My last post, Seven Steps Your Contact Center Strategic Planning Process Needs, discussed tips around how to ensure your contact center planning process develops great plans. But, what about the plan itself? What makes a contact center strategic plan great?
Here are the six hallmarks of a great strategic plan:
- The plan is accurate. Most contact center managers look for an accurate volume forecast, and this is important. But it is also vital that other important metrics are forecasted well. For instance, sick time and other shrinkage items are important to forecast. Similar for agent attrition, outbound contact rates, and handle times. If the forecast of an item affects the accuracy of your plan, then you have to get it right (or plan for it to be wrong – more on that in a bit).
- The plan is accurate. I’m repeating myself, but it is that important. Let’s discuss the accuracy of one piece of the plan that usually gets short shrift: the underlying staffing model. While your forecasts could be perfect, if the model that turns volumes into agent requirements are off, your plan is inaccurate. The most common ways of calculating call center staffing, Erlang-C and workload calculations are inaccurate. Try simulation.
- It considers the unknown (operational and financial risk). Many operations are made complex because of seasonality and variability. Volumes, handle times, sick times, absence, agent attrition, contact rates, and other important metrics are both seasonal and variable. Knowing this should change your organization’s plans. If you know weather affects your volumes, then a history of weather’s influence should inform your plan in terms of staffing to manage variability.
- Your plan needs to be flexible. One of the most talented workforce management gurus, Duke Witte, has a trick. He staffs to ensure that the number of agents in any week can flex up (overtime) or down (undertime) to maintain consistent service, even if his volumes are erratic. He calls this his “club length.” So long as he is staffed within a club length of actual volumes, his operation will produce consistent service, as long as the volume variability is within the normal range.
- The plan is optimal and not wasteful. Plans that are developed using just-in-time staffing algorithms do a great job of squeezing out wasteful over-staffing. These algorithms should consider learning curves and training time, as well as the differences across various centers that handle the same calls (e.g. differences in handle times or sick time).
- The plan results from compromise. All organizations have more than one goal. While call centers may want to hit a specific service goal week-over-week, it also wants to produce a good work environment for its agents, an informed and well-trained workforce, a low-cost operation for its shareholders, and a great customer experience for its customers. These things are all in conflict. The final resource plan and budget should be developed understanding the trade-offs of all of these elements.
Take a look at your plans—do they share these attributes? If so, congratulations! If not, it is time to revisit your planning process. A recent whitepaper that I co-authored on this subject, “Contact Center Planning Calculations and Methodologies, A Comparison of Erlang-C and Simulation Modeling,” offers some additional insights into how to make this work for you. Feel free to reach out to me if you’d like to discuss this further, either in the comments or via email.