Providing excellent service without losing sight of the company’s profitability is a key challenge for managers of sales and service units. The success of the unit depends directly on the most accurate staffing possible because this influences not only customer and staff satisfaction, but also costs. So how do you find the “golden mean” between “a customer gets a quick and qualified solution via the communication channels offered” and “the staff of the sales and service units are busy and yet not overworked”?
The basis for workforce planning in sales and service units is the (annual) forecast (see the following article). The forecast derives the expected volume of work from past data and from this knowledge the volume for the future. The more reliable the forecast, the more precise the workforce planning.
In the second step, staffing is calculated from the expected workload of the forecast. The aim of workforce management is to reconcile the expected workforce requirements with the expected workload. A prerequisite for the workload calculation is an estimate of the process quantities and times for all relevant contact channels over the year. The most important parameters are the number of contacts per time interval including seasonal fluctuations, the average processing time of a process including set-up and post-processing time as well as the targeted service level per channel. Then, on the basis of the HR framework conditions (including holidays, sick leave, training days, weekly working hours), the productive time of a full-time employee can be determined and thus the personnel requirement per time interval can be calculated. The pool effect must also be taken into account here, which causes the personnel requirement to increase disproportionately as the number of contacts increases. In many cases, it therefore makes sense to “pool” teams and technically connect different locations (see the following article).
Based on the demand planning, the next step is to create the workforce planning to schedule the actual employees for a certain time interval (e.g. monthly). If you want to optimise the marginal benefits for larger teams from different perspectives (e.g. fulfil employee wishes, comply with employee guidelines and cover necessary employee requirements), you will soon be at the end of your tether with Excel and should consider using a workforce management tool. This tool should be able to be adapted as best as possible to the operational processes and influencing factors, such as the mapping of break planning as well as the planning time frame. In addition, the locations, if necessary different time zones as well as the team structures with the associated tasks and different qualifications of the employees must be stored. Individual regulations, such as contract specifications, national labour law or personal preferences of employees should also be taken into account in the scheduling process. Despite a multitude of influencing factors, workforce planning should be simple, effective and as automated as possible.
Although the staffing determines the workforce for a particular shift, active control in the day-to-day business (intraday management) offers the opportunity to react flexibly to the actual workload. The basis for this is provided by defined key figures such as availability or service level as well as defined “escalation rules”. Real-time control is needed, for example, in the event of excessively long processing times, technical disruptions or short-term staff absences. Exemplary cases of escalation are the reduction of processing time, the discontinuation of parallel processing of other activities or the ordering of overtime. Various tools such as call analytics, dashboards and alerts are available to the real-time controller to observe and control what is happening in real time. The transparency this creates provides the basis for making successfully implemented optimisations measurable or underlining the necessity of certain measures.
The collected findings of a time interval in turn flow into the rolling forecast process as “historical values”. In this process, the annual forecast is continuously reviewed and, if necessary, modified and in turn forms the basis for staff planning in the following planning intervals.
Good workforce management optimises staff capacity usage and efficiency, shortens customers’ waiting times for a response, ensures compliance with staff policies and motivates employees through fairer scheduling and consideration of working time requests. This contributes to greater job satisfaction and motivation and has a positive impact on employee retention. This saves costs for hiring new employees (including recruiting, training).
Fluctuating demands almost always exist in sales and service units, the better you know them, the higher your accuracy in demand and deployment planning as well as your ability to react to changes in daily business. This helps you achieve service goals and meet the economic demands on the unit. So it pays off twice to become even better in this “discipline”!