls, but long idle periods can be boring. Both can affect employee satisfaction. And of course, there is the company expectation of financial results in terms of profitability and budget constraints. It is a tough balancing act and one that requires all parties involved in the setting of the speed of answer goal to understand the implications. When the goal is set high but the budget does not support it, the frustration level in the center can be very high.

Financial Goals

Looking at the financial goals a center needs to achieve is another important consideration. For many organizations, profitability and return on investment to the stockholders is a primary concern. This typically translates into budgets set for both capital spending (on such things as systems) and operating expenses (such as labor). If the center needs more money than is in their budget, it will generally have to be taken out of other departments, as there is a limited pool to draw from and still be profitable overall.

Departmental financial goals are often summed up in cost per call and revenue per call (where sales are done in the center). The total cost per call calculation can vary in terms of what is included or excluded. Some only look at the controllable expenses such as labor and supplies, while others include facilities, IT, and others expenses that are generally set or controlled in other departments. Once again, there is no “industry standard” for cost per call and there is little point in comparing one center to another given the calculation differences. What does make sense is to compare the results within the same center over time to see if the trend is going in the desired direction.
There may be a number of other goals that can affect the center operation and they are generally unique to each situation.

Some centers will have regulatory requirements that set limits on abandoned calls, busy signals, and other expectations. Where there are contractual agreements such as with labor unions or clients, of course these will have an important role. Every business mission has its own requirements that can include everything from sales results to first call resolution expectations. It is important to know what all the goals are and how some of them may conflict with one another so that an appropriate balance can be found.

WFM Team Tasks

Developing a plan for a WFM team depends in part on the size and complexity of the operation and the tasks the team is to perform. In its most basic form, a WFM person or team handles the forecasting of workload, schedules and intraday adjustments. However, there are a range of other tasks that may be part of the workforce team’s responsibilities. These includes such tasks as:

  • Managing the ACD and call routing processes. This may include shifting workload from one center to another, to and from outsourcers, and monitoring to ensure that a variety of goals are met.
  • Monitoring the staff for adherence/compliance to the schedule. This includes ensuring that each person works the total amount of time that the schedule required and/or ensuring that the person was available to meet the specific schedule details (such as break or lunch time, arrival and departure, etc.)
  • Analysis and reporting. This is often a function of WFM since the team has access to a wide range of statistics and data from a variety of sources and can compile the information into the most useful formats.
  • Budget planning. Planning the budget for a contact center operation requires a firm foundation of staff requirements. This requires a forecast well into the future so that hiring and training plans can be made for the year ahead.
  • Contract and regulatory compliance. Regulatory compliance is an important part of the job of some workforce teams. Each regulatory body may require unique performance results and balancing these against the other needs of the business requires constant monitoring and adjustment. Contractual obligations such as those involving an outsource provider may also impact the work of the workforce management team to ensure that staffing plans and service goals are met.

WFM Team Organization

One way to organize a WFM team is to divide the work up by task. For example, one person or team handles all of the forecasting for all business units. Another handles the scheduling and a third manages the intraday processes. Other teams may be needed to handle any of the optional duties that have been assigned to the department.

The advantage of this type of arrangement is that it recognizes the different types of skills that are required to be good at each of these diverse tasks. For example, forecasters need to be analytical and good at math. Scheduling is a complex process of balancing business needs, customer expectations, and the needs/desires of the workers. Intraday management requires a good communicator and negotiator who can identify what is needed and move other people to action. It is not common to find all of these skills in a single individual.

On the other hand, when a WFM person does only one task in the process, it can cause a fairly narrow view. The level of knowledge of the businesses that are supported can suffer as well. And of course, this kind of distribution of the tasks requires that there be enough team members to separate the work.

Another way to organize the WFM team is to assign each person to a business unit and have all the forecasting, scheduling, and tracking done by that person. If there are multiple business units, each might have its own dedicated WFM person, or smaller units might be combined under one person.

