The world of contact centre planning is very quietly going through something of a revolution at the moment. Teams are more and more being asked to divert their attention from the confines of the telephony floor and to focus more on Customer Operations; to look at back office activities, branch networks and, increasingly, Field planning. More and more Forum members are bringing us challenges that are far removed from Erlang or Talk Times.
Back within the contact centre walls, automation is beginning to become a much more central theme. The move towards Real Time Automation is extremely welcome, if a little overdue. Businesses are now trying to understand how to best utilise this technological leap rather than wrangling with whether it is worthwhile or not. As one delegate said to me at a recent Forum event, it is no longer a case of IF you are going to down the automation route but WHEN and with what tools.
With that in mind, I thought it would be fun – well, informative at least! – to consider what the planning team of the future will look like after this velvet revolution has concluded. Feel free to disagree with me by the way – this is after all only my vision of the future.
Capacity Planning – the Capacity Plan will become a single behemoth document. It will cover all volume and staffing aspects of Customer Operations from phones to case handling, from branch to homeworkers and from shop floor to field operative. Due to developments in CRM systems and the agility offered by automation, the Capacity Plan will show opportunities for cross-departmental support in never-before-imagined levels – imagine being able to remove people from your contact centre to support your local branch network? Non-phone AHT’s will be calculated based on actual data gathered by Desktop Activity Trackers and this development will also allow the calculation (and subsequent management) of true multiskilled occupancy which can then be added to the plan. The Capacity Plan will become a living, breathing document, enabling Customer Operations to quickly perform ‘what-if’ scenarios on the fly to aid decision making and effective budget setting.
Businesses will genuinely be differentiated upon by the strength of their Planning unit.
Forecasting – whilst the same basic principles of forecasting will remain true, the forecast itself will spread its wings and its influence across all of Customer Operations. The ‘El Dorado’ will be a single forecasting model which covers telephony, back office, branch, field and whatever else is required; all these outputs will be driven by a single set of inputs covering things like customer base and demographics, marketing activity and growth or acquisition. Forecasting teams will spend more time understanding business drivers and process maps in order to inform their models and will use things like PowerBI (or its future equivalent!) to automate compelling visualisations. Information gateway tools will become the norm, capturing customer interactions in a much clearer way, allowing the forecaster to understand and model the various customer touchpoints; a key responsibility of the forecaster will be to flag inefficiencies and multiple touches to the business and to help map the improvements that are suggested.
Scheduling – the role of the Scheduler will change dramatically into a more customer-facing liaison role. As automated Workforce Optimisation tools become more prevalent, agents will have greater opportunities to design their own shift patterns and easily and seamlessly conduct shift exchanges, positively impacting wellbeing in the workplace. A resurgence in homeworking and a greater willingness for staff and businesses to engage in truly flexible working patterns will allow significant reductions in shift inflex wastage and increases in productivity and colleague satisfaction, driving up ‘organisational health’. Schedulers will spend more time analysing the impacts of schedule changes and the overall performance of the schedules; they’ll identify the risks posed and will liaise with staff groups to negotiate and find the flexibility ‘sweet spot’. They’ll also talk to the business and identify longer-terms risks and unpopular shifts, highlighting future attrition spikes and encouraging a proactive solution that minimises experience loss and cuts recruitment costs.
Change Management – it will become imperative that the Planning function becomes an effective gateway for change. Increased levels of data (and the reduction of time-stealing manual work that will allow for its analysis) will mean that the Planning team are able to thoroughly test proposed changes and projects and produce data-led outputs to justify their inclusion or exclusion from the plan. Businesses who do not utilise this unique view will be less effective at overcoming short- and long-term changes in demand; this will ultimately deny them the opportunity to have a truly flexible workforce. This lack of flexibility may, in the end, drive attrition and increased costs.
Real Time – Real Time will become unrecognisable. Mundane, administrative, low-skill tasks such as holiday management, skill changes, shift swaps and report building will be removed by Real Time Automation software. Team Leaders will use the same software to take control of changes to their teams’ schedules, booking offline time at authorised slots without involving the Real Time Analysts. These analysts will, therefore, be freed to ANALYSE the performance of the business – why did this happen? How do we prevent it from happening again? They’ll be able to close the feedback loop and influence future forecasts and schedules as well as giving the business real, genuine insight into the drivers behind performance failures or colleague behaviour. Real Time teams can then be recognised as the tremendous fonts of knowledge that they are, and not as secretarial workers or receptacles for all work without an obvious owner. And, instead of being the entry-level Planning role that it is now, the position of Real Time Analyst can become an exalted position, one that planning professionals can aspire to.
Summary - Overall, the Planning function will become a central, key part of the wider operation. Businesses will genuinely be differentiated upon by the strength of their Planning unit. Instead of being a cost-centre, Planning will truly be the driver of great customer experiences, fantastic colleague interactions and successful, profitable businesses. This may only be MY view of the future – someone once said the best way to predict the future is to create it. It is time to start making changes so that you can get ready for a bright new age, whatever it may bring!
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Author: David Preece
Date Published: 29/08/2019