|Know Your Tools: Knights Direct Saves Time and Improves Results By Using Full Power of Pipkins’ Vantage Point
Knights Direct, producer of the Home Decorators Collection and Soft Surroundings catalogs, has used the Pipkins Vantage Point workforce management (WFM) system for seven years, but recently managers began taking advantage of features they had never used before. The results have included a time savings of six to seven hours every week and more accurate staffing. Following are excerpts from a conversation with Lori Kyker, an operations analyst for the company, describing the change.How large is your call center?
We have about 130 CSRs. That includes about 100 blended reps who perform multiple functions like taking orders and handling customer service; 15 specialists who take escalated, return and cancel calls; and 15 dedicated Internet representatives who handle email and other online activities. We’re staffed from 6 am to 11 pm weekdays, 7 am to 11 pm Saturday, and 8 am to 11 pm Sunday, and we outsource overnight calls.
You said you weren’t using Vantage Point fully. What do you mean?
We adopted the Pipkins product seven years ago, but we were using only a fraction of the functionality until this year. Instead of using Vantage Point to forecast call volumes, for example, we produced manual forecasts on Excel spreadsheets and then loaded those forecasts into the Pipkins software. This is because we had never done the work necessary to integrate our ACD with Vantage Point, so the Pipkins system didn’t have the call data history required to generate an automated forecast.
How did you discover that you could do more with the product?
Shortly after I got here two years ago, I went to Pipkins for training, and I realized the system had capabilities we had never used. It was like putting money under the mattress: we had the tools, and we weren’t taking advantage of them.
What were your biggest surprises?
First, that we didn’t need to do our forecasts manually and that in fact Vantage Point could do them faster and more accurately. Second, that we were only using two or three of the more than 100 standard reports built into the system, and that we could save time by creating the layouts in advance instead of repeating the same formatting steps week after week. Third, that we could schedule our agents by specialty to ensure that we have the right mix of CSRs on each shift. These things are really valuable.
You have cut at least six hours worth of busywork every week. How?
We eliminated about three hours of manual data collection and entry every week simply by switching from our hand-assembled call volume forecasts to Vantage Point’s automated forecasting. We saved another three or four hours by pre-configuring and using more Pipkins reports, particularly a “Schedule Hours” report that eliminates a lot of manual calculations we used to make when reviewing the schedules generated by the system. We’re now using 15 or 20 reports, and some of them are set up to run automatically at a certain time every week.
What about agent schedules? Do you still print them?
We have until now, but that’s changing. We have just added Pipkins’ WAVE (Web Agent Viewing and Empowerment) module, which is a self-service Web portal that will allow our CSRs to view their schedules as well as request changes online. We think that will save another 30 minutes every week by eliminating the need to print out 130 separate schedules and post them in our lunch room.
How are you using skills-based scheduling, and how does it help?
We used to lump all of our CSRs into one group and schedule them without regard to skill set. Now we have grouped them according to the kinds of calls that the ACD directs to them. We have CSRs who specialize in taking blinds orders, for example, so we have a blinds queue. We also have other product groups, a Spanish language group, and so on. The Pipkins system knows the proportion of calls that come in to each of these queues based on historical data from the ACD, and it takes this into account when it produces a schedule. This is helpful because CSRs with the right knowledge can close more sales.
Does that affect the time it takes to produce your weekly schedule?
No. It still takes only 10 minutes for Vantage Point to create a schedule.
Have you reduced understaffing or overstaffing?
Understaffing has never been much of a problem for us, but we had a fair amount of overstaffing before we used Pipkins’ forecasting and skills-based capabilities. Now we rarely have an overstaffing problem, and when we do we can use Pipkins’ intra-day re-optimization tools to calculate how many CSRs to send home and still maintain our service levels. It’s not as much of a guessing game.
Has this resulted in any cost savings?
I don’t have any figures, but obviously reducing overstaffing is going to reduce unnecessary payroll costs. It also increases agent productivity because people aren’t sitting there waiting for the phone to ring.
How else has your scheduling accuracy changed?
Since we’re now using the Pipkins forecasting function, the system automatically adjusts the forecast to accommodate special events like catalog drops that increase our call volume. That in turn helps fine-tune our staffing. We’re also now incorporating the overtime people we use during peak weeks in the Vantage Point schedule instead of having them sign up on a separate sheet, and we’re using the system to schedule non-demand Internet work. All of these things give us more control.
Has your quality of service improved?
There seems to be less of a fluctuation in service levels than there used to be. Our goal is to answer 80% of calls in 30 seconds or less and to have no more than 1.6% of calls abandoned. We usually are within those parameters.
Are you doing anything with real-time adherence?
We have just added the Pipkins real-time adherence module to help us with that issue. The software will alert supervisors when CSRs are out of compliance, and the WAVE module I mentioned earlier will send CSRs a pop-up message if the ACD indicates they’re not on break when they should be or whatever. This will help us run our call center more efficiently.