Are You Managing Your Schedules—Or Optimizing Them?

Verint Team August 11, 2014

A colleague of mine has a pet peeve: customers who purchased a workforce management (WFM) solution years ago and have gradually stopped using it for schedule optimization. In his view, lots of companies today use WFM for schedule management, and not enough use it for schedule optimization. This is rather like using a sports car to pull a plow.

You may be guilty of seriously underutilizing your WFM application if:

  • Everybody has fixed hours.
  • Everybody works 5 x 8 (5 days, 8 hours).
  • Schedules are copied forward from week to week for almost every week of the year.
  • The scheduler is not incented in any way to minimize labor costs.

Organizations that use WFM tools for schedule management may be inadvertently spending too much focus on where all the time goes rather than focusing on meeting service level goals with a minimum number of paid agent labor hours.

Look, the WFM industry knows all about schedule flexibility, yet the implementation and uptake of schedule flexibility is surprisingly poor. Some years ago the Society of Workforce Planning Professionals (SWPP) polled its membership—more than 500 centers of all sizes participated in the survey.

The feedback was eye-opening. Seventy-five percent of the respondents relied almost exclusively on 5-day, 8-hour shifts. Sixty-three percent didn’t offer 4-day, 10-hour shifts. And, 75 percent didn’t offer a split shift at all (even if they are not very popular). It is surprising that most centers seem set on the 5-day, 8-hour mindset, because block scheduling costs big dollars.

I will make the argument that the role of the forecaster/scheduler is and ought to be changing. It used to be acceptable for this person to simply get a schedule published, but today, getting the schedule out is the minimum requirement. The role has expanded in such a way that they should be exploring alternative scheduling, assessing the operational and financial implications, and providing the center management with change options to consider and how to achieve them.

Some ideas to evaluate include:

  • Allowing shift start times to vary by day of week for each employee by as little as an hour.
  • Moving away from the mindset of 5 x 8. What about 10 x 4, or whatever matches up best to the week’s call volumes?
  • Hiring a handful of part-timers who are able to work flexible schedules. This is not realistic in every contact center, especially if there are licensing requirements involved (e.g., brokerage and insurance). You don’t need everybody to be part-time, though. Having a handful—somewhere between 10 to 20 percent of the total workforce—can make a huge difference in staffing costs.
  • Offering pay premiums for employees who are willing to work non-fixed-hours.
  • Expanding the windows for breaks and lunches.
  • Offering bonuses to the WFM team based upon how close they are to the service-level goal. This goes for above the goal as well as below. Make the bonus reflect the real-life balance between minimum service level attainment and labor cost optimization. You would probably need buy-in from the supervisors to manage adherence with this model, too.

Being open to making some adjustments to scheduling parameters and to staffing philosophies could offer some pleasantly surprising results.