When you think of a call center, the last thing you’d associate it with is baseball. But for those of us who work in contact center workforce management (WFM), the connections are obvious. You might ask, what do baseball and WFM have in common? In short, it’s statistics. Predictive pattern analysis is essential to managing a baseball team, and at Blue Ocean, we live by it, too. It’s what helps us manage call center resources to meet our service levels and operate at peak performance.
“There will always be people who are ahead of the curve, and people who are behind the curve. But knowledge moves the curve.” – Bill James, Author, Statistician, Senior Advisor on Baseball Operations – Boston Red Sox
“Moving the curve” and staying ahead of it are essential in areas like roadside assistance (especially as we gear up for the winter) and grocery service (in preparing for the holidays). When you partner with an outsourced contact center, you play a key role in getting your team in the best position for a championship win. Look at it this way: you’re the team owner. Your workforce management guy is the “team manager.” You can help him (or her) empower the team and take home a win with the use of great data and clear goals.
Here’s how to turn your contact center WFM into champions.
1. Get deep and specific with your historical data
Accurate forecasting begins with looking back on data from the last year to shed light on what may happen in the coming year. The phrase “the data doesn’t lie” is a common one and often integral to our work in data analytics and forecasting. However, the numbers don’t always reveal the big picture. Although all data is relevant, we need to be strategic in how we use it – and don’t use it.
For example, depending on your service offering – from reservations to grocery delivery to tech support and more – your call volume can be impacted by a wide range of anomalies. Sporting events, corresponding holidays (such as the highly rare occasion that Thanksgiving and Hannukah occur at the same time), and website crashes are all times when call volume likely spiked in each of these service offerings. In these cases, when conditions are unlikely to be repeated, depending solely on the data will lead to misinformed workforce management decisions. That’s why you have to get really specific about historical data. Get the whole story.
2. Preach the importance of collaboration in forecasting
It’s not just about historical data. Collaboration across all areas of the contact center is essential to accurate forecasting. Your marketing, sales, or IT departments may not fully appreciate or understand the efforts of your workforce management team, but their departmental plans may have significant impact on how WFM plans to staff a program.
For example, if your IT team knows they are conducting a website upgrade or changes to back office functions, this is critical information for WFM in predicting related call volume. Likewise, if your marketing department plans a promotion or campaign that will impact the number of callers, WFM needs to know.
If the forecast is off, it will have a domino effect on the success of the program. If workforce management gets it wrong, then your departmental team will be off to a bad start, too, making judgements calls from inaccurate information. Although 100% accuracy in forecasting is often unrealistic, the WFM team wants to be as close as possible. Using historical data is one step; strategically using information from other collaborative sources is another critical piece of the puzzle.
3. Keep your eyes on the metrics that matter
“I pay you to get on first, not get thrown out at second,” said Oakland A’s manager Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt, in the baseball movie Moneyball. It’s a philosophy focused on what first steps are necessary to add up to a win. Stealing second base might be tempting, but is not a successful long-term strategy for winning games.
The same philosophy should apply to the goals of your contact center team. If your ultimate objective is brand loyalty in your customers, it’s essential to understand how customer experience in the contact center builds that loyalty. Thus, service level metrics should reflect your brand promise; low Average Handle Times probably won’t be as important as Average Speed of Answer and low Abandon rates.
4. Build the right parameters for your game
Every inning of a baseball game might not be perfect, but it’s the score at the end of the ninth that counts. The same goes for your contact center. If your program operates with a monthly service level contact, you have to be realistic about the smaller half hour intervals that add up to those 30 days. There will likely be intervals and maybe even days that won’t make the service grade, but your WFM will do everything in their power to make sure you are on target by the end of the month. If this isn’t acceptable to your company, you may need to consider upgrading your service level to daily instead of monthly.
5. Give your team the freedom to focus on the future
Although we love statistics, we recognize how easy it could be to fall prey to “paralysis by analysis.” While data can tell us how to move forward in WFM plans, trying to explain exactly why something happened isn’t always to best use of our time. The next call still needs to be answered.
That’s why every service level you choose leaves some room for error. A contract to answer 80% of calls within 30 seconds means that there will likely be a handful of calls (less than or equal to 20%) that are answered after 30 seconds. When a small percentage of calls don’t go to plan, do you want to spend time analyzing them or would you rather focus your team on making the future moves that lead to consistent, high quality service?
When services levels are being met and everything is working smoothly, a ton of preparation was done in advance. Championship teams may make it “look easy,” but you can guarantee every piece of the complex puzzle was in place to help them win.
Looking for more strategies for workforce management success? Check out this infographic: