Try these three simple strategies for improved service levels.
There are many reasons why agents fall out of adherence and it is an inherent problem for call centers. When agents arrive late or leave early, log in to the wrong queue, take unscheduled lunch and breaks, or get tied up on customer calls during scheduled breaks or lunches, the result can be abandoned calls, irate customers, lost sales, and an inability to meet service level agreements. Any of these scenarios can create lasting damage to a business. The balance between under- and overstaffing can easily be affected by agent adherence, and once a customer is lost to poor service, it may be impossible to ever regain their business.
Call center supervisors need effective strategies for dealing with adherence violations. Monitoring adherence on a real-time basis can identify problems in early stages to permit corrective action to be taken before supervisory chaos occurs. If 2% of agents are out of adherence, the percentage of calls answered within the designated performance objective typically will drop by 10%. If 10% of agents are out of adherence, one-half of the center’s incoming calls will likely not be answered within the target time frame.
While real-time adherence monitoring can help strengthen a call center’s performance, optimal results can be achieved by implementing three basic strategies:
1. Understand the Root Cause of Adherence Violations
Numbers can be misleading. Verify that an agent who appears to have fallen below the center’s adherence targets in a given week or month has not become a victim of someone’s failure to record exceptions in the schedule. A supervisor may have neglected to log an illness-related absence, a switch in lunch schedules, or a reassignment from phone to email duty. Or, perhaps call volume was twice what was expected, causing planned meetings to be cancelled. For these reasons, it is important to review adherence slip-ups with agents before taking punitive action. Present the data and give them an opportunity to correct it. If the agent is in violation and unable to rectify it on their on, one-on-one coaching with a trainer or supervisor might be in order to help with better time management or handling specific tasks more efficiently.
2. Be Realistic When Setting Adherence Goals
Typically, adherence goals should be in the 90% to 95% range, meaning agents should be engaged in scheduled activities 90-95% of the time over the course of a week or a month. This allows latitude for minor scheduling oversights and unforeseen developments. Attempting to force 100% compliance will backfire, both by alienating agents and by tacitly encouraging them to end calls prematurely in order to meet adherence targets. This can adversely affect customer service.
3. Allow for Grace Periods
Adherence rules should include grace periods that must be observed before the agent is deemed to be out of compliance. It is impractical to take punitive action against an agent for returning to his or her desk at 2:02 instead of 2:00. Being too rigid will affect morale and, again, customer service. Different thresholds should be established for different activities. A late start at the beginning of a shift or a late return from lunch may have a grace period of 2 minutes, for example, while a late lunch start may have a grace period of 5 minutes. These policies are necessary to accommodate the realities of call center work where an agent scheduled to go on break at 10:00 am may be delayed by a call received at 9:59.
Managers need every option available to achieve service levels. The best option for monitoring agent adherence is real-time adherence tools which are available with many workforce scheduling applications. These adherence systems communicate with the call center’s Automatic Call Distributor (ACD) to determine each agent’s current activity and compare that information to his or her assigned schedule. Supervisors can view adherence status at any time in a window that is refreshed according to the timetable set by the user. When an agent is out of adherence, the system typically spotlights the discrepancy by a visual device such as color-coding. The more comprehensive systems provide important additional information by indicating the nature of the violation (e.g. late start, improper activity, logged out early) as well as the agent’s current state (e.g. ACD inbound, logged off, after-call work) and the duration of the problem.
An additional benefit provided by these systems is the ability for managers to establish adherence targets that define the amount of time an agent should be engaged in scheduled activities on a weekly or monthly basis. These targets are used in reports that track each agent’s performance over time to aid in personnel evaluations and ongoing quality-of-service efforts.
Another excellent option is the use of pop-up messages sent to agents’ computer screens when they are out of compliance for a certain period of time, as determined by the supervisor. This feature can be used to notify agents when they are logged into the wrong queue, not logged on at all, and in other situations that can affect overall operations.
The goal of real-time adherence monitoring is simply to reduce unproductive time by keeping agents in their seats when they’re supposed to be. The value of a schedule depends entirely on how well agents follow it. Inadvertent and even deliberate violations are inevitable. The best defense is a good offense. For many call centers, agent adherence systems are the answer.
About Pipkins Inc.
Pipkins Inc., a leading supplier of workforce management software, now offers a new graphic edition of its agent adherence module with a control panel consisting of a visual grid which places agents in permanently assigned squares that change color in real time indicating agent status and enabling at-a-glance monitoring from anywhere on the floor. Additional features include one-click schedule updates and report access. For more information, visit www.Pipkins.com or 800/469-6106.