It’s All About the Algorithms!
By Bob Webb, Pipkins
Workforce management may be the most under-valued of all contact center solutions. Often, it is bundled and sold as part of an end-to-end solution by vendors who specialize in other software and have no in-depth knowledge of workforce management. Some solution providers minimize the value of workforce management in favor of their area of expertise when in fact workforce management is the cornerstone of any contact center operation. Accurate forecasting/ scheduling is imperative for achieving the balance to have your agents consistently in the right place at the right time. There are many vendors who offer workforce management; however,
their products are not all equal. The disparity between solutions lies in the algorithms.
Many workforce management systems lack critical functions and flexibility to meet the needs of contact centers; or, their platform is unable to maintain sufficient historical call data to generate accurate forecasts. The most common problems found with workforce management systems are inaccurate forecasting and an inability to generate requirements at the interval level. Both of these problems, coupled with inadequate scheduling algorithms, can prove costly and negatively impact a company’s bottom line.
Workforce management software should use mathematical algorithms for accurate call volume forecasting and scheduling based on data exclusive to each center’s target service levels, fluctuating call volumes, agent skill sets, and “what if” scenario requirements. Accurate forecasting takes into account all the historic dynamics. Systems that use a “simple” weighted moving average can only use thirteen weeks of historical data, which is not enough to provide a statistically valid forecast. Correlated forecasting, which is forecasting for specific events that cause wide fluctuations in the volume of calls that must be processed, can only be performed by the most sophisticated systems which use all historical data.
Algorithms should reflect real-life customer behavior and include curve mapping and pattern recognition. In environments where workloads regularly ebb and flow due to marketing activities and other definable variables, Historical Trend Analysis is the only way to ensure proper staffing because it is the only methodology that can incorporate complex historical trends in its calculations. Without pattern matching to predict different customer behavior for different events, the risk of over- or understaffing increases dramatically. Historical Trend Analysis not only accurately predicts the continuation of trends, but the more advanced algorithms also incorporate pattern recognition to fine-tune forecasts for special events like promotional mailings or national holidays. Each time a particular event reoccurs, the forecasted call volume is automatically adjusted to reflect the increase or decline in incoming work caused by comparable occurrences in the past, such as a historical 40 percent drop in volume on the Fourth of July.
An important component of accurate forecasting is having an integrated approach to support multi-skilled issues. It is necessary to have forecasting algorithms that directly calculate requirements in a multi-skilled environment, while avoiding repetitive analytical simulations. A single forecasted set of requirements should be generated for all inter-woven skilled activities, regardless of the type of work being offered, such as email and chat. Recognizing secondary skills and accounting for call overflow to available secondarily skilled agents will help eliminate overstaffing. Forecasts that are based solely on primary skills will generally overstaff, since overflow cannot be considered as a factor.
Overstaffing occurs when abandoned calls are not taken into consideration. Staffing operational costs, which account for 70-80% of your budget, can be severely impacted by overstaffing. For absolute maximum efficiency, your software should have an algorithm that incorporates abandoned calls. Systems that don’t understand abandons will always overstaff your call center. This is like the airplane that takes off with empty seats; you will never have another chance to recover that revenue.
Once scheduling requirements are known, use an algorithm that maximizes the achievable quality of service. Avoid using a simple “hours-net-to-zero” scheduling algorithm. Scheduling systems that use a simple net-to-zero algorithm cannot distinguish between schedules that deliver good and bad service. If under- or overstaffing during different intervals throughout the day nets to zero, you are not truly meeting your service level objectives during those intervals. Wasted labor expenses can occur through overstaffing, while under- staffing results in lost revenue.
Workforce management is based on science and should be approached from a scientific perspective. The best option for purchasing considerations is to choose a vendor who specializes in workforce management and understands its complexities. Starting with a solid workforce management foundation will help ensure you are more likely to reach service level objectives with fewer problems.
Pipkins, Inc., founded in 1983, is a leading supplier of workforce management software and services to the call center industry, providing sophisticated forecasting and scheduling technology for both the front and back office. Its award-winning Vantage Point is the most accurate forecasting and scheduling tool on the market. Pipkins’ systems forecast and schedule more than 300,000 agents in over 500 locations across all industries worldwide. For more information, visit www.Pipkins.com.