Schedule Adherence and Real-Time Monitoring Respond to Kindness

By Dr. Debra Bentson

It’s been a long time since the first time I walked into a call center.  Productivity and efficiency then were measured largely by ACD data and there was little acknowledgment that the human resources were, in fact, human.  I was grateful to be working, happy to have a job with benefits, but perhaps less grateful that the two great guys, Carlos and Al, who sat on either side or me, both smoked all day… at their desks… in California — wow!  It was a different time.

I learned that the ease of getting data on agent activity — every call they take, every hold they make, is seductive.  There may not be many other jobs that are monitored and tracked as closely as the frontline agent in a call center. We could look at a spreadsheet and see definitively how small changes improved the bottom line, but we didn’t have any calculations then that showed the impact on the people or know enough about Employee Experience.  Some of the agents struggled to meet the goals, some found shortcuts, some were managed out, and some became discontented and quit. We didn’t know how to calculate the cost of overmanaging and undervaluing the people who take care of the customers. It was a very different time.

Most people want to be successful and many companies are working hard to help make work less grueling where possible — I cheer those commendable efforts.  It’s nice to see remote work options, casual dress codes, fewer scripts, and genuinely involving frontline staff in solutioning and decision-making. So much of the old structure, those artificial artifices, have fallen by the wayside — thank goodness.

I’ve seen that groundswell of change happening in call centers gain momentum over the past few years and I like it.  The management that once relied on absolute control is relaxing its grip to discover happier people are more effective in every way.  More businesses are being mindful to get right with their teams to cultivate good culture, improve productivity, and generate healthy working relationships in order to maximize both human experience and ROI. How brilliant to see that leadership’s thinking is evolving to understand that kindness is a critical success factor — and the evidence is incontrovertible.

The shared goal of delivering customer experience (CX) often begins with the both simple and complex act of answering a customer phone call in a pre-determined and sanctioned amount of time.  It is peculiar that some of the same call center leaders that still obsess about meeting service level are also the ones who defund quality assurance programs due to expense. Answer time can only be a dissatisfier and customers don’t generally mind waiting a few more seconds if, when their calls are answered, their concern is resolved.  Relaxing service level goals a bit can significantly lower staffing costs, and the savings could fund a more robust and effective quality program.

Another place in call centers that deserves examination is the natural and evolving relationship between Schedule Adherence and Real-Time Monitoring, and the variety of approaches to both disciplines.

Schedule Adherence Measures

Different WFM applications call these two primary measures by different names so I am going to keep it generic and simply refer to Volume versus Precision measures.

Volume — The percent of scheduled phone time that was actually worked. If an agent was scheduled to be on the phones for 7.5 hours and was actually logged in for 7.4 hours, the resulting volume would be 98.7% — yay!  This measure is fairly straightforward and 98% would generally be considered a reasonable goal. (Note: All of the time on the phones, irrespective of what was scheduled, counts toward meeting this metric. It is the easier of the two metrics to meet so the goal should be higher than the adherence precision measure.)

Precision — The percent of the specific times scheduled that was actually worked. This measure (generally referred to as schedule adherence) looks at specific scheduled times throughout the day and not just total hours worked. If an agent was scheduled to be on the phone from 7am – 11am and was actually in place from 7:15am – 11:15am, the volume result would be 100%, but the precision measure would be 93.8%.  It’s more difficult to meet the specific times here, so the goal is typically a bit lower.

Setting a goal for adherence (the precision measure) should take many factors into account, including average handle time, number of scheduled login/logouts, and number of times agents are switched from one type of work to another.  For example, a group of agents handling calls with much higher handle times are not as likely to be able to log in and out at specific break times as those agents handling short calls.

Real-Time Monitoring

Historically, real-time schedule adherence has involved a supervisor or designee watching the console, keen to identify anyone out of adherence or in a particular phone state too long.  When there are such transgressions, the agent is contacted and made aware of their phone state or offered help. Since they are probably trained on how to get help, they know the offer of help is probably code for “get on the phone.”  I’ve heard agents describe how they feel when they are being contacted either during a call or while writing post-call documentation. They say it is distracting, hurtful, and makes them feel like they are not trusted. This “whack-a-mole” process with your agents doesn’t improve results.  It is an unpleasant distraction that degrades engagement and may actually lead to undesirable coping behaviors. If you play games with your frontline – they may play their own games, too.

Tips for Improving Schedule Adherence

  1. Start with valid forecasting and scheduling assumptions. Creating a solid forecast with reasonable assumptions for occupancy, shrinkage, and schedule inflexibility will result in a realistic number of staff to schedule for effective coverage throughout the day.
  2. Hire staff to meet forecast staff requirement.  It is important to get to the “just right” number of staff.  If there are too few staff, they will be overworked and will be much more likely to take unscheduled breaks and other time off the phones. If there are too many staff in place, they may feel that schedule adherence is not as critical.
  3. Educate everyone on the math of workforce management. Everyone in the center, including frontline agents, supervisors, leadership, and of course the WFM team, should understand the basic numbers associated with contact center staffing. Education is an investment that helps create a common vocabulary and base of knowledge to help the work go more smoothly and the people to build better working relationships.
  4. Deliver “Power of One” training early and regularly.  Do this training for new hires and then as refreshers on an ongoing basis to remind each person the importance of being available to help customers when they are scheduled to help.  It is really exciting when frontline agents see how critical their efforts are to the success of delivering service to callers, but also so their fellow employees have a consistent and easier work experience.
  5. Don’t refer to adherence as allowable “free time.”  Don’t quote a magic number that suggests agents “can be out of adherence for 36 minutes a day and still meet the goal.”  Communicating a number this way suggests they are entitled (and even encouraged) to use the “adherence safety net” as additional break time. It’s better to encourage them to have their adherence numbers as high as possible.
  6. Demonstrate support to your agents. Make sure they know how to get help when they need it — knowledge management tools, coaches, and escalation paths.  Make sure the resources will be available when they need them, then trust them to use the resources appropriately.
  7. Review reports — daily, weekly, and monthly to check their actual results.  Discuss the results in their coaching sessions. Reinforce the behaviors that led to meeting the goals and coach those that didn’t.  Be kind. Using the same critical words repeatedly is both hurtful and unproductive. Focusing on the positives to reinforce those behaviors will yield better results.
  8. Focus monitoring on making sure call traffic is routing correctly, staffing levels are as expected, and technology is working properly.  Consider repurposing the savings to fund quality programs, development activities for your frontline agents, or passing some money along to customers in the form of lower costs for your products and services.

Please look up from your spreadsheets to see the people who take care of the people as people. Be grateful and kind to them as if it influences their experience, as if it feeds your soul, as if your business depends on it, — because it does.

Dr. Debra Bentson earned her doctorate degree in Business Administration. She has spent most of her career in Contact Centers, the past 20 years building and leading Workforce Management teams, and has worked in a variety of industries.

Dr. Bentson is on the steering committee of the NCCCA (Nor-Cal Contact Center Assn), the ASUGA (Aspect User Group) Board of Directors, is one of “ICMI’s Top 50 Thought Leaders to Follow on Twitter: 2018 Edition,” and an ICMI 2019 Featured Contributor.  Away from work, she is a member of the DNF (Did Not Finish) team at the Antioch, California dirt track — push starting Sprint cars and supporting speedway safety. She lives by these words: “Work and play, laugh loud and often, be safe and strong, and live on your own terms.”

Learn more about and connect with Debra on social media at: and on Twitter @theccdoctor