How to Use Behavioral Decisioning for
More Flexible Scheduling

By Robert Dvorscak, NICE

Flexible work schedules have been a hot-button topic in many industries since long before the pandemic caused organizations to rethink how and when employees work.  In one pre-pandemic survey, 96% of employees said they needed flexibility, yet only 47% (and just 34% of women) reported having access to the types of flexibility they needed. Today, as companies prepare to bring workers back to the office in varying degrees, many leaders continue to struggle developing new models and strategies that balance the needs of workers who increasingly expect flexibility with the demands of the business.

Those needs aren’t consistent across the board. After all, agents are a diverse group. They span many age groups. They have different preferences around communication, and they have specialized in different things, from live chats to social media or video.  They’re also taking on a an increasingly wide variety of roles: An agent is no longer just sales or support staff but can also be your CPA, your roadside assistant, and even your doctor. 

With each of these agents comes a new scheduling challenge; that’s even more true today given that so many organizations have moved to remote or hybrid work models. Now that flexibility has become an expectation rather than a perk, there’s greater pressure on those companies that don’t offer it to modernize their approach. 

It sounds like a simple thing: Modernize your approach. But what can companies actually do to modernize? It’s not as though they can change labor laws or make adjustments to when their customers want to contact them. What they do have control over is when and how their employees work. Previously this was done by assigning months-long schedules before employees were eligible for a choice in what shifts they would work, but COVID-19 has permanently transformed expectations around schedule flexibility. 

It’s no surprise the contact center industry regularly appears near the top of industry attrition rankings – it’s often a stressful job with inflexible schedules, and many agents are disengaged or burnt out – but it doesn’t have to be this way. Contact centers can meet customer demand while also providing flexibility to their agents. The key is to reach your agents with options they’re interested in. There’s a fine line to walk between hitting your agents with a barrage of offers and giving them the perfect opportunity. Your agents want to be treated fairly, but they don’t need to be treated equally on every opportunity. 

The traditional nine-to-five workday, according to Harvard Business Review, is no longer the gold standard. Just as some employees prefer 10-hour shifts over the more traditional 8-hour days, others prefer to work a few hours in the middle of the day and then a few more hours later, around midnight. While agents who prefer a longer, continuous shift would likely be upset to miss out on an opportunity that fits their preferences, they’d probably be happy to learn that they weren’t contacted to pick up a two-hour shift, particularly if offers are coming by way of notifications on their phone. Under-communicating can lead to missed opportunities, but over-communicating can cause burnout; you need to find a way to balance fairness with moderation.

Today, nearly every industry has adopted telecommuting, and that means you have to make it more attractive than ever to work for your organization. Focusing on the things you can control is critical to reducing turnover rates. As they say, happy people don’t quit, and one key thing you can do to keep agents happy is to give them flexibility. 

“Scheduling practices not only affect employees’ effectiveness,” professors Mark C. Bolino, Thomas K. Kelemen and Samuel H. Matthews wrote in Harvard Business Review. “They also have a significant impact on their attitudes and well-being.”

To enable the scheduling flexibility employees increasingly demand, some organizations are turning to behavioral decisioning. Part of a robust automation platform that automates the monitoring and decisioning processes in connection with intraday management, behavioral decisioning applies user-definable business rules to current staffing conditions. It leverages artificial intelligence (AI) to look at past behaviors in conjunction with key metrics, including average handle time and proclivity to accept offers, to determine future offers and opportunities to present to employees. This frees workforce managers to focus on higher-value tasks while giving employees greater control over their schedules, which in turn increases their overall job satisfaction. 

In the contact center, behavioral decisioning is being used in three key areas: 

  • Presenting opportunities to work extra hours: When contact centers are understaffed, behavioral decisioning presents agents with proactive offers to pick up extra shifts based on the agent’s notification preferences as well as his or her proclivity to accept certain offers based on past behavior. 
  • Presenting opportunities to take voluntary time off:  When contact centers are overstaffed, workforce managers can count on the behavioral decisioning engine to proactively push offers of time off to agents who are likely to accept them, again based on past behavior. 
  • Delivering alerts: Alerting capabilities not only notify agents and supervisors of trends in critical KPIs but also allow contact centers to make occupancy adjustments, for example by prompting agents to move to the back office or offline or return to the phone.   

By leveraging key WFM solution metrics, these push offers and alerts help minimize understaffing and overstaffing in the contact center while giving agents greater control over their work-life balance. The NICE WFM suite offers agents a way to not only adjust their schedules but also to see preapproved availability catered to their unique skills. The opportunities take agent preferences, skillsets, and contact rates into account in order to reach the right agents with individual opportunities while ensuring everyone gets a fair number of opportunities across multiple days. This approach works because it’s not being decided by someone with bias, it’s being decided by a set of rules meant for fairness.

With AI-powered capabilities like behavioral decisioning, humans “are always in the driver’s seat,” according to Harvard Business Review. “AI simply assists them by imitating or anticipating their decision style.”

As the old adage goes, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Learn how the NICE WFM suite leverages not only key metrics but also past behaviors to determine future offers, rewarding employees with more options for schedules that deliver the work-life balance they’re looking for at  

Robert Dvorscak is Product Manager for NICE.  He may be reached at