Teaching “The Power of One” Through Interactive, Fun Activities

By Vicki Herrell, SWPP

As workforce management professionals, we all know the difference that just one agent can make in our net staffing no matter how large our organization may be. Unfortunately, the agents don’t necessarily understand that concept. They may be thinking, “What difference can it make that I come back late from lunch? There are 200 other agents out there on the floor….” And sometimes it falls to the workforce management team to teach them just what a difference they make.

And while we all know the benefits to the call center when agents adhere to schedule – improved service level, better customer service, and cost savings for the company – sometimes these benefits are not enough to motivate agents.

So what can we do to teach “The Power of One” to our agent population? Well, there are lots of different ways, and in this article, we’ll explore several options.

A great way to get the information to the agent is through an interactive, fun activity. Here are some examples:

Tennis Ball Activity

Pull together a group of agents and ask them to line up in two groups facing one another. One side represents the customers and the others serve as call handlers. Give each of the “customers” a tennis ball, which represents a phone call. Then ask the customers to begin throwing the ball back and forth to the person across from them, the “agent.” This is very comfortable as long as there is a one-to-one ratio of customers to call handlers. Now send one call handler on break but leave all the customers. Send another call handler on an “unscheduled break” and leave all the customers. Keep throwing the balls back and forth to the remaining call handlers. The participants can easily see the impact of losing one agent, and then they really feel the impact of losing additional agents. This is also an excellent illustration to employ when talking about average handle time (how long the call handler holds the ball before pitching it back), schedule adherence, queue times, and service level/ASA.

Bucket Activity

You might want to do this one outside! Have one volunteer slowly pour water into a bucket (one from KFC works well). The water represents incoming calls/orders. After the bucket is full, start to poke holes into the bucket. Let the first holes represent someone leaving for a break or lunch according to their schedule. Agents can come up to plug these holes to stop the water flow. But then poke some holes to represent agents out of adherence – late to work or from a break, for example – and do not plug those holes. As the water drains down, so goes the service level! The draining water can also represent lost orders or lost customers who have waited too long in queue.

The Balloon Game

This is a fun game that only requires balloons and a little space. Inflate a bunch of balloons. Have your agents gather in a room (preferably with space to move around and a high ceiling), and get a few people to start tossing the balloons in the air. The object of the game is to keep all the balloons in the air and not let any touch the floor. The agents need to tap all the balloons up before they fall to the floor. Start taking agents away to represent agents out of adherence. Keep adding balloons and let them see how difficult it is to keep all the balloons in the air with less people.

Perfection Game Activity

Perfection is the battery-operated game where you set a timer and attempt to place all of the differently-shaped pieces into their respective slots before the timer runs out, which causes the spring-loaded board to pop up suddenly and scatter the pieces all about. For the illustration to the agents, have three people placing the shapes simultaneously, and they will finish at a leisurely pace before the timer expires. Then remove an “agent” from the mix because they were signed off unexpectedly and not adhering to their schedule. Then reset the timer for the exact amount of time it took for three people to finish the job. Without fail, the two remaining people work frantically but are never able to complete the task before the timer expires and the pieces pop up. Then explain that the shapes represent calls, and the time it takes to place these shapes into their slots represents handle time. Also explain that when you had the right number of people in place to handle the task, everyone was able to work at a comfortable pace and get the job done. With the unexpected absence of just one agent, the remaining agents were forced to work frantically and still couldn’t get the job done.

One Powerful Person

Another company has developed a curriculum for their new hires and existing agents called “One Powerful Person.” Average adherence of the class attendees is analyzed prior to and after classes to determine the effectiveness of the training. During the training, they do an interactive exercise similar to the tennis ball activity above where four individuals are “Agents” serving customers. Line them up a few feet apart, standing or at table. Have five or six individuals act as “Customers” calling into the center. Line these individuals up arms length away across from the agents. Have a box of “Calls” in between the customers and agents, easily reached by the “Customers.” These “calls” can be a box of small balls, cushy items, or anything easily handled in one hand (nothing sharp!). Instruct Agents that they will be receiving Calls from Customers and they will handle the Call from 5–7 seconds each, then return the call to the box. Instruct Customers to “hand” a call to a random available agent, counting their delay time if there is no agent available.

Start the call exchange and go about two minutes. Stop and review delay times with customers. Ask Agents how they feel. Remove one agent from the line. Begin call exchange again. After two minutes, remove another agent and continue exchange. Have customers count delay time. Stop after one minute and review delay times with customers. How different did Agents feel after someone was “missing?”

The Power of One in a Skill-Based Environment

You can also add activities that show the power of one in a skill-based routing environment. Try the Balloon game outlined earlier with a twist. Inflate a number of different colored balloons (two variations of color is a good start for beginners).  Advise your team that each balloon represents a call and the balloon color represents the queue it was received from, e.g., green for one queue, yellow for another.   Now divide your group into single-skilled and multi-skilled agents.  Attach a ribbon or crepe paper streamer to the wrist of each agent signifying which skill they are trained in (attach both colors for those who you select to be multi-skilled). Ask the group to stand in the middle of the room and keep afloat the balloons that match their skills. Any balloon that hits the ground is an abandoned call and should be removed from the pool of balloons.   Have your WFM team there to help add and remove balloons from the pool.

