Seven Steps Your Contact Center Strategic Planning Process Needs

A contact center strategic plan is critical to ensuring that your week-over-week service delivery is consistent and efficient. Often called a capacity plan it is the best mechanism for making important operational decisions, like, “should we hire or use overtime to hit our seasonal peak?” or “should we have our customer service phone agents take emails during their downtime?” or “what will happen if the economy rebounds and our volumes increase?”

If plans are efficient, it will mean that week-over-week the center will have exactly the correct number of agents to always hit service goals (service levels, occupancy, abandon rates and costs) exactly— not too high or too low.

All planning processes have specific steps– forecasting volumes and other important seasonal metrics, determining how many agents are required week-over-week, and developing hiring, overtime, under time, and controllable shrinkage plans. Ultimately, these elements are used to convert the plan to a budget. But, the best planning processes have specific attributes that develop truly optimal plans.

Here are my seven steps on how to do just that:

1) Forecast all important metrics. Contact center managers tend to disproportionately focus on volume forecasting. But the best centers also make sure that their shrinkage, attrition, wage rate, and handle time forecasts are spot on.

2) Weekly not monthly. It is tempting to develop forecasts and plans that are monthly plans, but this is a mistake. Contact centers change significantly week over week. A month-over-month view is simply too general.

3) Include financials. In many organizations, the capacity plan is the purview of the operation, while the budget is the responsibility of Finance. That’s fine, except that while developing the capacity plan—and doing all of the what-if analyses that go with the capacity plan—marginal costs and marginal revenues of any what-if should be a prominent part of the analysis.

4) Validate that the relationship between volumes and service is accurate (Erlang is not—I am writing a white paper to discuss this—available shortly!) At the core of the planning process is an algorithm that converts demand (calls) into people needed (phone agents). Most center analysts use a variant of the Erlang-C calculation or a workload calculation. Both are notoriously inaccurate. This means, and sorry to say it, that most plans are a guess, even if the volume forecasts are very accurate. There are other methodologies (variants of simulation models) that are accurate, but whatever your algorithm, they should be proved accurate by comparing actual service delivery to forecasts.

5) Optimize capacity plan (hiring, overtime, shrinkage). Once you know how many agents are needed week-over-week, you must put together a hiring, overtime, undertime, and controllable shrinkage plan. Optimization algorithms work nicely for this (and save you money!)

6) Variance analysis. All processes require a check.  Variance analysis is simply looking back in time to see how well your plans were compared to what happened.

7) Executive decision-making meetings. The best companies view their planning review meetings as decision-making meetings (and not as a “beat up the forecaster” meeting).  Make these productive by using variance as an item that indicates change and, hence, an executive decision.

Well run contact center operations invest in their planning process and use it to make great decisions. Take a look at your planning process and see whether these best practices are part of your planning process.

If you have any thoughts or questions related to strategic planning, I’d love to hear from you.


Ric Kosiba

Ric Kosiba

I joined Interactive Intelligence in August 2012 as part of the Bay Bridge Decision Technologies acquisition. I helped found that company back in 2000 and thoroughly enjoyed working with our brilliant development and operations research team, which helped us become the leading U.S. supplier of long-term forecasting and planning solutions. In my current role as vice president of the Bay Bridge Decisions Group, I’m responsible for the development and enhancement of our contact center capacity planning and analysis product line. I tripped into the call center industry about 22 years ago and can honestly say that I still love it. I hold an M.S.C.E., B.S.C.E., and Ph. D in Operations Research and Engineering from Purdue University (go Boilers!). I reside in Maryland with my wife and four children. I love being a dad and enjoy coaching kid’s football, basketball and lacrosse.