Small Call Centers Don’t Have to Pay 5 Figures for Workforce Optimization

By: Steve Martin

I read an article in the July/August issue of a periodical regarding workforce optimization (“Workforce Optimization for Small Call Centers”). This article outlined options for small call centers, mainly 50+ agents and above with the least expensive option requiring an investment of $17,000. That may seem very reasonable; however, if your center is 20 to 75 agents it is still a huge investment for your company.

What keeps this investment for workforce optimization so high is typically the integration and associated professional services. This integration enables the systems to automatically upload historical call data and real-time agent/call data used to create call forecasts. From these forecasts, the software predicts staffing and creates your schedules.

If your switch can provide real-time data (switches typically provide this data in 15 or 30 minute intervals), real-time adherence can be provided. Furthermore, if you do skill-based call routing, scheduling by skills is an additional module that can be added. The real-time adherence and skills modules are expensive add-ons to add to the $17,000+ initial investment.

So What's the Real Cost?

Expensive is a relative term. If you have 20 to 75 agents, the systems described above are likely too costly. However, that doesn't mean you're necessarily stuck using spreadsheets and manual scheduling. There are much more cost-effective options available. You can obtain a workforce optimization tool that will providea schedule that is as accurate as the expensive systems. The only difference is you either manually import a file with the historical call data, “cut and paste” it in, or some low-cost systems even automatically upload it. Even if you manually enter your average call volume per quarter, half, or full hour then add your average handle time and after call work time, both can be easily copied to each field and your schedule can then be computed. These systems range in price from $3,000 to $14,500 for 20 - 100 agents, depending on the number of agents to be scheduled. No special hardware or excessive professional services are needed.

These systems can provide full schedules that can be shared with your agents via printout and/or Web interface. These systems use the same Erlang-C algorithm that the pricey systems use. You have the ability to do intra-day management, “what if” scenarios, and even create holiday schedules to proactively prepare for the season. Some even provide the ability to run your forecasted schedule against a simulated switch to see how it performs. You can make adjustments to address any issues that are presented and test it again using these tuned stats to create your working schedule.

Accurate scheduling is can actually be more important to the centers with less than 50 agents than the 150 seats centers. This is because, if an agent calls in sick at 8:45am to the 150 seat, they can easily cover the extra calls. That agent is less than 1% of their workforce. What happens if an agent calls in sick at 8:30am to a center that only staffs 25 agents? Now you’re scrambling and your service levels are blown for at least the morning, or you have to be overstaffed to proactively head off this type of situation, which is wasting company money. Either way, you lose.

Workforce Management : Well Worth the Investment

Workforce management is still “best guess technology,” but these systems greatly reduce the margin of error. Reducing unneeded staff by a single agent or providing the ability to correctly staff for billing cycles, holidays, and any other special staffing situations makes a huge impact on your ability to field calls. This impact on your service levels and payroll more than compensate for the investment.

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