Very few things in a contact center have importance that rival a correct headcount and proper staffing, based on the forecasts created. The tricky art is to have a correct headcount. Let’s take the month of June, for example. The headcount work would have needed to be done a few weeks earlier. HR would need time to hire and trainers would need time to train. In this process, there are losses in the form of possible hiring misses, people leaving midway, as well as perhaps agents not passing training tests.
Even after doing everything right and it all works out, the nature of long-term forecasts is such that, due to a large variance in planning volumes (Average Handling Time, or AHT) and other factors, you may still end up with the wrong head count.
To be able to budget, hire, train and plan capacity more accurately, a number of things must be done so as to be able to better forecast in the long run:
- Understand your long-term historical volume drivers: monthly volume levels are driven by the number of your customers, the users of your service, media campaigns rolled out, issue cases created, and perhaps other processes. What could this correlate to? Could you, for example, say that each customer, on average, makes 1.2 calls to your center? Could this be extrapolated to the future? Tie it to your marketing forecasts.
- Factor your attrition rate: plan for leaves by looking at the history of how many people left your center that need replacing and add this to your assumptions. Remember, add the actuals, not the targets. If your monthly target is a five-percent attrition rate and your center is performing at nine percent, use the nine-percent rate until you’re able to bring it back to the target level.
- Use your actual shrinkage assumptions; not targets. The same goes for attrition. If your sickness target is five percent and your center is performing at 15 percent, enter the 15 percent until you’re able to get it at or under your target level.
- Understand your lead times: HR has a lead time when it comes to hiring; for example, the throughput for a specific competence is 30 agents every month. Your lead time for end-to-end training from day one until being ready for call-taking might be four weeks. So, from the time of requesting HR to hire until having ready agents may take two months. If starting in May, the earliest you can plan for is for July/Aug. There are also lead times when capacity expands; e.g. seats, PCs, routers, or even E1s (PRI) capacity. Do you have overlap on days when you’re lacking seats?
- Collaborate for the future: get input from everyone – for instance, the marketing department or business development. How much are you planning to sell for in the coming period? What are the planned campaigns? How many customers or subscribers are you adding to your service? The future can’t solely be predicted, based on historical trends.
- Communicate: every time you update plans, get all stakeholders and suppliers aligned- whether your IT department, HR, the training section; even the cafeteria manager or bus transportation supplier – and ensure there’s an understanding of what’s happening. The more they’re prepared and aware, the more successful you’ll be in eliminating extra, unnecessary agents and the lack of seats during peak hours.