Schedule like a Boss

8 Tips for Optimizing Schedules and Enhancing Contact Center Workforce the Same Time

We all love a win-win. A two-for-one. A prize in the Cracker Jack box. Getting a little extra can be amazing.

Many contact center managers, however, don’t realize how much more value their scheduling activity can deliver to employees, beyond letting agents know when to show up for shifts. An optimal schedule is cost-efficient and good for the bottom line, but it can also be a core part of the employee engagement strategy, if you follow a few simple tips.

#1 Start with Data

You need to understand contact trends, including how volumes change throughout the day, week and year; how average handle times are evolving; where your agent occupancy stands; and so on. If you need help boosting accuracy, we’ve got some forecasting advice here.

When armed with good forecasts—which contact center automation tools, like WFM software, can help you build—you can create robust schedules that deliver the desired service levels and enhance the call center customer experience. Better schedules make for better shifts, too, because agents neither feel overwhelmed nor underutilized. They enjoy a manageable but motivating pace.

#2 Ask About Availability During Hiring

Contact centers need to operate at various hours, including Dolly’s 9 to 5 but also the nights and weekends when many customers have time to reach out. It’s important to discuss the schedule at the start of an employee relationship, so the demands don’t come as a surprise. If a particular agent can’t work weekends because they have other responsibilities, they won’t stay in the job for long, or be fully engaged while there, if the schedule doesn’t meet their needs.

#3 Tap into Talents

There are usually a range of needs in an SMB call center, especially an omnichannel one. You might handle everything from inbound sales to product repair scheduling to billing support. And interactions may take place over the phone, in email, through direct message, and with online chat.

Different agents will have greater natural affinity for certain types of work. Someone who communicates well in writing may thrive in online chat, while someone with good voice tone and a nurturing personality may be great on a customer service line.

Matching agents’ strengths and characteristics to the roles you assign can rapidly improve call center efficiency and customer experience. Plus, agents will sense that their assets are recognized by the organization. That’s important!

#4 Peak at the Top

Assigning peak periods to your most capable and experienced agents is a great way to get through crunch time with aplomb. Look for individuals who pair low average handle times with great first call resolution metrics and stellar post-call survey results. In them, you will have found agents who resolve customer needs right away without making them feel rushed. They will definitely ease those “tsunami” periods on the floor!

BTW, let these agents know why you turn to them. It’s always nice to hear you’re a top performer. You might even offer incentives to make these killer shifts more desirable.

#5 Offer Stability and Flexibility

Some agents prefer to work a regular, repeating schedule. Others need flexibility in a life that includes competing obligations to family, educational pursuits, or maybe an after-work soccer team.  Effective contact center workforce management helps you give employees what they want. In fact, WFM software can automate the process, incorporating agents’ availability and facilitating those last-minute shift-swap requests.

#6 Cross-Train

Things happen. Agents call out sick. A product issue leads to unexpected call volumes. You know the drill.

Cross-training agents to handle a variety of contact types provides agility in these “oh no!” circumstances. But it’s about more than getting through a rough patch. Cross-training also helps agents continually grow their skills and vary their workdays, which keeps them interested and engaged.

#7 Build in Breaks

Few people can work nose to the grindstone on the same task for hours on end. It’s just not how humans function. So break it up. Make sure schedules include longer meal breaks and shorter refreshers, some training or one-to-one time, group meetings, and other elements. Even offering a couple minutes at the end of the hour to wiggle head, shoulders, knees, and toes can be energizing.

#8 Revisit and Refine

Workforce management software includes tons of cool technology, but scheduling is as much art as it is science. Get a feel for it by evaluating your schedule effectiveness over time. When you experience one of those shifts where nothing could go wrong, what made the difference? When you have a day that couldn’t end soon enough, what happened and how could you mitigate those risks in the future?

Of course, making a cost-efficient, employee-motivating schedule only matters if teams adhere to it. Fortunately, we have some advice on this issue, too. That’s available in our whitepaper, How to Guide: Improve Strategies for Improving Schedule Adherence. Download it now to become a true scheduling boss.

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