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Workforce Planning a few Fundamentals

1. Prepare at least three forecasts, not just one.

It is imperative to be prepared for what may occur. In all of our forecasts, there will be a certain amount of uncertainty, so we need to be prepared and understand what is going on - both within our organisation as well as multiple external factors.

In preparing forecasts three or six months in advance, we would not have considered certain situations.

As such, we plan to develop upper, middle and low-level forecasts that represent different scenarios that may alter the reasons and the number of customers who contact us.

2. The goal of 100% forecast accuracy is unattainable.

It is unrealistic to expect to achieve 100% forecast accuracy consistently. Therefore, it is better to strive for a constant level close to 100%. We do not wish to become so focused on this goal that we lose sight of the implications for our customers and employees.

Furthermore, we do not want to have to test new methods of reaching 100% forecast accuracy in a "live environment". Such tests pose a significant risk.

The best way to test forecast accuracy is to go back in time and to reforecast the future, as this will serve as the ultimate test of whether your model is more accurate.

By doing so, we will be able to experiment with the latest forecasting models in a safe environment while we experiment with improved methods to ensure that forecasts are consistently accurate.

3. Your go-to staffing tool should be an Erlang calculator.

With your forecasted contact volumes in hand, it is now time to determine how many staff you will need daily. For this purpose, many contact centres use spreadsheets and an Erlang calculator.

In spite of the fact that many large contact centres utilise complex workforce planning systems, the Erlang Calculator remains a reliable tool, especially for contact centres with fewer than 30 advisors.

You can use an Erlang Calculator by entering the following information:

Forecast number of calls

Length of forecasting interval (minutes)

Average Handling Time (seconds)

Target Service Level (%)

Target Answer Time (seconds)

Target Occupancy Rate (85%)

Shrinkage (%)

Average patience (seconds)

You can calculate your staffing requirements throughout the course of the day and fit them into your preferred shift pattern by following this process.

4. Short-term tactics may have long-term consequences

When planning your workforce, an experienced professional will be cautious about using short-term tactics to maximize service levels, because there may be longer-term issues that could negatively affect customer experience.

Consider, for example, realigning your routing of contacts so that certain contact types are routed to advisors who may be able to handle the contact more quickly.

In this case, the long-term implication is that while they become and remain proficient, no one else learns - so you end up isolating your learning to a discrete group of your contact centre.

Additionally, advisors may handle certain contacts more quickly, but that does not mean that they do it better. Therefore, there could be First Contact Resolution (FCR) issues down the road.

5. Consider how far in advance you publish shift schedules

The scheduling of advisors is an important part of workforce planning that is often overlooked. The earlier you publish advisor schedules, the happier your advisors will be since they will be able to better plan their schedules.

It is important to consider a number of factors before deciding when to publish. These factors are determined by the previous success of your resource planning.

Among these considerations are, for example:

  1. What level of confidence do we have in our future forecasts?

  2. Is it necessary for everyone to receive the same notice?

  3. Is it possible to predict absenteeism and tardiness in advance?

  4. Think about whether it is feasible to give the team more notice of their shifts, or if you could instead offer them other guarantees, such as annual leave with several months' notice.