Schedule Adherence: Big Brother or Better Productivity?

By Maggie Klenke

One of the more difficult concepts to communicate to agents and supervisors is the importance of sticking to the planned schedule. The WFM team has worked hard to create a reasonably accurate forecast of the workload for  each period of each day. The schedules are based on that forecast, with adjustments as needed to make the schedules reasonably acceptable to the agents. But if the agents do not follow the schedules, the results will not be as expected

There are two kinds of scheduling issues that need to be considered. The first is whether or not the agent has worked the total number of hours or minutes in the day that were scheduled. This is sometimes referred to as “a day’s work for a day’s pay” or schedule compliance. In this case if the agent arrived 15 minutes late for his shift but stayed an extra 15 minutes at the end of the day, the total time worked would be a match to the total scheduled. However, when the agent was missing, he was really needed, and the extra time at the end of the shift may have resulted in some overstaffing and few calls for the agent to handle.

The other kind of scheduling issue focuses on the details of the schedule in terms of start and end times, break length and timing, and lunch periods. It also includes specific work assignment timing such as time for call handling and time for off-phone activities such as coaching, meetings, email processing, etc. This is typically referred to as schedule adherence. (Vendors use the terms schedule compliance, conformance, and adherence differently, so ensure that the WFM team and operations personnel are all defining the terms the same way.)

Real-time monitoring is generally used to keep an eye on the match of staff to their schedules. This can be done by looking at the ACD real-time display that shows what each agent is doing and comparing it to a copy of the schedule. It is easier to do when the schedule and the actual are displayed together through the use of the WFM systems’ Real-Time Adherence modules. Thresholds can be set up to alert the analyst when an agent is out of adherence by a preset number of seconds or minutes, and these thresholds can be different for each type of mismatch. For example, if a person is late at the beginning of the shift, the threshold might be set for 5 minutes
before the alert is given. But if an agent is in the after call work state longer than 10 minutes, the alert would be activated so a supervisor can assist the agent as needed.

Deciding what the thresholds should be can be a challenge. While the center wants to meet its commitment for consistent speed of answer for callers, some leeway is appropriate to meet human needs and unforeseen events. Some things to consider might include:

  • Length of average handle time (AHT)
  • Distance to break room
  • Lunch options in the building versus outside
  • Limitations of public transportation

This is where the balance between better productivity and big brother must be found. Making the “forgiven” period too long may result in poor service to callers but too short can have a significant impact on employee morale. It is also important to minimize the number of schedule exceptions that need to be entered into the WFM system, especially if it affects payroll.

For many centers, a percentage of adherence is set for the goal over the day with an average over a longer period used as a performance metric. For example, the center might set the goal at 95% adherence. If the agent is working an 8-hour shift, 5% of that is 24 minutes. That means that the agent can be out of adherence up to 24 minutes each day and still meet the goal. However, it is important to communicate to the agents and supervisors that this 24 minutes is a buffer for the unexpected, not an entitlement. If an agent gets stuck on a call at the time her break is scheduled, the 24 minutes is there to cover her late departure and return and no schedule exception needs to be
entered into the system to cover it. However, if the agent did not have any problems today, the 24 minutes is not an entitlement to an additional break. Some days may experience more variation than others and the metric is generally looked at as an average over the week, month or longer.

When an agent is out of adherence, it is easy for her to look out into the center and see many other people on the phones. This leads to the conclusion that one person doesn’t really matter, but that is not the case. Not only will the absence of one agent impact the wait time in queue for the callers, it also adds to the workload of the agents still on the phone (higher occupancy). Another impact that is often missed is the added cost for callers to remain in the queue when the calls are received on toll-free services. While the caller can dial into the center toll-free, the cost is absorbed by the center. Longer hold times mean higher cost for telecommunications. At even just a few cents  per minute, this can really add up over thousands of calls. This combination of effects is often referred to as the “Power of One.” Every individual counts and makes a difference and communicating this importance to the agents is a key tool in ensuring the best results with the least impact on employee satisfaction.

Maggie Klenke was a Co-Founder of The Call Center School. She is a popular industry speaker and author.  She may be reached at


[titled_box title=”Top Ten Adherence Ideas” bgColor=”##DFD9E4″ textColor=”#000000″]These ideas were submitted by the attendees at an Idea Swap at a recent SWPP Annual Conference, and were voted as the top ideas in the session.

  1. Motivate agents to exceed the adherence goal. After setting an attainable (but higher than current) adherence goal, you need to motivate call center agents to exceed the goal. This can be done through small awards and recognition when performance exceeds expectations. For example, the adherence goal might be 95%, and 97% would be an “exceeds performance” level, while 99% would be “among the best” award for increased recognition. It is important to communicate daily and weekly with the agents so they can monitor and control their numbers.
  2. Use creative rewards for good adherence. For example, those that surpass the adherence percentage goal go into a drawing for a prize at the end of the week. Or the top three best adherence numbers for the week get an extra hour of paid time off the following week during an overstaffed time.
  3. Create a “Best Seat in the House” award to reward adherence. The rep with the best adherence numbers for the week wins the use of a plush leather chair for use the following week. Not only is it more comfortable, it serves as a “trophy” to show off for the week. By staying in their seat, they get a better seat for the following week. You can do this by having one or two chairs per team.
  4. Train regularly on value of adherence. Have regular reminders about the need for schedule adherence and why it matters. A WFM team member might just pop in to do a Power of One activity during team meetings – it doesn’t need to be a long session — just a 10-15 minute reminder activity and share of statistics from previous week.
  5. Give award for most improved adherence. So the same people don’t always win, consider giving a “most improved” award as well as a top adherence award for the month. This gives people at the bottom of the chart some incentive to move up the ladder, even though they may not be at the very top. Vary the rewards. You might also do the “best adherence on Mondays” award or “best weekend adherence” to make sure difficult adherence periods are covered.

  1. Create an adherence rewards incentive program. If your call center supports various community activities, see if you can get other local merchants to donate prizes for use in your cente10r. For example, one center got local merchants and vendors to donate restaurant discounts, local sports team tickets, etc to use as gifts and prizes in their center.
  2. Earn tickets to buy vacation time. Score daily adherence on a scale from 1-5, with 5 being a score that exceeds expectations. If the rep gets a 5 then they earn a daily adherence ticket. After 25 tickets are earned, they can use their tickets to buy an extra 2.5 hours of vacation time. These can be accumulated for extra planned days off or can be used to buy extra break time, lunch time, etc when needed.
  3. Implement a bonus program for supervisors for team adherence. Create a system where the frontline supervisors get a bonus for hitting team adherence goals. When team goals are exceeded, the supervisors can earn anywhere from $100 to $400 per month. This improved adherence in one center dramatically, resulting in a $27,000 lost time gain and only cost $200 per month on average per supervisor so it easily paid for itself.
  4. Educate agents on adherence. Include things like why adherence is important for them as individuals such as more even workload as well as more opportunities for each person to be off the phones for coaching, education breaks, etc. Include tips and suggestions on how to improve adherence which may not be obvious to them such as “If your average handle time is 5 minutes and it’s 2 minutes until your break, your adherence will be better if you go ahead and take the break. You’ll be 2 minutes off now, but would be 3 minutes off if you wait.”
  5. Assign someone to manage shrinkage. Dedicate a staff member to manage adherence throughout the day. Monitor unplanned exceptions and build that time back into the system so they are noted and reported immediately. This method keeps shrinkage levels lower and eliminates spikes or shortages in coverage at the interval level. It also improves awareness of shrinkage to the supervisors on the floor.