WFM in lockdown

As we all navigate through life in a different way in 2020, if you work in WFM it’s also a strange and unique time, let’s say it’s an opportunity for us to experience a first! Below are a few reasons why life has changed in the contact centre world and tips for how to help your business through it.

Forecasting

Centres will have seen a change in call volumes since lockdown, increasing for those in the financial sector or decreasing in insurance and retail. As the news changes daily you may find it more appropriate to review forecasts daily rather than weekly or monthly as may be the typical process to keep on top of how your volumes are deviating from the norm.

Many forecaster have become avid news watches to ensure that they are up to date with any changes in the lockdown rules that may affect their own customers’ habits, for example when customers can travel more or shop more, will this lead to them needing to call you more often? As this is a unique situation as a forecaster you will have to make more than usual assumptions on how this will affect you and your customers’ propensity to contact you. Gather as much evidence as you can and make sure everyone within the business understands why the forecast has changed and what impact it will have on service levels.

Let’s talk about AHT, this is just as important when forecasting requirements as you know. Some centres have seen a similar amount of calls but the reasons customers are calling has changed, typically leading to new and more complex calls and that means longer AHT. Whether using analytical software or asking the agents to monitor, get a handle on the sorts of call types you are receiving to ensure the change in AHT can be accounted for and planned.

Other factors that may be affecting your AHT could be the fact that customers are ringing from home rather than using the work phone for a quick call. As they ring from home they are usually happy to stay on a little bit longer (we see this in a normal day as AHTs typically rise at weekends and evenings).

If you are in a sector that has seen an increase in calls (and combined with potentially higher absence) you may be experiencing longer wait times/ lower availability. As WFMers we know this can lead to an increase in AHT too.

Profiles are also being affected, the typical peaks for your calls may be altered now customers are contacting you at different times, many have seen flatter profile which is some good news for us WFMers!

Most centres have encouraged the use of ‘self service’ for customers by new messages on their IVR and messages on their websites. This should allow customers to find information for themselves rather than the need to contact an agent directly for common queries for example where terms and conditions may have altered due to lockdown. Ensure you have realistic and honest messages about response times for calls, chats, email etc.

Scheduling

As people are working from home they may be in a position to benefit from more flexible shifts (e.g. split shifts) if they have childcare needs or are sharing childcare duties with another family member. There may be an opportunity to schedule in a different way during this time and to meet your agent’s needs too – a win win!

Most centres have seen an increase in shrinkage this year in part due to sickness/self isolation. As with forecasting, ensure this is monitored and the business are aware of this impact.

Off line time is really important at the moment as agents are working in a new way (more on that below). As a Scheduler ensure that any scheduled team times/one to one time is continued and consider adding more regular team video calls. Consider scheduling in a 10 minute break before the meeting so everyone has a tea or coffee ready for the meeting!

Real Time Adherence

With the right WFM systems the real time monitoring process is as easy remotely as it is in the office. What has changed though is now your agents are working from home and may have distractions (little darlings!) or may need to take extra time between calls if they need to contact a colleague for advise/let off steam! As a real time analyst be mindful of these differences, it may be prudent to aim for a lower adherence target at this time. Any agents you have concerns about make sure you feedback to their manager, the agent might be struggling with the working from home, it’s not for everyone.

Agent comms

Ensure that you are scheduling regular team video calls, not necessarily for work but to keep in touch and see the faces of your friends and colleagues regularly. It makes all the difference especially for those who may be struggling with working from home. Set out some guidelines, for example only speak about work for the first 10 minutes and the rest of it is fun and lockdown stories (we all have them!)

Make sure your agents understand the work that’s going on in the background to deal with the potential contacts queuing and customers new questions etc. Give them as much information as possible to help them answer customers queries so they feel confident to deal with these different types of queries. Your agents can then feel confident when explaining to the customer what your company are doing to make changes for the situation.

Also ensure there are regular meetings between WFM team and the team leaders/contact centre managers, let’s make sure everyone within the business understands what is being done differently to deal with the situation. This is two way – discuss how the business changes may impact the agents and also give team leaders the opportunity to feedback how the agents are dealing with the changed environment.

Holiday management is a tricky one. Your agents may be tempted to cancel their time off as they cannot go away to far away lands. We all need to take a break from work to recharge the batteries from time to time, make sure your agents are still taking time off that they have booked and also keep encouraging them to take regular days off or even half days (if it suits the business). It will be beneficial when you do go back in the office you don’t have lots and lots of days to try and fit in before the end of the year, let’s hope it doesn’t last that long!

The Future

Working from home maybe something that we all do a little bit more of after this time. It may be worth reviewing the home setups for each individual and their preferences for working from home. Many centres use homeworkers already and find that the shrinkage is lower, and productivity higher. As previously mentioned homeworking can enable more flexible shifts to be worked too. Be mindful this does not suit everyone and ensure you have a thorough selection criteria.

Forecasting may never be the same! Who can really know but my guess is that using 2 or 3 years of historical data may not be appropriate anymore. Even in a year’s time we may still be affected by our customers’ changes of habits and the way we live, travel, do business. Only using the most recent data may be the best way to forecast in future.

Let’s talk about it! I hope that this new situation may have encouraged centres to allocate more communication time to agents (and indeed all roles). In some centres one-to-ones or team meetings can sometimes be seen as a luxury/time off and is commonly the first thing to be cancelled at busy times. I believe these times are so crucial for the business, those who invest more in agent comms see increased morale, improved communication and knowledge thus leading to better customer service. Also importantly it makes your centre a nicer place to work, helps to keep good staff and recruit those with experience.

Take care all you WFMers, keep doing a great job and keep communicating what you do!


Jo Kirman
Senior WFM Consultant and Resident WFMer!
Jo.kirman@qpc.com