With Black Friday and Cyber Monday nearly upon us, the vast majority of retail call centers have welcomed new agents in the last few months. For example, in 2016, Radial hired 20,000 seasonal workers for its call center, customer service, and freight fulfillment operations – three times its permanent staffing numbers.
This rapid scaling of staff happens because retailers know they need to offer a consistent and pleasant customer support experience, even with the drastic increase in demand. If they don’t, they risk losing sales and leaving consumers disgruntled, potentially hurting future business. Despite the hiring of seasonal call center agents, the average number of support tickets per agent can still increase by 17% during the holiday season, putting much pressure on retailers, their stressed full-time staff, and new seasonal agents.
Optimizing schedules to meet the demands of the holiday season is crucial to ensuring that average wait times across your voice and live chat channels do not get out of hand. This is where workforce management comes in.
It’s All in the Forecasting
Workforce planners worldwide will all nod their heads in agreement when we say that getting forecasting right is crucial. Thankfully, there are a host of tools out there that take the heavy lifting out of this process. Workforce management solutions can automatically analyze the broad range of data needed to create precise forecasts, use that information to create schedules, and even measure adherence and do intraday schedule management.
Of course, before any scheduling work can happen, an organization needs to understand what has happened in the past. Historical data, like the workload for each channel type (both volumes and average handle times), as well as event profiles, can be used to understand how and where the workload will come from. The added advantage of predicting the types of communication coming in is that it makes it easier to staff a shift with the agents best qualified to handle them.
Prepare for Multiple Scenarios
The holiday shopping season calls for more people to help customers purchase goods, get their questions answered so they can go on to buy, and make returns when necessary. To prepare, workforce planners should put together different forecasts, making use of “what-if scenarios.” These scenarios could look at everything from product recalls to an unexpected website glitch that shifts volume from self-serve to the contact center.
Best Laid Plans …
As crucial as forecasting is to workforce planners during the holiday season, there is a certain amount of real-time management that is both unavoidable and hugely necessary. This mindset can help your contact center identify any misalignments between your forecasts and actual contact and call volumes. The trick here is to be able to sort between real misalignments and temporary glitches. If competitors have undercut you on prices, then your activity is likely to be down for the season, and you can act accordingly. However, a “flash” online sale might lead to a temporary jump in activity, with the effects fading quickly, and no significant action necessary.
Demand and consumer expectations aren’t going down. Retailers and the contact centers and BPOs that support them will need to leverage workforce management to respond to these expectations effectively.
The seasonal spike caused by the holiday shopping season isn’t a surprise to retailers. They’ve learned to adjust by staffing appropriately; now, the next phase is to use a combination of historical data and real-time management to ensure that their call center operations are more productive and more cost-efficient every year.
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