Are Your Hours of Operation Appropriate?
By Colin Taylor
I asked a client recently how they had determined their contact center hours of operation.
After a long pause they replied “I don’t know.”
Many organizations don’t think too much about their hours of operations, or HOOPs; they are just a fact of life. The contact center is staffed during this window of time to answer inquiries and contacts from customers and prospects. The HOOPs may have been established years before and not been reviewed since. When clients do cite a reason for the HOOPs they have in place, the most common answers are “way back when we surveyed our customers and the HOOPs are the result” and “we have always been open for these hours.”
So how do we know that these are the operating hours that make sense today, versus some point in the far off and distant past? Well we don’t, unless we examine our customers’ behaviors and/or survey them on preferences.
First, take a look at the contact volumes across all of your operating days— are you slammed from the moment the queues open up? Are you forced to manually de-queue calls/contacts to allow the queue to close at the end of the day? Or, do the volumes build slowly from opening time and decline smoothly to closing time? If the volume doesn’t gradually increase and then decrease, you will want to look at volumes received during the intervals before opening and following closing. You may find that call volumes and activity in the IVR, for example, builds one or more intervals before the queues open or continues at a high level following the closing of the queue. These can both be examples of scenarios when earlier opening or later closing may make sense.
There are a lot of considerations to be considered when looking to change your operating hours:
- Do we know how many additional staff or hours of coverage are required?
- Do we have adequate staff to support the new operating hours?
- How will the new hours impact scheduling, shift biddings, RTA etc.?
- Will there be a cost/benefit to extending the hours? Ex. Upsell or customer retention opportunities?
- Will the new operating hours impact any processes, SLA’s or procedures within or external to the center?
- How will the affected processes, SLA’s and/or procedures need to be modified to accommodate the new operating hours?
- How will the new operating hours impact the center operating budget?
- If occupancy is expected to decrease, are there additional non-live activities that could be completed by the center to offset some of the increased cost per interaction?
- How will we communicate the new operating hours to our staff?
- How will we communicate the new operating hours to our customers?
Our recommended approach would be to start by looking at the demand based on call activity prior to and after opening/closing hours. Based on this information, then work to quantify the expected demand. This would involve checking volumes on the pre and post opening periods, checking for any seasonal fluctuations, looking at upcoming automation, self-service or AI initiatives that are likely to reduce live agent contact volumes, etc.
Once you confirm that there is demand, you need to quantify the implication of serving these customers in terms of staff and/or labor hours. With a decent Work Force Management (WFM) tool, this is dead easy. Even without one, this is a fairly straightforward process. You will already have determined the number of call or contacts that will be captured, you know the AHT and desired service level and can then identify the incremental labor hours required to support these contacts.
Changing the start or the end time of someone’s shift can be unsettling and you will likely face resistance. So, if we are going to mess with folks’ schedules, we better set some rules. Of course, you may simply change the old start and stop times with the new times in the SOP’s or operation manual, or you may need to get much for granular to address potential issues such as length of shifts, definition of full and/or part-time staff. Some of these changes may be addressed by your shift definitions. The communication plan that you develop to share this change internally will be critical to ensure that there is a smooth transition to the new HOOP.
In addition to justifying and communicating the change to people impacted, it’s important to look at what impact the new operating hours may have on existing business or operating processes. From the simple, “will the employee entrance be unlocked at the start of the new operating hours?” to the more complex, “how does the new HOOP impact the escalation resolution Service Level Agreement?” Also, “are there other stakeholders impacted?” for example, “do you support a sales force that needs to know about the change?” All of the center and business processes and workflows should be examined to see if any need to be modified to accommodate the new operating hours?
By following these steps, you will be able to rationalize the center operating hours, should management or others inquire . You will also have a defined playbook and approach to address and revisit your HOOPs in the future should you ever need to expand or contract service availability.
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