In this article John Cann from InVision Software discusses the pros and cons of staff scheduling in the call centre sector. He provides advice on how businesses can successfully combine employee satisfaction whilst increasing profitability.
Employee Satisfaction Versus Increased Profitability: Do You Have To Choose?
The call centre market is now increasingly competitive, complex and demanding. Agents are expected to be more organised and powerful than ever before, but with high-levels of sick-rate, agent fluctuation and poor service quality - dissatisfied agents are costing companies millions. Integrating employee preferences may seem the best option, but in a call centre environment, where staffing requirements fluctuate throughout the day, which is more important?
From an agent's perspective, shift patterns are one of the most important aspects of the job. As with any shift work, scheduling has to be fair, but at the same time you do need to be realistic. Not everyone is going to be happy with his or her allocated shift. However with intelligent rostering, there should be an element of flexibility.
Consider this - an agent has requested a holiday and it doesn't fit with the staffing requirement at that time, so their holiday request is declined. You then find they phone in sick, having contracted a mysterious sickness. Alternatively - an agent has child care commitments and their allocated shifts fail to incorporate this obligation, they repeatedly arrive late, call in sick and eventually hand in their notice. Worst still, an agent continuously works the Saturday 'grave yard' shift - they become so de-motivated and frustrated, they simply leave.
So how is the call centre sector tackling this problem? Workforce management software offers a method of automatically rostering shifts, incorporating changes in personnel - scheduling more/less staff dependent on the precise requirement. This type of software has enabled companies to work more efficiently, enabling more effective distribution of personnel with improved profitability. However, workforce management software is now challenged with incorporating employee preferences to ensure better levels of retention.
Currently, call centres survey employee preferences and determine their schedules with this as the key proviso. Whilst this situation ensures a happier workforce, it fails to integrate the needs of the business, leading to over and under-staffing at crucial times. In contrast, the alternative is to determine staffing requirements over employee preferences, fulfilling the business credentials, but leaving staff feeling de-motivated and frustrated.
There is an innovative solution that fulfils both the business requirement, whilst integrating the needs of the workforce.
An ideal scenario would be to create shifts according to the number of staff required, but at the same time enabling employees to make their own selection. Unallocated shifts can then be assigned using a random lottery system. This system ensures the correct number of agents during each shift, enhancing the profitability of the company. At the same time, it manages to incorporate the preferences of the workforce in a fair and unbiased manner.
The scheduling of these previously unallocated hours can also include the specific legal requirements of workforce management. For example - UK law does not allow employees to work over a certain number of hours, with a rest period between two shifts. There is also a limit to the maximum number of consecutive night shifts each employee can work.
Of course it's not all about shift patterns and staff scheduling. To really get the most from call centre agents it's imperative to provide good training and development. Ensuring your employees feel motivated to work hard and achieve their optimum is key.
It has become widely accepted that attrition is an established and acceptable part of call centre life, profitability is seemingly the main focus. However, with the right balance, the two can be securable. By 2008, it is anticipated that the call centre sector will employ 665,000 people, or around three per cent of the entire UK workplace. In a market that shows no signs of slowing down, finding the right balance is key and with careful planning and the right software it can be achieved.
About John Cann:
Published: Friday, April 29, 2005
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