Article : Does Holiday Scheduling Raise Your Stress Level?
Kevin Weible, Marketing Director with Pipkins, examines the gains and pitfalls of forecasting schedules correctly during peak and holiday seasons in the following article.
Holiday staffing can be challenging at best in the contact center industry. Inaccurate forecasts can result in overstaffing or understaffing, driving up costs, negatively impacting team morale, lowering productivity, and in the case of sales operations, such as ecommerce/catalog retailers, restricting potential sales revenue. That’s the last thing you want if 25 to 30 percent of your annual sales occur during the holiday season.
For contact centers without automated WFM solutions, any sudden, unexpected staffing problems result in supervisors being forced to manually create, print and distribute updated intraday schedules, and speak to agents individually to solicit overtime hours. Such an approach, even for small contact centers, is inadequate today. The delays inherent in such manual systems can leave you vulnerable to temporary understaffing that can negatively affect daily service levels.
For contact centers with more than 30 agents, an automated vacation planning system is also desirable and makes sound business sense. Such a vacation planning solution can help to reduce wasted labor expense by allowing agents to electronically submit requests that are then automatically matched with available vacation slots based on the set of rules established by your workforce manager and/or senior management in charge of your contact center operations. If you opt for a system that makes supervisor review and approval unnecessary, you will also see significant improvement in supervisory productivity by freeing your supervisors from this administrative function.
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Benefits of Using a WFM Solution in Your Contact Center for Vacation Planning
- Vacation planning software calculates vacation slots to accommodate your staffing needs.
- Vacation schedules stored in your WFM system will be instantly accessible via the vacation planning module, allowing agents to view both total slots and slots remaining without any manual data entry or data import.
- When vacations are approved, the system will be automatically updated. If a vacation is cancelled after it has been posted, the system will automatically adjust, saving time and eliminating possible errors associated with manual edits.
Key Features to Look for in Vacation Planners
Know that benefits to expect before purchasing any software solution include WFM tools. When vacation planning is automated, there should be benefits for agents and supervisors alike that increase efficiency, save time and money, improve morale, increase engagement, etc.
Important benefits for contact center agents should include the following abilities:
- Check total vacation eligibility – including earned, used and available vacation days.
- Check available vacation slots – allows agents to see if their desired time is available for their vacation.
- Submit or bid on specific dates – Using either an automated rules-based approval system for agent requests, or a manual system requiring supervisor review and approval, allow agents to submit or bid on vacation dates within the vacation planner.
- Check status for requested vacation time – including submission/bid states such as pending, granted and waiting list. Important benefits for contact center supervisors include functionality to support sophisticated scheduling involving corporate policies that can impact vacation scheduling, such as varying work weeks or Saturday/weekend rotation:
- Import of each agent’s vacation eligibility for the year – a direct import from your company’s HR or personnel system is best for maximum efficiency.
- Different vacation parameters for different times of the year – based on your corporate policy, including the total number of weeks off that can be taken during certain periods of the year, and how many of those weeks can be taken consecutively.
- Blackout periods – the ability to establish certain days of the year when no vacation time can be taken, such as during major promotion periods; I.E., Black Friday, Cyber Monday, etc., when every available seat in the contact center must be filled to handle anticipated workload.
- Support for both vacation bidding and automatic, rules-based vacation request approvals – this allows your contact center supervisors the option to use the method they prefer. In regards to bidding, agents should be able to bid for preferred vacation dates: (1) allocated manually, (2) based on pre-established policies such as seniority, or (3) on a first-come-first-serve basis. As for automatic approvals, the system should be able to inform the agent if all or part of their requested vacation slot is not available.
- Allocation of vacation slots by agent group – this capability is necessary to prevent too many agents (1) with the same skill sets, (2) in the same contact center or (3) in some other group category, from taking vacations simultaneously. You can set up individual groups for various agent teams: billing, sales, customer support, etc. Then, limits can be set on the number of vacation slots allowed for each of these groups within any given week.
- Establish limits for advance booking of vacation requests – To help equalize vacation opportunities, you may wish to permit only full weeks to be booked more than 3 months in advance, and single days or partial days no more than four weeks in advance.
Don’t overlook the need for handling intraday scheduling changes
Your vacation planning tool should also compensate for agents who arrive late, call in sick, leave unexpectedly during the day, etc. A real-time intraday optimization feature enables supervisors to make adjustments for unplanned agent absences and other last minute problems and do so quickly and efficiently, without interrupting normal activities, in order to maintain the highest possible service levels. An intraday feature should automatically modify agent breaks, lunches, work assignments, etc. to compensate for unexpected absences, meetings and/or sudden workload fluctuations. You also need web-based exception reporting by contact center agent that is immediately and automatically integrated into the daily schedule. Any last minute schedule changes or overtime requests should be sent to agents on their computer screens via pop-up message notification. Supervisors need to be able to quickly review current-day staffing, update forecasts and recalculate staffing needs for the day through an intraday analysis and forecasting function.
Before purchasing any software or SaaS solution, investigate your options to ensure you are investing in a system robust enough to benefit your contact center operations during peak periods and throughout the entire year and generate maximum ROI.
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About Kevin Weible:
Kevin Weible is a marketing communications professional with more than 20 years’ experience in B2B and B2C marketing who joined Pipkins in 2016 to lead the firm's marketing efforts. Kevin has a B.A. in English from the University of Missouri - St. Louis, and a M.B.A. from Webster University.
About Pipkins Inc.:
Pipkins Inc., founded in 1983, is a supplier of workforce management software and services to the contact center industry. Its Vantage Point WFM solution enables managers to solve the complicated operational issues in today’s complex, omni-channel contact center environments and back office operations. Pipkins’ systems forecast and schedule more than 300,000 agents in more than 500 locations across all industries worldwide. The company is headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri.
Published: Monday, December 19, 2016
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