Tips for Managing Shifting Inbound Call Volumes and Staff Costs
Last week I provided several tactics your company can use to improve the performance of your inbound call-center reps. This week, I examine another key performance area in your inbound call center: how your call-center management team reacts to shifting inbound call volumes. In today’s recessionary environment and online ordering world, historical call volumes based on the number of catalogs mailed may not materialize like they used to.
A call-center manager schedules staff based on projected call volumes, which are usually derived from mail volumes. This forecast never will be 100 percent accurate — there will be too few or too many reps at some point in time.
If there are too few reps, most companies I know have other employees who can be pressed into service at a moment's notice until additional call-center staff can be called in. When there are too many, the manager quickly must adjust by sending reps home, assigning them to other tasks, among other possibilities.
The bottom line is that call-center managers must measure staffing volumes by their ability to adjust staffing (i.e., costs) to “flow like water” with inbound call volumes. This is all while maintaining acceptable service levels.
It's not about how they did in comparison to budget, but how they did in comparison to reality; what really happened hour by hour. Many companies’ budgets don't account for the flexibility that allows managers to make hour-by-hour adjustments in staffing.
Here are some tips to consider when planning your company's call-center needs:
- use split shifts, part-timers and seasonal reps;
- use a backup call center or virtual reps to help handle peaks in call volumes;
- review staffing and service levels against call volumes every hour;
- have training planned that can be done immediately when call volumes slow;
- use nontime-sensitive work (e.g., collection calls, mail orders, etc.) to occupy reps when call volumes drop;
- organize backup agents, possibly marketing staff, to take calls when call volumes spike unexpectedly;
- instill a spirit of flexibility so everyone “gets it" that responsiveness is key; and
- provide incentives to support that spirit of flexibility.
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Terence Jukes is president of Ability Commerce, a 140-person firm that designs, builds and runs e-commerce and related marketing programs for catalog companies. He can be reached at TerryJ@AbilityCommerce.com.