Schedule Adherence : Accounting for Human Nature and the Nature of Contact Centers | Eleveo


Why schedule adherence is important in your call center

Your schedule can’t assume agents are robots and contact centers are assembly lines. The real world will disrupt the plan; the question is, how do you manage it?

“Everybody has a plan until they’re punched in the mouth.” So said former heavyweight champion, Mike Tyson — in the context of boxing, of course. The point he’s making, though, is universal: life doesn’t follow your grand design; your carefully charted blueprint isn’t going to hold up.

Had he chosen a career in contact center management, Iron Mike might have said, “Everybody has a plan until the first unscheduled bathroom break.” That, or the first time an agent gets stuck in traffic and is late for work, or the first customer call runs into an agent’s scheduled break, or the first time a supervisor takes an agent off the phone to perform another duty.

You get the idea.

You craft your schedule to ensure the right agent and the right number of agents are in the right place at the right time, but reality interferes. You will never achieve 100% schedule adherence, but you can adopt strategies to set adherence goals and manage non-adherence without compromising customer service or overwhelming your agents with musts.

What is schedule adherence?

Call center schedule adherence is a standard metric used in contact centers to determine whether agents are working when they are scheduled to work.

We measure schedule adherence by dividing the time an agent is scheduled by the time they are actually taking calls, performing necessary after-call wrap-up duties, and taking part in scheduled activities, like meetings and training.

Managing agent schedule adherence: Clarifying exceptions and expectations

If the schedule as created represents the ideal, the schedule adherence goal represents your willingness to compromise.

You need to hold your agents accountable for executing activities at the times you specify, but there will always be exceptions. However, too many exceptions render the program virtually irrelevant. It’s crucial to set an adherence goal, but you’ll need to consider a range of questions to make that goal workable and meaningful, among them:

  • What types of violations are acceptable, and how often can those actions occur before they become unacceptable? This question really gets to the heart of corporate culture and overall attitude toward procedures and rule-following. For example, in the case of restroom breaks, some contact centers may be okay with agents taking one or two unscheduled breaks throughout the day, while others are more stringent about sticking to scheduled breaks.
  • Have you built in enough flexibility? For instance, will an agent who begins a customer interaction just before break feel pressured to end the interaction unsatisfactorily in order to meet their adherence goals?
  • Do some processes and procedures in the workplace today conflict with the goals of tracking and improving adherence, and holding agents accountable? For instance, are your supervisors and team leaders presently asking agents to take breaks at times other than when they’re scheduled? Are they currently taking agents off the phone for ad hoc meetings and coaching sessions?
  • Are agents expected to perform essential but ancillary duties that require them to log out of the queue? Such assignments may include updating information within various databases, making calls to vendors/providers/customers to gather or distribute information, answering or replying to e-mails regarding open cases. Might it be possible to quantify an amount of time each day for agents to log off the phone and perform these necessary duties and incorporate those duties into your schedule, or could those duties be moved to a dedicated agent or team responsible for their execution?

Instilling confidence

It’s important to emphasize that an organization needn’t — indeed, probably shouldn’t — go live with a schedule adherence at the same time it’s implementing WFM forecasting and scheduling. You have one chance to introduce adherence to your organization. Any doubt about the quality of the data you’ve used as the basis for setting your adherence goals increases potential anxiety and push-back among your agents.

Bottom line, until you’ve been able to collect and analyze data from your WFM, you won’t have complete visibility into where the current-state adherence level stands and why. Consider configuring the adherence tool and tracking adherence behind the scenes to determine the average baseline adherence for each team before going live. If the average is significantly lower than the goal you’ve envisioned, you might want to track the average adherence of your star agents to see how they fare. You may need to adjust your goal.

Understanding the current state increases confidence in your goal and in the parameters you’ve set to trigger out-of-adherence events.

Changing the culture to improved schedule adherence

Adherence is more than just acquiring and configuring a module within a WFM solution. It’s more than defining a goal and having confidence in the data. It’s about integrating adherence into the culture of an organization as well.

If, for instance, you’ve set your adherence goal at 96%, but the concept of adherence is entirely new to your organization, you may overwhelm agents who’ve never had to factor schedule adherence into their performance. This can be a challenge for contact centers already facing high attrition rates or those dealing with understaffing issues. 

After all, change can lead to more attrition, and high expectations can make it more challenging to find qualified staff. If that’s a concern, consider iterating to your goal rather than setting a high bar from the get-go. Also, consider introducing concepts such as gamification to help with agent adoption.

Ultimately, the agents, team leads, supervisors and managers need to understand the reason behind schedule adherence. Everybody – most importantly, the customer – wins if the schedule you crafted to put the right people in the right place at the right time is based on how contact centers and agents work in the real world. Just don’t tell them you’re taking scheduling advice from Mike Tyson.

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