To blend or not to blend—that is the question for today’s call centers.
Blended agent assignments have been a staple of the contact center since the advent of automated call distribution (ACD) systems. Enabling outbound agents to fill in on inbound lines when call volumes spike, for example, has offered valuable options for enhancing call center metrics, like service levels and abandonment rates.
As the multi-channel contact center has blossomed the variety of contact types to manage has multiplied. In a blended environment, agents might respond to social media DMs between phone calls or handle chat and email simultaneously.
While some contact centers are experiencing success with this approach, others are questioning whether agents serving as “Jacks of all trades” really works for their customers or their employees.
Blending vs. Blocking
Using blended agent stations in today’s omnichannel contact center entails a high degree of complexity. Inbound customer service, outbound sales or follow-up calls, and various digital communications channels draw on different skill sets. Not all agents can blend across all channels with equal flexibility.
Blending also means agents are constantly switching gears. Too much multitasking can lead to a decline in performance and negative impacts on the customer experience and call center metrics. An agent bombarded all day with different types of contacts might rarely be in a state of full attention.
To ensure agents do not feel continually under fire from every direction, some multi-channel contact centers are exploring an alternative strategy—time blocking. In this model, reassignments from inbound calls to email to chat and other channels no longer happen on the fly. Instead, they are specifically scheduled for each agent within each shift.
Compared to blending, blocking can promote greater concentration by agents and facilitate skills-based assignments, scheduling employees for the contact types to which they are best suited. The reduction in multitasking can also help avoid burnout and reduce turnover.
But blocking has its downsides. Because plans are made in advance, it may be less responsive to volume spikes and other changes happening on the floor. This can result in less efficient staffing, unless blocking is carefully managed.
A Data-Driven Decision
Neither blending nor blocking is a panacea for every staffing challenge, so what is the forward-thinking omnichannel contact manager to do? Look at the data!
A high-quality workforce management solution (WFM) can help contact center leaders evaluate workforce metrics and navigate the difficult decisions related to staffing strategy. WFM software pulls data from the ACD and CRM systems and applies powerful analytics. Call center managers can then “slice and dice” the information in myriad ways.
This makes it easy to test different blending and blocking scenarios and compare the results. Managers can examine the total contacts per hour, determine the impact on average handle times (AHT), or check in with quality and customer survey responses.
Armed with this information, call center leaders can choose whether to blend all types of contacts, explore which types can be blended with the least impact on customer experience, or assess whether a particular blocking model might be the right answer.
The Best of Both Worlds
Workforce management for contact centers offers another key advantage, which can help alleviate the primary pain point associated with blocked scheduling—the potential for mismatch between the predetermined agent assignments and the actual needs in the production environment. A WFM solution that allows for real-time monitoring and point-and-click scheduling adjustments can make blocked scheduling nearly as responsive as blending.
With WFM software, time blocks for each agent needn’t be set in stone. Managers can, for example, detect a large influx of calls and reassign chat and email agents to protect against customer abandonment or other metrics degradation. Once the spike passes, agents can be given blocks of time to work through an email backlog that built up while it was “all hands on deck” for the inbound lines.
Time blocking won’t be the answer for every call center, but a powerful WFM solution will facilitate data-driven experimentation and help contact center managers arrive at the most efficient and effective staffing models.
Most important for omnichannel performance is keeping the metrics in mind. Be sure you’re checking everything you should while exploring potential staffing strategies. Download our comprehensive guide, to learn how to Grow Your Bottom Line with 5 Workforce Management Metrics.