Once you have this going, there are many workforce management concepts you can practice and explain to both for your agents and your WFM team.  By removing agents from the pool, you can demonstrate the effects of agents out of adherence (and the power of one concept); by adding and removing balloons you can demonstrate peaks and valleys throughout the day.  Additionally you can ask your agents to grab the balloons and place them to the side, signifying a call back system and demonstrating how workload can be delayed using this technique (make sure you demonstrate how you get back to these enquires if you do this).

To really involve your WFM team you can ask them assess the current workload (aka balloons) and “change people’s skills” to improve the service level.  Simply change the colored streamers attached to each person’s wrist and get your agents to then work in the queue that their streamer represents.  This will also demonstrate to your WFM team how quickly you need to act to effectively manage your queues.  Your WFM team can practice this type of analysis and demand management, while your agents are seeing firsthand the benefits of changing skills to meet demand and service level goals.  This should give your agents a better idea of why they might get the same call type over and over again during busy periods and just how much work your WFM team puts into real time management.

The scenarios are endless.  You can ask some agents to hold a balloon for two seconds before tapping it back into the air (representing longer AHT) or even catch their balloon and pass it to another group of agents before getting another one (representing transfers or escalations).  You could even ask your WFM team to “take the phones” by joining in the balloon tapping.

Another idea is to use a bag of different types of miniature candy bars in a skill-based routing activity. Gather participants in a circle with the leader in the middle of the circle. The Leader hands a miniature candy bar to each participant and explains that the candy bar represents a type of call coming into the queue.

The Leader instructs the participants as to what type of “calls” (candy bars) they are trained to handle and begins passing a clear empty container around the circle. Each participant drops in their candy bar and takes out a new one only if there is one of a type that they’ve been told they’re trained to handle.  They will either have a new candy bar/call or are left waiting until the container comes around again.

The participants see the container begin to fill with candy bars/calls when the right people aren’t available, and also see that the multi-skill agents are almost always busy with a call, while single-skill agents often have a long wait time with calls. They can see calls backing up when they aren’t able to take that type of call as well.

Then the Leader begins pulling participants from the circle for a variety of reasons, such as break time, meetings, etc.  The participant who is pulled out drops their candy bar in the container, which leads to more candy bars/calls piling up for the rest of the participants.

Through this exercise, the participants can see the difference they make when they’re on the phone and the impact of single skill agents versus multi skill agents.

In all these activities, debrief with the group by reviewing differences in delay time based on various agent situations. What was the effect on service? What was the impact on agents? Ask “What difference did one person make in this exercise?”

In addition to activities, workforce management teams have used other methods to make the power of one more easily understood. One car rental company “re-branded” the whole notion of schedule adherence to help each individual realize his/her importance to the process.  So instead of calling it schedule adherence, it became known as the Customer Accessibility Ratio (or C.A.R. for short).  Using a one-page tri-fold flyer and a series of presentations, the workforce management staff explained that the whole idea behind adherence is being accessible to customers — being there when customers call.  This made the objective a positive one – being accessible to customers – rather than the somewhat negative “Big Brother” watch for schedule non-adherence.

One automobile financial company also tried to get rid of the “Big Brother” label that can be attached to the group that tracks agent adherence. Taking a proactive approach, they talked about it with the agents by asking them, “What is a big brother? What does a big brother do to you that you hate?” They got answers such as, “They pick on you.” “They constantly challenge you.” “They are always watching everything you do so they can tell on you.”

Then the workforce management team asked, “What does a big brother do that’s good?” The answer usually is, “They protect you.” That’s the answer you’re looking for. Then they bring up the question, “Is challenging you a bad thing?” And they finally get across that agent adherence tracking might make the agent feel like he/she is being picked on, but in reality, it’s challenging the agent to go from good to excellent performance. It also can be communicated that the schedule adherence monitoring process helps protect and reward the agent that is doing what is right by doing what they’re scheduled to be doing.

Specific Examples

You can also show agents the power of one by utilizing workforce management statistics. Let’s take the example of what happens to service level when agents do not adhere to schedule.

In the next column is a chart showing a center that expects to receive 750 calls between 9-10am and each call takes 240 seconds to handle. Your call center’s goal is to answer those calls with an average speed of answer (ASA) of under 20 seconds. The table shows what happens with varying numbers of staff on the phones, along with the resulting ASA and service level.

As you can see, when plenty of people are in place to deliver a very good level of service, then the impact of one person isn’t so much. With 55 staff in place, the delay would be 18 seconds and subtracting a person would worsen that to 28 seconds. On the other hand, if only 52 agents are available and delays are already long at 84 seconds, losing one more person can make a tremendous difference in each caller’s expected wait time. The difference between 52 and 51 staff is a jump from 84 seconds to 201 seconds of delay time! In this case, when one person is missing, the impact is almost an additional 2 minutes of wait time per call – a wait that would be very noticeable to the caller.

See what a big difference just one person can make? Delivering good service to callers depends upon every single person being available when scheduled.

There are many ways to teach “The Power of One” to your agents. Try some of these ideas and see what works for you!