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How to Prepare Your Contact Center for Summer Staffing

While most people look forward to summer, contact center managers know it can be one of the most challenging times of the year. Conflicting schedules, a flood of time-off requests, and several federal holidays all make June, July, and August some of the more difficult months for workforce scheduling.

But as use of adaptive workforce optimization (WFO) grows, more managers can take their own summer trips without worrying whether they've adequately covered their contact centers. WFO takes the traditional concepts of workforce management, factors in the need for certain skills at certain times, and helps staff a contact center with the right talent that will deliver an exceptional customer experience.

Here's what you should be thinking about and how adaptive WFO can help keep your service levels high during the summer season.

Workforce Management to Workforce Optimization
We've seen the complexity of scheduling grow over the years. Fixed 9-to-5 call center hours made scheduling simple, but as hours expanded into multiple shifts, spreadsheets became the de facto way to track hours and schedules. That worked for a while, but spreadsheets became unwieldly as the number of agents grew. We arrived at software that could dictate start times, lunch hours, breaks, and other events so that a contact center could still handle call volumes smoothly and effectively.

If your organization has more than 100 agents, you probably know this kind of workforce management well. Though more than 20 years old, it's still relevant for any managers who have enough employees that they can't possibly know them all by name.

But running an effective contact center now means more than just having someone ready to answer a phone. It's about connecting the right agent with the right customer at the right time to best answer a particular question. That's how to create the best experience every time a customer contacts your organization. Making this happen during the summer, however, is challenging to say the least, and hinges on the idea of adaptive WFO.

Knowing Who's Available, and When
WFO helps employee engagement managers better understand who's available when. To forecast and schedule workers is synonymous with exception planning. Especially during the summer, contact center managers must deal with vacation requests, sick days, holidays, and the necessary buffer for when the unexpected occurs -- who is on call for what shifts and what roles could they fill?

The trick is keeping it all real time. For example, use a mobile app to let all agents see their schedules, request changes, report sick days, and so on, no matter where they are. A mobile app allows employees to specify and pick up shifts as they'd like.

And while a mobile app takes care of employees, your daily management staff is also struggling with knowing who is available -- and when -- and this makes getting the right person in the right seat a lot harder. Agents can mark quiet hours and non-quiet hours for when they're available for overtime. One agent might not want any calls or texts before 10 a.m., while another is comfortable getting a call at 4 a.m. In this scenario, managers can set the rules and monitor staffing between the system and the app.

For more enterprising agents, the summer offers opportunities to pick up as many shifts as possible as coworkers take time off. Managers can send these agents alerts when hours open up to fill the slots quickly. Or if a worker's plans change on a whim, he or she can quickly swap shifts from anywhere. Empowering employees to be proactive about updating their statuses and claiming available shifts relieves some of the management burden of scheduling.

Having Enough of the Right People On Hand
On a normal day, customer frustration with less experienced agents can damage brand perception. This is heightened during the summer months when seasonal hires man the phones without having had received the level of training they'd need to become experts. Even when agents are nice, friendly, and helpful, if they lack knowledge needed on a particular topic, customers can get frustrated fast.

Adaptive WFO makes sure you not only have enough people on the phone, but the right people on the phone. It allows you to quickly monitor and determine where employees excel, whether that's at upselling or handling snafus, and then coach them for improvement. WFO is, in essence, a system designed to record and instruct and find each agent's strengths.

Seasonal workers can have a lasting effect on customer experience with even just one call gone awry, so having a way to determine their best roles will help the agent, customer, and company succeed. Each and every interaction counts, and adaptive WFO can make a difference when customers rate how likely they are to recommend your business.

The Summer Vacation Reminder
The summer months can be a good reminder of the need for adaptive systems that recognize your customers' needs and how your staffing can help fulfill them. Summer vacation season can never be relaxing for contact center managers without more efficient scheduling that puts the right agents in the right seats at the right time.