Communicating Power of One Concepts 2015-03-12T02:53:55+00:00

Communicating Power of One Concepts

By Penny Reynolds

It’s important to educate and regularly remind frontline staff about the important role they play simply by being in place and on time. Their impact on service, occupancy, and cost should be communicated early in the cycle of training and  then again with regular, ongoing reminders. It’s also useful to make sure that the supervisors and managers of these staff understand these principles and are committed to providing feedback and coaching as part of a Power of One program.

This article outlines what to communicate to each level of personnel in the center so each person understands his or her role and contribution to service.

Power of One Concepts for Agents

Every person in the center needs to understand basic Power of One principles. This is especially true for frontline staff whose decision about whether to be on time or not directly impacts the staffing levels and the resulting service, occupancy, and cost. Sometimes an emphasis on adherence can seem like “Big Brother” from an agent’s point of view. A new person unfamiliar with staffing tradeoffs might think, “I’m just one person. What difference can I possibly make?” It’s easy to think that, especially when there are dozens of other people active on calls.Agents should see examples with real numbers of what happens when one or two people are in place or not. In this example with 400 calls per hour with a 3-minute handle time (20 erlang workload), the impact on service and occupancy is shown with 21–26 staff.

Workload Hours Number of Staff ASA Service Level (x% in y sec) Staff Occupancy
20 hours 21 staff 137 sec 35% in 30 sec .95
20 hours 22 staff 51 sec 59% in 30 sec .91
20 hours 23 staff 25 sec 75% in 30 sec .87
20 hours 24 staff 13 sec 85% in 30 sec .83
20 hours 25 staff 7 sec 91% in 30 sec ..80
20 hours 26 staff 4 sec 94% in 30 sec .77

When explaining the impact of just one person, one can see that if service is very good with 25 staff in place to handle calls, then adding or subtracting a person does not make a huge difference. Adding another person improves service level by 3% or ASA by 3 seconds. The impact of one fewer person is bigger (6% service level change or 6 seconds ASA increase), but not significant.

On the other hand, if the service situation is one that is problematic to start, with only 22 staff in place for the 20 hours of work and a 51-second ASA, a one-person reduction will make a huge difference. At this point in the service and staffing curve, the impact of just one person will be alarmingly high – a drop of 24% in service level and an ASA increase of 86 seconds.

Another way to look at this situation is to take a more positive slant. Note how the situation with 21 people (ASA 137 seconds or a 35% in 30 seconds service level) realizes a big improvement with the addition of only one person. A person added here looks like a hero by improving delays from 137 to 51 seconds. At this point in the curve, adding just one more person is a powerful action.

Of course the impact of one person is big in a relatively small center or even in a large center with many small agent groups. At these smaller sizes, each person is responsible for a bigger portion of the workload and therefore has a bigger impact when missing.

However, it’s not just small centers or small agent groups where one person can make a difference. Even though the impact of one person is smaller, there are still points in the curve where one person makes a significant difference. Consider the following example with 800 instead of 400 calls per hour, resulting in 40 hours of workload.

Workload Hours Number of Staff ASA Service Level (x% in y sec) Staff Occupancy
40 hours 41 staff 148 sec 30% in 30 sec .98
40 hours 42 staff 60 sec 52% in 30 sec .95
40 hours 43 staff 32 sec 67 % in 30 sec .93
40 hours 44 staff 19 sec 78% in 30 sec .91
40 hours 45 staff 12 sec 85% in 30 sec .89
40 hours 46 staff 8 sec 90% in 30 sec .87

Just like in the other staffing scenario, at very good service levels, one person has very little impact. Compared to 45 staff, an addition of one agent impacts ASA by only 4 seconds while minus one adds 7 seconds of delay time. One the other hand, as staffing levels deteriorate, the impact of one person is much more significant. The difference between 42 and 41 staff is 88 seconds or a drop in service level of 22%.

While the difference that one person makes in service is not as significant in larger groups, it can still be a big difference if service levels are low to start. It is important to help staff understand what this difference is as part of their group size and call volume. Calculate your call center’s numbers and provide real examples that show how customers are impacted when just one or two people are not in place as planned.

The other impact of missing people is something that really hits close to home for the staff. Communicating occupancy rate helps agents understand how their adherence to schedule impacts how busy their fellow team members will be. While communicating the delay time experienced by customers may be somewhat concerning, it is not necessarily personal enough to drive different behaviors. On the other hand, realizing the impact of adherence on the occupancy rate of their team members can actually drive a change in behaviors.

