Revisiting Contact Center Schedule Adherence

FROM THE JULY 2019 ISSUE

Contact Center Schedule Adherence
Challenges and Priorities Survey

When you find someone in a contact center who is passionate about schedule adherence, it’s a good bet he/she is (or once was) a member of a workforce management team (WMT). That’s because all of the forecasting and scheduling and planning done by anyone in a WMT is useless if no one actually follows the plan. Yes, agents and supervisors on the floor also care about adherence and want to meet the objective. But in the WMT, it goes beyond just wanting it. Good adherence is vital to the WMT’s survival.

Full disclosure here. I’ve spent many years creating, working in and consulting for WMTs. So yes, I am passionate about schedule adherence. But times change, and today’s fast-paced, react-in-the-moment, “just grab an Uber” lifestyles don’t match very well with permanent, fixed, standard schedules locked down three weeks in advance. Something’s gotta give.

The Traditional Approach

For those new to the concept, adherence is a measure of actual manned time to scheduled manned time. It is a common metric in larger centers, especially those using a commercial workforce management system. The systems themselves do all the heavy lifting of calculating and reporting. The WMT might make some adjustments and supervisors will provide coaching, with the amount of effort dictated by the importance placed on adherence compared to other measured metrics.

Traditionally, adherence is viewed and measured on an individual agent basis. An objective is set, and everyone works toward the same goal. In a world where all agents work 40 hours a week, plan the vast majority of vacation days in advance, consistently show up for work before the scheduled start time and are conscientious about following schedules regarding off-phone time, this traditional approach works well. Behaviors are aligned with performance objectives, schedules are a reliable indicator of future phone coverage and service level performance is consistent across time.

Changing Times

Enter the new reality. Today’s contact center still has some of those “Steady Eddies” from yesteryear, but they are far fewer than in the past. Many of our agents now have other priorities in their lives that impact the amount of hours they can give to the job, the timing of the hours and/or the amount of notice they can provide regarding schedule changes. In this environment of intense competition for the agent’s time, consistently high levels of traditionally measured adherence are a thing of the past.

Enlightened contact center leaders have seen this play out over the years and have reacted accordingly. They realized that if they continued to pressure staff for high adherence, agent attrition and engagement would be jeopardized. Faced with what seemed like a choice between higher adherence or better attrition/engagement, most leaders correctly chose the latter. Adherence standards were lowered, restrictive rules about schedule changes were altered and in some cases adherence was removed from the balanced scorecard altogether. To say that adherence was “sacrificed” for better attrition/engagement may be too dramatic, but it is also fairly accurate.

Modernizing Schedule Adherence

Herein lies the conflict. Adherence is too important to be ignored, but our traditional approach to measuring and managing it does not fit the reality of today.

It’s time to build a more customized approach to schedule adherence. Rather than viewing it as simply a casualty of the times, we can redesign our approach to get the best of both worlds. By changing our focus from an agent-based measure to a full-time resource measure, we get the opportunity to meet today’s needs while still expecting accountability from our teams.

And what is a full-time resource? In the case of Brenda, the “Steady Eddie” who has been meeting all performance objectives for the past 12 years, she fits the bill all by herself. So nothing changes for her. But what about Carlos, who works in the quality monitoring team but is required to provide five hours of phone time a week? Or Crystal, who wants to go back to school but still work around 15 hours a week? Or Connie, who helps with a non-profit so often that any schedule commitment over 20 hours a week is questionable? In the traditional approach, we schedule them and measure their adherence separately.

Why not create a Carlos/Crystal/Connie resource that does the work of one full-time agent? Schedule them as a single entity, and make them accountable for splitting up the hours in a way that will generate the high adherence that is needed. In their case, that might mean having Crystal and Connie take all the scheduled hours, with Carlos filling in at the last minute when something happens. Or maybe they all take some hours and cover for each other when needed. However they decide to do it, they own the accountability and adherence results.

If that is too difficult, or if you don’t have enough staff with non-traditional schedules to do this, you could always just go with team-based adherence. In this approach, the WMT schedules a certain number of people per team throughout the day for phone coverage. The team, usually through a supervisor or other designated coordinator, then assigns enough people to cover the number. The adherence measurement is now a team-based metric comparing the amount of staff required for the interval to the amount manned.

A Compromise That’s Worth the Effort

It’s just a little too easy to think of adherence as something that is “old school” and needs to be removed to keep up with the times. Doing so might make some staff happy, but ignoring mathematical realities is seldom a good solution. By changing our approach, though, we can keep the accountability that optimizes performance while still maintaining a culture that meets the needs of today’s team member. That’s a compromise worth the effort.