With summer holidays right around the corner, how can call centers be prepared for last minute changes that occur with agent scheduling? Dealing with the challenges of call center vacation scheduling is a problem that all centers face. It can be especially challenging for those without an automated solution call center vacation scheduling that can make life easier for agents and supervisors. Typically, last-minute staffing problems require call center supervisors to manually create, print and distribute new intraday schedules, talk to agents individually to solicit overtime hours, and so on. This is inefficient, less accurate than electronic rescheduling, and causes unnecessary delays that can leave the center temporarily understaffed and negatively affect the service level for the day.
The ramifications of inefficient scheduling can be significant. If staffing is just 2% below where it should be, for example, the percentage of calls answered within 30 seconds or any other established performance objective typically will drop by 10%. If 10% of the seats that should be filled are empty, fully half of the center’s incoming cal s will likely not be answered in the desired time interval. To make matters worse, understaffing at some points of the year will undoubtedly cause overstaffing at others, leading to wasted labor expense.
For call centers with more than 50 agents, a logical solution is an automated vacation planning system that allows customer service representatives to submit requests electronically and then intelligently fits agents into the available vacation slots based on a set of rules established by call center managers.
Recommendations for automating your call center
Your best option is to utilize the call center vacation scheduling module available as part of many of today’s advanced workforce scheduling systems. Staffing needs as determined by the workforce management system can be used to calculate available vacation slots. 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 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 cancel ed after it has been posted, the system will adjust accordingly. These and other features save time and eliminate errors
Essential features in vacation planning software
Your vacation planning system should offer a number of key components to optimize the planning process. The system should provide a variety of self-service functions to customer service representatives. Agents should be able to:
- Check their personal vacation eligibility, including their earned, used and available vacation days.
- View available vacation slots, in order to see whether their desired time is available.
- Submit or bid on desired vacation dates, with either automated rules-based approval of agent requests 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 call center vacation scheduling 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 cal center, or in other group categories from taking vacation simultaneously. For example, separate groups can be created for billing, sales, and customer service. Limits can then be set on the number of vacation slots allowed in a given week to each of these groups.
- 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 call center vacation scheduling opportunities for your agents.
Intraday scheduling changes
The software should be able to compensate for agents calling in sick, leaving unexpectedly during the day, or arriving late. A real-time intraday optimization feature will enable supervisors to respond to unexpected agent absences and other last-minute problems quickly, efficiently, and without interruption to normal activities while maintaining the best possible service levels. The intraday 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 the day’s staffing needs through an intraday analysis and forecasting function.
Before purchasing any software, investigate your options to ensure you are investing in a solution that will benefit your center and provide maximum ROI. The capabilities of a WFM suite’s call center vacation scheduling module should be factored into your purchase decision.
About Pipkins Inc.
Pipkins Inc. is a leading supplier of workforce management software and services to the call center industry. Its Real-Time Intraday Optimization Suite offers an industry-first set of component designed to expedite and optimize current-day schedule adjustments, enabling supervisors to respond to unexpected agent absences and other last-minute problems quickly, efficiently, and without interruption to normal activities while maintaining the best possible service levels. The Intraday suite provides tools for automating agent absence reporting, streamlining intradday forecasting and personnel reassignment, and disseminating new intraday schedules.