Today’s technology simplifies scheduling agents around vacation requests, historically a universal problem for centers due to last minute staffing issues that require supervisors to create and distribute new intra-day schedules and handle overtime needs. Contact centers are at risk of being temporarily understaffed, negatively affecting daily service levels. There are three ways to mitigate the effects of having multiple agents simultaneously request vacation time.
Automate vacation planning
For centers with more than fifty agents, the best option is to utilize the vacation planning module available with advanced workforce management (WFM) scheduling systems. An automated vacation planning system that allows agents to submit requests electronically relieves the burden on supervisors and increases scheduling accuracy and efficiency.
A vacation planning module will fit agent requests into available slots based on pre-established rules created by call center managers. Vacation schedules stored in the larger system will be instantly accessible to the vacation module, enabling agents to view total slots and slots remaining without the need for manual data entry or data import. Once vacation time is granted, the main system will be automatically updated and the vacation will be included in the agent’s schedule when produced. If the vacation is cancelled after it has been posted, the system will adjust accordingly. This is a time-saving feature that eliminates errors.
A vacation planning module should offer a number of key components to optimize the planning process, including a variety of self-service functions. Agents should be able to:
- Check personal vacation eligibility (including earned, used and available vacation days)
- View available vacation slots
Submit or bid on desired vacation dates (with either automated rules-based approval or manual supervisor allocation based on seniority or other corporate rules)
- Check request status (including requests that are pending, granted and wait-listed)
The functionality for call center managers must be much more extensive. A vacation planning system should be able to support highly sophisticated scheduling, including corporate policies that will affect vacation booking such as different work weeks or Saturday rotations. At minimum, supervisors should have the ability to:
- Import each agent’s vacation eligibility for the year, preferably directly from the organization’s HR or personnel system for maximum efficiency. Alternatively,
the data can be imported from a spreadsheet or input manually.
- Set vacation limits for different parts of the year, including how many total weeks can be booked during a certain time period, how many of those weeks can be taken consecutively, and other parameters established by corporate policy.
- Set ‘blackout’ days where no vacation is allowed, such as major promotion periods where every available seat must be filled.
- Support both vacation bidding and automatic rules-based approval of vacation requests, allowing supervisors to use the method they prefer. In the case of bidding, agents should be able to bid for preferred dates to be allocated manually based on pre-established policies such as seniority, rotation or first-come-first-serve. In the case of automatic approval, the system should be able to inform the agent if all or part of the requested slot is not available.
- Allocate vacation slots by agent group, in order to prevent too many agents with the same skill set, in the same call center, or in other group categories from taking vacation simultaneously.
- Limit advance booking of vacation requests, such as permitting only full weeks to be booked more than three months in advance and allowing partial or full days to be booked no more than four weeks in advance. This helps equalize vacation opportunities.
Use real-time intra-day optimization to accommodate scheduling changes
With a reduced workforce, or during periods of high agent absenteeism, a real-time intra-day optimization feature enables supervisors to respond to unexpected schedule changes and other last-minute problems quickly, efficiently, and without interruption to normal activities, while maintaining the best possible service levels. The intra-day feature should electronically modify agents’ breaks, lunches and work assignments to reflect unexpected absences, meetings and/or call volumes. It should also contain Web-based exception reporting by call center agents that is instantly and automatically integrated into the daily schedule. Last-minute schedule changes or overtime requests can be sent to agents’ computer screens via pop-up messages. Supervisors should have the ability to quickly review the current-day staffing situation, update the forecast, and recalculate daily staffing needs through an intra-day analysis and forecasting function.
Consider using at-home agents
The At-Home Agent model has dramatically changed call centers, including agent scheduling. With technology now enabling agents to self-schedule, vacation planning just got easier. Agents are now able to pick and choose blocks of time in which they can build their own shifts according to established company rules and staffing requirements.
Agent scheduling has evolved with the at-home model and agents now have more control over their work/life balance resulting in improved morale and efficiency. New self-scheduling software tools allow agents to:
- Schedule through an easy agent self-service scheduling tool
- Use a checkout method for self-scheduling to accommodate staffing requirements based on business needs
- Create schedules in blocks of time to accommodate both the center as well as their personal needs
Brick and mortar centers offer a limited agent pool and scheduling can be tricky when trying to balance organizational needs and service levels. Remote agents can be located anywhere in the country and are available for hard-to-fill time slots, enabling contact centers to offer extended hours or accommodate non-traditional operating hours, for example.
Supervisors also benefit from the at-home agent model. While they are still responsible for setting business rules and establishing staffing needs, agent self-scheduling tools eliminate the need for supervisors to limit agent time off. With a limitless remote agent pool, supervisors have:
- Various configurations of scheduling options
- Simplified staffing for special events, holidays, and vacations by remote agents with flexible schedules
- Accommodation for spikes in call volume on short notice by remote agents, ensuring holiday fluctuations are fully staffed
The new scheduling process ensures rules specific to organizational needs are met, including break and lunch times, hours worked, and any other specific needs Intra-day optimization is simplified with agent self-scheduling. When agents cannot fill their allotted time slots, supervisors can notify remote agents and receive help without disruption to service levels. Last-minute schedule changes and overtime requests can be sent to agents’ computer screens via pop-up messages. Supervisors can quickly review current-day staffing, update forecasts, and recalculate staffing needs for the day through an intra-day analysis and forecasting function, with confidence that staffing needs will be accommodated by at-home agents.
While software tools are available for helping increase agent control over schedules, the at-home model supersedes software solutions offered to on-site agents. Remote agents can create schedules unique to their availability. Schedules can be segmented throughout the day and vary on a daily basis.
Before purchasing any software, investigate your options to ensure you are investing in a solution that will benefit your center and provide maximum ROI.
Pipkins, Inc. is a leading supplier of workforce management software and services to the call center industry. Vantage Point, Pipkins’ premier product, is the most accurate forecasting and scheduling tool on the market. Pipkins’ @HomeVantage gives organizations the ability to effectively manage their agents and can be used with Vantage Point or integrated into another workforce management system to leverage existing technology. Pipkins’ systems forecast and schedule more than 300,000 agents in over 500 locations across all industries worldwide. For more information, visit www.Pipkins.com.