The advantage to this type of organization is that it builds strong links between the WFM people and the business units they support. It can become more of a partnership. The WFM personnel learn to do all of the WFM tasks so that they have broader knowledge of the implications of actions on other elements of the process. People with knowledge of all of the tasks may find it easier to step in and cover for a WFM person on vacation or out sick.

When this type of business unit orientation is used, the levels of expertise in the individual WFM tasks may be diluted. Finding people who have math, negotiating, and communications skills may be difficult. These people will need to balance all of the competing priorities to produce accurate forecasts, efficient schedules, and manage intraday requirements effectively.

Finally, it is possible to put together an organization that is a hybrid of the task and business orientation. For example, one team dedicated to that function might do all forecasting. All scheduling could be sorted out by business unit, while intraday management is combined for all (especially if calls flow across units).

This may be the best choice to take advantage of the available talent on the team and it will provide at least some capability to cross-cover for one another. However, building career paths for team members can be challenging, as there are multiple ways to move through the organization.

Overall, there is no one right way to organize the team. A small team or single individual will need to be multi-skilled and able to manage the various tasks. As the team grows, the options develop and often the skills and experience of the individuals on the team will suggest a better organization to utilize these personnel. In addition, as the talent on the team changes and management focus evolves, reorganization to better match the needs is fairly common. All of these types of organization can work well in the right circumstances.

When the organization has more than one site, the WFM team assignments will need to recognize whether the calls are shared across multiple sites or contained within one or a small subset of sites. Where calls can be routed to the next available associate at any one of several sites, the forecasting for the workload must be done centrally. However, the scheduling could be centralized or done locally. If the sites have unique environments and rules, it may be more efficient to allocate the forecast workload to the sites and allow the local WFM staff to create the schedules based on the local rules. (This is often what is done with the work sent to an outsource partner, for example.) If the rules are pretty much the same (same length of work week, shift options, rotations, and other union requirements, etc.), then a centralized scheduling process can be done if desired. However, regardless of how the scheduling is handled, the intraday management process must cover all of the sites that share calls since what happens at one site affects all of the others.

Where there are call types or work that are unique to one site, the organization of the WFM team can be done in a centralized team that handles other call types or it can be done separately. This is a function of available talent and management philosophy more than anything.

WFM Team Qualifications & Development

When looking for personnel to join the WFM team, there are a number of knowledge and skill requirements to consider. Some of the needed skills include the ability to analyze data and perform a variety of math functions. Computer skills are also needed whether the WFM tasks are done in spreadsheets and home-grown tools or with commercial software. The ability to negotiate and communicate with the operations team, marketing, product development, and others within the organization can help to smooth out processes for both the center and the overall company. Negotiation and communication with the center’s operations team are also critical skills.

Knowledge of the company, its products/services, how it is organized, and its mission and vision are all critical to ensuring that the overall needs of the company are met. This includes knowing as much as possible about customer needs, desires, and behavior patterns. Of course, the frontline staff is critical to the smooth operation so knowing what they need and desire can go a long way to finding the best balance. And don’t forget the supervisors and managers in the center who will rely on WFM for the information, guidance, and flexibility to achieve their goals as well.

No matter what skills and experience a person hired into the WFM team may have, there is always a need for development. Some of these skills and knowledge will improve performance in the current role while others may prepare the individual for the next step in the career path.

Some skills are general and can be gained through formal education outside of the company if such training is not offered through the company training programs. However, to be most effective, training on the specific applications and software tools that are used in the WFM department should be provided by the vendors of those products. Hand-me-down training can be spotty and may even pass on errors or inefficient processes and should be avoided. Upgrades to the tools require that the team members learn the functions and possibilities of these tools. However, training on the tools alone is not enough. Each WFM person should be well educated in the general functions of WFM and the industry in which the company operates. This will ensure that the implications of choices in the software options are well understood and applied to the company’s advantage.

Maggie Klenke was a Co-Founder of The Call Center School. She has written numerous call center management books, including “Business School Essentials for Call Center Leaders.” She may be contacted at Maggie.klenke@mindspring.com or 615-651-3324. Maggie is the author of SWPP’s new book, “Hiring and Developing the WFM Team,” now available in our online store.