Survey Results

Each quarter SWPP surveys the workforce planning community on critical workforce planning topics. Over 150 call center professionals representing a wide variety of industries participated and provided insight into this quarter’s survey on schedule exception management.

Survey Participants

Forty-seven percent of the 154 respondents in this survey work in centers with over 500 agents. The rest are representative of a wide variety of sizes from under 50 up to 500 agents. The healthcare, financial, insurance, and “other” industries drew the largest number of participants, but all other industries are also well represented.

Who Enters Schedule Exceptions

Respondents were asked who in their center enters schedule exceptions into their WFM system. Sixty percent indicated that it is someone in the WFM team with another 5% naming a WFM intern. One-quarter have supervisors and team leads doing this data entry. Only 2% indicated that they do not enter exceptions.

Number of FTE Entering Exceptions

When asked how many FTE are primarily utilized for entering exceptions, nearly half (47%) indicated that there are zero to two FTE dedicated to this activity. Twenty-seven percent indicated that they utilize three to five FTE, but 16% indicated that there are 12 or more FTE performing this activity. This wide variation in the number of personnel in this function is generally driven by both the size of the center and the strictness of the adherence processes.

Acceptable Schedule Exceptions

The respondents were asked to choose which of the offered exception types are utilized in their center and multiple choices were accepted. Few utilize long call exceptions, but most accept scheduled activities such as training and team meetings. Tardies, unscheduled coaching, training and team meetings are acceptable for about half of the respondents. It is important to consider both the percentage of adherence that is expected and the frequency of long calls when making comparisons among centers on this issue. Where the goal provides a reasonable number of minutes of non-adherence, long calls are generally not allowed for exceptions as that “forgiveness” is already built into the process. However, if calls average 10 minutes or more, then an exception may be appropriate. Another driver can be offering an incentive for exceeding the minimum adherence goal. In those cases, agents will look for every opportunity to have an exception entered to help them achieve that goal.

Schedule Exception Boundaries

Respondents were asked if there are boundaries around schedule exceptions and, if so, which ones. They were allowed to choose more than one answer. Most of the respondents require a supervisor or team lead to approve the exceptions before they are accepted. Most also indicated that there is a minimum length of time for exceptions. Some indicated that they do not enter exceptions for the past, but a similar percent indicated that there are no boundaries. Requiring an authority to approve the exceptions submitted by agents adds an extra step and time to the process but it may help to ensure the integrity of the data. Setting a minimum length of an exception is a good practice to avoid spending excessive WFM time handling tiny adjustments which should be taken care of in the setting of the adherence percentage goal.

Desired Changes

Respondents were asked what changes they would like to see to their exception process. These are the most common answers:

  • Ensure description is added to Notes indicating reason for exception.
  • I’d like to see fewer exceptions being entered. All projects and meetings should be scheduled ahead of time, and not done ad-hoc as an exception.
  • Remove them all together unless determined it was totally an uncontrollable issue. (Note: This is the most common response.)
  • Ideally exceptions should only be entered where they are driven by the organization and negatively impact team member performance metrics. Metrics should be scoped and targeted to minimize need for exceptions.
  • Become more rigid. Hold managers to an adherence goal for things like team meetings that go over.
  • Consistency of supervisor criteria for approvals.
  • More automation of the process.
  • Move toward more pre-planning and less ad-hoc processes that require exceptions.
  • Stop doing them completely outside of absences and systems issues. It’s a waste of time, money, and resources for organizations to update schedules in an attempt to fabricate an adherence number that is overstated by exception processing. Lower or do away with adherence goals and focus on behavior and productivity.

Exceptions in the Past

Respondents were asked if they enter exceptions in the past. Eighty percent indicated that they do while 20% do not. If exceptions are entered after the fact, or even the next day, they are not much use to the WFM team in adjusting intraday resources to meet service goals. Historical items are useful for ensuring payroll accuracy. However, entering historical exceptions simply to support agent adherence achievement is problematic.

Specific Past Exception Entry

Respondents were asked if they restrict past exceptions to only a specific list of items. Sixty-three percent indicated that they do have a specific list while about one-third (37%) do not. Respondents were offered the opportunity to describe those historical entries that are acceptable and these are the most common answers:

  • Time-off events
  • Schedule items such as training, meetings, and special projects.
  • Exceptions out of the agent’s hands, such as extended team meeting, ad-hoc coaching, etc.
  • Any that would impact payroll
  • System downtime or technical issues
  • Items for times when WFM is not manned

Schedule Exception Length Threshold

When asked if they have a minimum length of an exception to be acceptable, just over half (52%) indicated that they do have a threshold while the remainder of 42 percent indicated that they do not.

Cut-Off Time for Entries

Respondents were asked what the cut-off time is for entering exceptions. Nearly half (49%) indicated that there is no defined cut-off time. All other responses are widely dispersed from less than 1 day to more than a week ahead of time.

Clearly Defined Standards

Respondents were asked if they have clearly defined standards for which exceptions to enter and how they should be entered into the systems. Nearly three-quarters (72%) indicated that they do have these definitions in place, but just over one-quarter indicated that they do not. Clear documentation can minimize confusion/misunderstandings and save time for all involved.

Closing Comments

Based on the responses above, there are significant variations in the management of schedule exceptions. Some of this is due to the size of centers but the complexity of the contacts and the management philosophy are significant factors. In some centers, lowering of the adherence goal has vastly reduced the number of exception entry requirements, freeing up WFM personnel and supervisors for other tasks. Surprisingly, the results are often better adherence than when the goal was strict and agent morale has improved as well. While this may not work for every environment, considering the cost and overall impact of the adherence management process versus the benefit it achieves is worth some analysis.