Unique Workforce Management Challenges in a Small Call Center

Workforce Management (WFM) is different in a small call center compared to a large call center

From smaller budgets to larger variability in trends, small call centers face unique challenges in making sure they have the right number of agents staffed at the right time to successfully handle incoming calls.

Business is personal (It’s nothing business, just personal)

Let’s face it, in workforce management you are always having to walk a fine line balancing the needs of the business with the needs of the employee.  You’ve got to make those tough decisions around if current staffing projections mean you need to deny that time off request that just came through as well as are you able to approve that new shift that is requested so the agent can improve their work life balance?

Normally large call centers lock their workforce management team in some dark, far off location where they are not allowed to talk to anyone, making their impartial judgements on requests from a sea of names without faces. 

But the culture of a small call center is normally very different.  Everyone knows each other, and knows everyone personally.  Agents track down workforce management and feel a need to plead their case directly by sharing their whole medical history from their latest bout of hemorrhoids, to what it was like passing their kidney stones.  Everything becomes personal.  Any denied request is taken personally and gets measured closely against any other request that had ever been previously approved for another agent.  It is a difficult and important battle to be able to come across as impartial.

Show me the money (because I ain’t seeing any of it)

Whether your favorite call center system acronym is ACD, CRM, IVR, QM, or WFM, you just don’t have the budgets of a large call center.  It is much harder to justify the large costs divided up over a smaller group of agents.  You often have to make do with what you have.  Many centers can’t afford a system and are then forced to do all of their capacity planning, forecasting, and scheduling in spreadsheets.

Because of this, SpreadsheetScheduler.com has developed Excel-based software solutions, that take advantage of Excel’s stability and flexibility while creating low cost forecasting and scheduling solutions with a familiar look and feel.  All of our solutions (many of them are even FREE!), come with a detailed training video of how to use that particular product and teaches the Workforce Management principles around it.  So, even beginners can start providing WFM for their small call center.

Wait, what just happened with our trends?

Remember, the obsession your stats teacher had with flipping coins?  We know that when you flip a coin, you should have “heads” 50% of the time, but that only really happens if you are flipping it a million times.  But if you flip it just 10 times, you are unlikely to get 5 “heads”.  This is due to the law of large numbers.  In boring terms, it means that the average of the results obtained from a large number of trials should be close to the expected value, and will tend to become closer as more trials are performed.  In other words, the more times you flip the coin, the closer you get to having 50% “heads” during your group of coin flips.  If you flip a bunch of times, you can then see that you get “heads” 50% of the time and thus forecast a 50% chance of “heads” for your future group of flips.

This is all great and well for a large call center where you get a large sample of volume in a given day and even on an interval level, but it is much more difficult for small call centers.  Due to the smaller sample sizes in all aspects of WFM, you just get a bunch more variability which makes it much harder to predict projected impacts and results.

Assume you didn’t know that a coin had a 50% chance of “heads”.  After looking through your historical data, it might appear that your small group of flips is telling you that your coin tends to be at about 57% “heads” due to lack of large numbers.  It will get you close to where you are supposed to be but not right on.

Or, you do ton of analysis and come up with results that point to you having a 50% chance of “heads”.  So, when you forecast how many “heads” you will get when you flip the coin 20 times, you feel confident that it should be about 10, give or take a few.  But then when you end up with 14 “heads” and end up missing service level for the day, operations comes to you and asks what happened.

Jack of all trades, master of, well, all trades as well

The main areas within WFM tend to potentially include capacity planning, short term forecasting, scheduling, real time management, and reporting.  There is typically a strong correlation between the number of agents a call center has, and how large of a WFM team is needed.  As such, analysts are typically assigned to one or a few of these areas to really focus on and perfect.  Small call centers require the ability to multitask, as well as understand and handle all aspects of WFM.  In some cases, the person responsible for workforce management is having to split their time with other roles within the call center as well.

Final thoughts

The same basic workforce management principles apply whether you are a large call center, or a small one.  However, there certainly are some unique challenges that are associated with smaller call centers.  Be sure to check out some of our resources here at SpreadsheetScheduler.com to help you with your small call center: