Can we Forecast the Future…Yes
The Importance of Forecasts
How often have you seen or heard about call center management struggling with the senior executives or their own staff regarding the resources needed by the center to do the work. Missed service levels, tired or worn out staff, blocked calls, long hold times, incomplete and/or inadequate training and development goals are but a few of the issues facing call center management everyday. Is there a better way?
Fortunately yes! One way is to have a forecast of work volume and staff for at least six months by week and eighteen months by month. This type of forecast can usually be done with a few hours work and a spreadsheet program. No, I am not talking staffing forecast of between one to five weeks out. That type of short term staffing forecast is fine and needed to plan the shifts and ‘work-arounds’. It does not however provide the kind of insight needed or desired by senior officers of any organization.
There are many applications and tools out there now that provide very decent calculations of the number of staff needed to provide a given level of service. For many centers this is the point at which they stop.
For a few, it is the starting point. From here the few gather other key information. Such as: volume by period for the last 18 months by transaction type, this shows any seasonal variations that need assessing; rate of absents, sickness etc., this allows a judgement of extras or additional capacity from existing staff that is likely to be needed; planned roll-outs, upgrades, vacations, how many man-days and when, (service still needs providing, but staff seem to like vacations, go figure); training, personal development, special events or marketing efforts likely and they range of effects on the work load, while not exact something is better than nothing.
Engineering, marketing and sales will be pleased that you cared enough to ask. Be aware that many “forecasts” from marketing and sales are more likely goals and objectives for the campaign. Be sure to check past campaign result information for projections and actual results. This provides a good indication of the range of response that is possible. Finally training and special projects need identification and planning. Training for both new staff and on-going refresher or upgrading for existing staff. Special projects allowance is always good to have in reserve. These provide staff with an opportunity to demonstrate skills and knowledge outside their usual arena. This can be a very good morale booster for everyone.
From this basic measure of work a staff, full time equivalent can be determined. Depending upon the center policy toward full, part-time and contract mix will dictate the number of total staff and the number of seats needed for the load by period.
With this in hand any center executive can discuss with everyone, staff, operations, HR, senior officers any aspect of the center based on the work being ask. From here decisions can be made about the ebb and flow of part-time hours, outsourced work, budgets, equipment, call diversion or best of all ways to reduce the calls in the first place.
A forecast of this type is a powerful tool. By updating on a regular basis, comparing actual results to projections management, staff and supervisors quickly gain confidence that management has foresight and is anticipating issues and problems before they arise.
While no forecast is perfect, something is better than nothing. This tool provides more value at less cost than another in the call centers arsenal.