Why do we buy Workforce Management (WFM) systems? We want them to take various inputs such as expected contact volumes, Average Handle Times (AHT), shrinkage and desired service level targets, combine these with employee availability and skill levels and output optimised schedules to meet customer demand.
They perform calculations and simulations that would be unthinkable otherwise – even for that guy in the corner who’s amazing at Excel! We rely on their outputs to know when we’ll be busy so that we can get extra staff to support and when we’ll be quiet so that we can plan those vital offline activities.
In many cases WFM systems will forecast call volumes and average handle times based on historic patterns for you, analysing thousands of data points. Shrinkage – the amount of time expected to be lost from work due to other activities such as meetings, sickness, holiday etc. is another big factor. Usually, WFM will build this ‘fat’ into the required staffing so that you won’t be left short.
It’s important that all of these inputs into the calculation are as accurate as possible and are what you truly expect to happen on the day. The phrase, ‘rubbish in, rubbish out’ may be a cliché but it could have been tailor-made for the WFM process. It’s impossible in most environments to get 100% accuracy all of the time but it’s important to track your accuracy and aim to improve towards it. Every percentage inaccuracy in a single input will have a detrimental impact on your predicted outputs, which will be compounded if experienced across multiple inputs.
In order to understand the impact of these inaccuracies it’s important to think like a WFM system. If it sees that you’ll be overstaffed at a certain time, it will try to schedule breaks, lunches and other offline activities/time off. If this doesn’t turn out to be the case and it was a busier time than expected you will experience a double-whammy of busyness and the mad rush of trying to get everyone back online at short notice.
The reason why I wanted to highlight this is because in my consultancy work I am often asked by customers whether they should use ‘target/budget’ figures for their inputs of call volume, AHT and shrinkage forecasts. Whilst there are valid reasons for having budget figures for these, and wanting to move them towards the target, it should be done from an operational point of view. The role of the planner is to produce an accurate picture of what the business can expect to happen and how best to deal with it. If the plan does not meet these needs then it undermines confidence in the planning process and the WFM tool. It also negates much of the benefit and return on investment that should be obtained from having a WFM tool and skilled planning resource.