For Optimum Results Schedule Agents to Meet Projected Call Traffic
By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
Call centers rely on people—that is, agents—to meet the needs of callers. This requires developing an ideal agent schedule.
Having too many agents results in idle time, with staff on the clock but without enough work to do. This bloats operational costs. From a theoretical standpoint, an overstaffed call center should provide a high level of service, but this doesn’t always happen. Sometimes an overstaffed call center grows lackadaisical and provides poor service.
The opposite of overstaffing is not having enough agents. Not only does this cause agent burnout, but it also lengthens hold times and lowers service levels.
The key is to schedule the appropriate number of agents throughout the day to provide a suitable level of service at an acceptable cost. This minimizes complaints from both callers and agents.
Consider these key points when developing an optimum agent schedule.
Balance Staff Needs with Patient Needs
If your call center agents work eight-hour shifts, I guarantee your schedule needs work. Though their average workload and service level may be acceptable, most of the day they will swing from either working too hard to not having enough to do.
This means moving away from eight-hour shifts and scheduling staff to work when you need them. This may result in shorter shifts or longer shifts. To accomplish this, you’ll need a mixture of full-time and part-time employees, with part timers usually being predominant. This could be a huge culture shift.
Analyze Small Time Increments
If you track call traffic by the day, your scope is too large. One hour is the longest increment you should consider, but quarter hour segments are better, and some call centers look at six-minute increments (a tenth of an hour), or even less. When you analyze traffic in this granular fashion, you’ll see predictable rises and dips throughout the day. Overlay your shifts to cover these peaks and miss the valleys.
Consider Historical Data
In most cases the call traffic from one week will approximate the traffic for the following week. Averaging several consecutive weeks produces a more accurate projection. You can also look at traffic from one year ago if you have seasonal fluctuations. Last, to staff for a holiday, consider the historical traffic from that holiday last year or other comparable days. This lets you project traffic demands and develop an accurate agent schedule.
Pursue Incremental Improvement
Hoping to develop one agent schedule that you can copy each week isn’t realistic. Even if traffic doesn’t change much, you’ll still need to fine-tune it to best align your agents’ availability with your patients’ calling patterns. Also, most call center traffic trends up or down from one season to the next. Be sure to adjust for that.
Finding your ideal agent schedule is part art and part science. It’s a time-consuming task, but the results of having an ideally staffed call center are worth the effort.