Outbound dialling – viewed by some as a nuisance, and by others as a vital tool in the battle to serve customers in the most effective and efficient way possible. Whether done manually via a list or automatically using the latest in Dialler systems, hundreds of companies employ tens of thousands to make outbound calls for making sales, managing inbound queues, imparting information, or collecting outstanding monies. It is a very important consideration for modern companies.
Which possibly makes it more surprising that so little consideration is actually given to the best way to build capacity plans or plan FTE requirements.
I’m not saying no-one does any resource planning for outbound. Nor am I saying those who do are doing it badly. I’m just a little surprised at how many people, when faced with the task of having to plan for outbound for the first time, get in touch with us at The Forum asking for help. That suggests the knowledge to do effective resource planning for outbound is not as widely available as it should be.
And that’s where this article comes in.
The first two things to point out about planning for outbound are as follows: firstly, it SHOULD be much simpler than planning for inbound and, secondly, outbound contact centres need to be even more closely aligned to the business’s overall strategy than inbound call centres.
Let me explain further.
Take the first point – it’s true, it should be much more straightforward to plan for outbound contacts than for inbound. Outbound dialling is an elective process – the business decides how many calls to make and when to make them. Whilst the business may be under pressure to place a certain volume of calls over a defined period of time, this is still in their control. Yes, for the actual dialler analyst, there are complicated calculations to determine the best time to call but from a planning perspective, this replaces the need for analysis of things like seasonality or other trends.
And that segues nicely onto the second point – the business gets to decide what it does based on its alignment with its own strategy. As a result, dialling campaigns need to be decided after detailed conversations with the business’s Strategic and Operational teams to make sure they meet the strategic intent of the business as a whole. For instance, a retention strategy will require a different outbound approach to a targeted collections or sales centre – this different approach will need to be understood and correctly modelled.
Another reason the business’s strategy needs to be understood is that all of these outbound calls will – hopefully – result in a number of returned inbound calls. Each different type of campaign or different dialling approach will produce a different return-calls-per-contact ratio, and planners will need to understand this, calculate it, and model it.
So, it appears I’m saying it’s easy to plan for outbound and it’s complicated at the same time. Not much insight there, from me. But planners do seem to be concerned when confronted with planning for outbound work for some reason – so let’s cover the basics on how to calculate your outbound FTE. Hopefully, this will show you there is precious little to worry about.
First, let’s look at the components of our workload calculation for outbound. This really depends on whether you are using an automated dialler or manual dialling by the agent. If it is manual dialling, you have to consider the following elements of demand.
- Look Up Time – time spent looking up the number on manual records.
- Dialling Time – the time spent dialling the number.
- Waiting for Connect Time – there is typically a small amount of time taken for the call to be connected to the telephone network.
- Waiting for Answer Time – ring time. There may be several rings before the customer answers.
- Talk Time – time spent talking to the customer / person who answers.
- Non-Connect Time – not all calls result in a live customer contact, but these still take time. No answers, messages left on voicemail – all of this time needs to be incorporated.
- Connect / non-connect ratio – you will need to understand what percentage of calls typically do or do not connect to a human voice.
For an automatic dialling method, most of the above still apply – the look up time will not apply but will be replaced by some measurement of the productivity of the dialler, dependant on the size of the dialling file and the speed of the dialler.
As long as you have assumptions on answer rates, right- and wrong-party connects and average time to be answered, you will be able to build a detailed plan of your demand requirements. And remember, your assumptions on all of these things will change throughout the day and week in your shorter-term plans!
Inbound contact centres use the Erlang C formula to try to replicate the random arrival pattern of inbound calls. However, in an outbound call centre, the arrival pattern is more linear and sequential and not random, so Erlang C is obviously not appropriate. As a result, each person can handle a full hour of work in an hour, so the net number of staff needed would simply be the hours of work to do. This would then have to be inflated by an occupancy measure, just like for inbound calls – this figure can be calculated based on the effectiveness of your dialler.
From a Capacity Planning and Long-Term Planning perspective, as long as you know some key basic assumptions, timings, and volumes, you can easily build an FTE requirement for outbound. For shorter-term and intraday levels, the same principles exist – other factors which determine the best day and time of day to run certain outbound campaigns would also need to be taken into account to help to build your tactical dialling approach and sharpen your staffing levels.
All in all, don’t be put off by the prospect of planning for outbound dialling. It is much more familiar than you might first suspect.