In the previous tables, staff have a bigger share of the workload in a smaller group and therefore a change of one person results in a bigger change in occupancy than the larger group example. In the example with 20 hours of work, occupancy changes about 4% when a person is added or subtracted. This 4% of an hour equates to 2.4 minutes of extra time throughout the hour for each person to work versus having a breather in between calls. With low staff to workload ratios, this extra 2 ½ minutes multiplied by the number of people missing can mean a marked difference in how busy a person is handling calls.

As the group gets larger, there is less impact on occupancy when just one person drops out. With 40 hours of work the impact on occupancy is between 2–3% for each headcount change.

The other difference that plus or minus a single person makes is on overall operating costs. As fewer staff are in place to handle the calls, the average delay time increases. As delay times increase, so does the cost of the delay time in terms of increased telecommunications usage costs. For example, in the 20-hour workload scenario, the difference in 21 and 22 staff is a difference in 137 seconds and 51 seconds of delay – an increase of 86 seconds per call. When multiplied by 400 calls, that is 34,400 seconds or 573 minutes of delay. Priced even at a low $.03 per minute equates to an additional $17.19 per hour, or over $300 per day. A discussion of how this money could be spent on performance bonuses, pizza parties, or something else much more desirable can make adherence behaviors take on a much more personal note.

Communicating all these concepts involves showing staff the actual numbers and explaining the tradeoff, including what happens when agents are added or subtracted in relation to service, occupancy, and cost. It’s important to educate them  on the numbers, but the charts and graphs may not be enough to ensure knowledge takes hold and the right behaviors emerge.

Many centers utilize hands-on activities to drive home the important Power of One concepts. When agents see the numbers and then participate in activities that illustrate the impact on service or occupancy, there is a much better  understanding and buy-in for the desired behaviors. There are many different Power of One activities that can be used as training aids that support adoption and retention of a schedule adherence mindset.

Communicating with Supervisors

The workforce team will likely have the opportunity during new-hire training to talk with agents about the workforce management process, how scheduling works, and the importance of adherence and the Power of One. However, much of what happens related to adherence reminders and coaching after that is up to the agents’ immediate supervisors. Therefore, it is critical that the supervisors and team managers are also aware of all these staffing, service, and cost tradeoffs and are equipped to coach their team members regularly on Power of One concepts.

It is up to supervisors to ensure their team members’ adherence behaviors are in line with expectations and that coaching takes place to address any performance gaps. It is sometimes a small change by a supervisor in attention to adherence  numbers that can make all the difference in agent performance. Dealing with tardiness or other non-adherence issues on a timely, consistent basis is key to keeping performance on target. Providing positive consequences in the form of recognition for good adherence and negative consequences for non-adherence is usually the responsibility of the supervisor, so it’s important to have all the supervisors and managers on board to reinforce Power of One principles.

Supervisors can also play a role in the adherence of team members by how they choose to pull agents off the phone or schedule events that involve one or more agents. While it is sometimes necessary to have an impromptu one-on-one coaching session with an agent, it’s always best to check with a workforce specialist to see when the best time would be to minimize the staffing impact. Likewise, working with the workforce planning team to schedule the best time for team  meetings, offphone projects, etc. will minimize understaffing and detrimental effects on service and occupancy.

Communicating with Executives

It is not just frontline supervisors that need to understand Power of One principles. Upper management also needs to be well informed on the potential impacts of their staffing decisions. While executives care about service provided to customers and the happiness and satisfaction of the frontline staff, they also always have an eye on the budget and a focus on minimizing operating costs. Since the biggest cost in operating a call center is for labor, senior management may lean toward having fewer staff in place in order to minimize costs.

Senior management needs to be briefed on how lower costs for staffing can sometimes be outweighed by excessive delays, overworked staff, and increased telecommunications costs. Especially if there is revenue associated with the calls, such as in a reservations or catalog center, adding more staff to maximize revenues can impact the bottom-line in a positive way.

Power of One Activities

This article has outlined the “need to know” information for agents, supervisors, and senior management. It’s important to provide real-life numbers and realistic examples of all the statistics and tradeoffs. However, in addition to the facts  and numbers, it is often necessary to find other ways to drive home Power of One concepts. The successful workforce team and training department will find programs, games, and activities that illustrate Power of One principles in ways that  everyone will remember as they go through their day-to-day activities.

The new book available from SWPP, Workforce Management Essentials: Principles and Programs for Call Center Staffing, has a chapter devoted to many Power of One training programs. The book will be provided to all attendees at the SWPP Conference in March and will be available soon for purchase at www.swpp.org.

Penny Reynolds was a Co-Founder of The Call Center School where she oversaw course development and taught a wide variety of training programs for over 12 years. Penny is now semi-retired but still participates in industry conferences, writes for a wide variety of publications, and does call center consulting. She may be reached at pennyreynolds00@gmail.com or 615-812-8410.