Strategic Planning

Verint TeamJuly 15, 2013

At a recent ACCE Conference, Brad Cleveland, noted industry guru, revealed the results of a contact center survey that asked, “What are your top challenges?”  Among the top three was the category, “budgets, planning and strategy.”

Budgets?  But I shouldn’t have been surprised.  Some organizations work hard on budgets all year long.  Some wait until near the end of the year.  Some organizations devote significant time and effort to arrive at a new budget, while others will simply dust off last year’s figures and apply an inflator or a deflator.

I’ve never understood why contact centers don’t utilize the same rigorous, data-driven approach to budgets that they employ with day-to-day operations.  A poor budget-planning process usually dooms the center to service delivery woes.  Even when economic conditions are good, how likely is it that you can go to the CFO at mid-year and confess that you miscalculated – sorry! – and to meet service level goals you need x number of additional headcount, beyond the planned budget?

Right.  The chances are between slim and none.

Notice that the category Brad identified as a top-three challenge isn’t simply creating a budget.  He included the elements of planning and strategy.  And rightly so, because the three are inextricably linked.  Strategy “A” is developed via a planning process and results in budget “A” while strategy “B” results in budget “B.”  Fact is, really well run centers spend a lot of time in the planning phase before moving to the strategy phase that leads to a budget.

Planning seems to be poorly executed in most contact centers.  One reason for this is that planning isn’t comprehensive.  Another reason planning isn’t done well is that there’s no reliable way to test different plans for probable outcome – call it war-gaming in a sense.

What is needed is a high-level model of the contact center that leverages the available data and mirrors the complexities found in most contact centers.  Trying to deal with so many complexities with spreadsheets is futile.  While it’s tempting to think that a good forecasting and scheduling system can assist the long-range planning (LRP) process, those tools are mismatched to the task.  Forecasting and scheduling is a micro-planning tool, concerned with short time intervals and details.  Long-range planning requires a macro-planning tool.

The planning model ought to look out 12 to 18 months.  In long-range planning we aren’t interested in who works which shifts, that’s what forecasting and scheduling systems solve.  Instead, LRP’s basic granularity is a week and a full-time equivalent or FTE.  The model needs to mirror the operation.  This means that various agent groups and other employees are modeled in terms of learning curves and attrition patterns.  If you have career pathing in place, the model needs to mirror that well.

Costs need to be captured at every level.  If an IVR system is in place, the model neds to represent that element.  If revenue is generated, that too needs to be included.  And finally, the model needs to have a simulation engine – a way to set the model into motion so as to observe how all the variables come together and interact, thereby producing a projected service level and associated cost week by week and month by month.

With such a model, contact center and  back office managers can assess the service level and budgetary impact of alternative strategies.  For example, such a model can predict the impact of adopting an agile workforce strategy; successful call avoidance strategy; and, when to hire, in what skill and how many given the attrition and workload demand.

When you possess such a model, you have much more than a slick budget tool.  You’ve got lightning in a bottle.  Such a tool isn’t simply used once a year; it’s used monthly.  As each month unfolds, compare the model’s predictions with reality.  Decide if the model’s assumptions need tweaking.  In so doing, management stays ahead of the curve.  There are far fewer surprises.  And when there are surprises, delta analysis can reveal root causes.  Instead of continuous reaction, the management team is out front, anticipating and prepared for change.  All by virtue of smart strategic planning.