Western Energy — Winter 2012
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Best Practices In Workforce Management, Schedule Adherence And Customer Feedback
Trish Paterson

While contact centers are not a focal point of operations-based professionals, their efficiency, effectiveness and overall health impact the utility’s work culture and customer satisfaction scores, and deliver significant value – responsibilities all utility employees manage every day whether in an office or in the field. Contact centers contribute greatly toward achieving customer loyalty and retention, are responsible for collections, and can help generate incremental revenue. Unfortunately, contact centers are also labor-intensive. It is not unusual for labor costs to represent 70 percent or more of a utility’s operating budget.<br /> <br /> Effectively managing these resources requires the best workforce management tools, processes and practices. The goal is to continually align agents and their skills with an organization’s business objectives in the most cost-effective manner — while resolving major contact center issues, and leveraging the workforce’s unique capabilities.<br /> <br /> There are many components to workforce management such as:<br /> <br /> • Strategic planning,<br /> <br /> • Employee development,<br /> <br /> • Recruitment and retention,<br /> <br /> • Schedule adherence,<br /> <br /> • Forecasting,<br /> <br /> • Real-time monitoring,<br /> <br /> • Performance evaluation and management,<br /> <br /> • Interaction recording/monitoring,<br /> <br /> • Agent scorecards,<br /> <br /> • Skill-based routing,<br /> <br /> • Skill-gap analysis,<br /> <br /> • Coaching,<br /> <br /> • Developmental and remedial training,<br /> <br /> • Customer feedback, and<br /> <br /> • Recognition and reward systems.<br /> <br /> While all of these areas are important to utilities, two areas will receive special attention in this article: schedule adherence and utilizing customer feedback. Success in these two areas should realize a quick and meaningful payback. Although a customer care expert topic, operations professionals can integrate These principles into their own workforce management strategies.<br /> <br /> Schedule adherence: avoid “hidden shrinkage”<br /> <br /> Accurate forecasting and effective schedule generation are critical elements of any workforce management system. Schedules are generated with very deliberate attention to off-queue time (breaks, lunch, training and meetings) to ensure that there are proper staffing levels at all times to meet demand.<br /> <br /> However, even the best forecasts And schedules can be completely undermined by non-adherence.<br /> <br /> Nonadherence to a schedule is a reality in any contact center. Calls don’t always end precisely when off-queue times should begin. It’s a reality that agents will not be able to adhere 100 percent to their schedules. Even if they arrive on time, and leave when they should, calls during their shift will impact their ability to take breaks exactly on time. Therefore, the goal is not to have 100 percent adherence, but To understand what your adherence target should be, manage to it and meet your service level objectives.<br /> <br /> This is where tools and best practices come in, including real-time management and coaching. It is important to determine the right adherence target and what is a reasonable variance.<br /> <br /> The biggest factor is the average handle time (AHT) for calls. To calculate an adherence target, Start with an allowance of 10 minutes per 7.5 working hours per shift (or approximately 2.2 percent) for unplanned events. Examples include supervisor and co-worker interruptions, personal time, and similar activities. Next, review the AHT, which may vary across one contact center. Convert the AHT from seconds to minutes, divide by 2, and then multiply the results by the number of breaks agents have scheduled. Finally, divide the results by the total minutes scheduled to be worked in a shift.<br /> <br /> (AHT minutes/2 * (# of breaks in a day)) / (minutes scheduled to work in shift) * 100.<br /> <br /> If the AHT is five minutes and the contact center agents have three breaks, and are scheduled to work 7.5 hours (450 minutes). (5 minute AHT /2 * three breaks) / (450 total minutes scheduled to work in shift) * 100.<br /> <br /> That would result in an additional 1.6 percent shrinkage. For this contact center, agents should have an adherence target of approximately 96 percent (less 2.2+1.6).<br /> <br /> To help agents achieve their targets, consider the following:<br /> <br /> 1 An agent should not take another call if it is within “x” minutes of that agent’s break time. Instead, the agent should immediately start their break. Note: “x” is calculated by dividing the AHT by 2.<br /> <br /> 2 Agents should not continue taking calls right up to their break time. Using the five-minute handle time provided in the example above, this directive would result in an adherence target of 94 percent vs. 96 percent.<br /> <br /> 3 Watch and coach to handle times around breaks. Agents may draw out a call to avoid taking another call before their break times.<br /> <br /> 4 Do not excuse exceptions, or enter exceptions after-the-fact. Regardless of the reason, if agents are not performing the activity they are scheduled to be do, the effectiveness of the schedule and the ability of the contact center to meet service levels will be impacted. If you excuse or enter exceptions after-the-fact, you will not be able to see that impact and explain the cause and you will not be able to quantify the true shrinkage associated with non-adherence.<br /> <br /> 5 Develop “off-queue request” processes and communicate them to agents and supervisors. All off-queue activity must be entered into the workforce management system prior to it being taken. This will encourage adherence and allow supervisors to review impacts to service levels prior to approving off-queue activities.<br /> <br /> 6 Use workforce management systems that alert agents when they are out-of-adherence and advise them of upcoming, off-queue activities. <br /> <br /> 7 Establish targets and include them in the agent’s scorecard.<br /> <br /> 8 Treat nonadherence as a form of shrinkage, and incorporate it into the headcount forecast.<br /> <br /> When implementing adherence targets, establish your baseline and work towards incremental improvement. For example, if current adherence is 85 percent and your desired adherence target is 95 percent, try an initial target of 88-90 percent. At Southwest Gas, supervisors are accountable for agent adherence. Their workforce management tool, CIC Interaction Optimizer, assists them with this task by ensuring that their “real-time” views and historical reports are focused on the specific agents that each manages and supports.<br /> <br /> LeAnne Foster, from Southwest Gas, commented: “Our experience has proven that a schedule can become useless if it is not followed. Late breaks and lunches, as well as unscheduled time off the phone, causes a ripple effect that continues to undermine the ability to answer calls through the day. It is somewhat like quicksand: Once one gets behind, it’s hard to catch up without more schedule changes. The system can predict how many calls will be presented in a small time frame, within a very close percentage. While some room can be built in for unexpected events, ultimately a great schedule is only as effective as the number of agents who are adhering to it.”<br /> <br /> Getting enough valid customer feedback: post-call surveys<br /> <br /> Using post-call customer feedback is an important method of evaluating and improving quality metrics. The amount of time and resources required to evaluate and score recordings, and to provide feedback to agents is significant. Even with Quality Management Tools to make the process far more manageable, it is still an arduous task. A common sample size is five calls per month. For many agents, this figure can represent less than 0.5 percent of their calls, which is not a statistically valid sampling.<br /> <br /> Post-call surveys can be leveraged for their valuable feedback from customers and are specific to their recent experience. Although surveys are typically limited to no more than three questions, they may fill the gap between what you can afford to review monthly, and ensuring that a sufficient sampling is taken to reflect agent performance.<br /> <br /> In addition to “filling the gap,” these post-call surveys allow you to validate whether you are truly capturing customer satisfaction in your quality scoring. This presents an opportunity to calibrate with your customer.<br /> <br /> Finally, the agents get to hear directly what the customer thought of the interaction. You likely will not want to share all the content, but a couple of verbatim examples provide an excellent vehicle for coaching and for recognition.<br /> <br /> FortisBC made the decision to move from an out-sourced contact center, to an in-house model focused on delivering an excellent customer experience.<br /> <br /> Nicole Brown, manager of quality assurance at FortisBC, said, “At FortisBC, quality assurance is recognized as a key business strategy that supports our continued growth and success in delivering excellence to our customers with each and every interaction. This will ensure that we have clearly identified our customers’ expectations and that we are fulfilling them to the best of our abilities.”<br /> <br /> On January 1, 2012, its contact center went live with all the quality management pieces in place — from recording and scoring agent calls, to calibrating with their customers through post-call surveys.<br /> <br /> Trish Paterson helps contact centers realize their key business objectives through technology and best practices. She has over 15 years of experience in telecom, contact center and workforce management. Paterson has earned a Six Sigma Greenbelt as well as PMP certification. Trish can be reached at 866-982-5848 or BestPractices@Altivon.com.