Skills based routing impact on service level in the call center
Illustration by Jenny Foster

Skills-based routing (SBR) is a strategy that provides a contact center flexibility when different skills have different call arrival patterns. SBR also offers tenured agents a welcome variety in their tasks. Our customers benefit, our agents benefit and our organization benefits! It is a win-win-win, right? Not necessarily. Sometimes our efforts to increase overall service level do not produce the results that we had wanted.

This situation was recently raised by a workforce manager. The organization had several periods in the afternoons where Skill A looked like it could lend agents to Skill B. The contact center leadership team had made the decision to expand skills-based routing. The center identified six Skill A agents and crosstrained them to handle Skill B calls. They allowed two weeks for the learning curve, and while they were seeing an improvement in the Skill B results, the negative impact on Skill Set A offset any gains.

The contact center manager was disappointed. She had pulled six agents off the floor for training, which reduced service levels during training. She did this to increase her service level long-term. Yet, the overall service level was lower. What had gone wrong? She asked the workforce manager to explain.

The analysis of the situation showed that Skill B needed 56 agents to hit the service level target (an additional two agents). Looking at the report and trends, it appeared Skill A could support that with 31 agents available 4.2 minutes during the half-hour period!

Skill A 31 81.0% 86.0%
Skill B 54 68.0% 93.0%
Original overall results 85 73.2% 90.4%
Crosstrained overall results 85 73.0% 92.2%

Here is where the logic went awry—available time between calls was part of the plan. Skill A was staffed properly for the intervals. If Skill A had been overstaffed, the plan might have helped. But pulling agents from a properly staffed skill jeopardized the service level.

What steps should you take in assessing whether crosstraining will work?

  1. Look at the gap for the skill needing additional support. How many additional agents would be needed to meet service level objectives? Look at several intervals on several days to determine this need.
  2. Look at the surplus of agents in the intervals where support of another skill is being considered in the exact same intervals analyzed in Step 1. How many agents can be assigned to a different queue without reducing the service level below goal? If the staff available is 1 or less, crosstraining is not the solution. Proceed to step 7.
  3. Look at the skills required for handling Skill A and Skill B calls. Are they similar? If so, look at the systems used for Skills A and B, are they similar? If not, consider whether these two skills can be handled by one agent.
  4. Identify the agents ready for crosstraining.
  5. Schedule and conduct training. Provide support to assist the agents during the learning curve.
  6. Track the impact of the multiskilled agents. What would the results have been without crosstrained agents?
  7. Report to management.

Skills-based routing enhances our scalability. There are conditions when SBR is a solution. Be clear in communicating how SBR is supporting utilization of resources. There will be a point when the real solution to consistently meeting service levels is additional staff, or refined processes, or enhanced technologies!

Moral of the story: You can’t rob Peter to pay Paul, but you can borrow from Peter when he has excess!

Laura Grimes is the CEO of Harrington Consulting Group Inc., and a senior certified associate of International Customer Management Institute (ICMI). In these roles, she provides strategic and tactical guidance for numerous organizations in a wide variety of industries. Laura specializes in contact center wellness reviews as well as projects in areas such as customer relationship management, forecasting/scheduling/budgeting, the quality improvement process that encompass organizational alignment along with agent delivery, technology/vendor selection, site selection for call centers and long-term planning. Additionally, she has managed training and quality, resource management, new program implementation and operations in mission-critical award winning call center operations.
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