Make Your Adherence Beg for Mercy!

I recently read an article about a study of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the country.  The author was complaining about the source data and how it had been used to come to the conclusions that were offered and made this statement, “If you torture the numbers long enough, they will admit to anything.”

It made me think about certain call center metrics that could definitely fit this statement, shrinkage, compliance, service level and adherence.

What is adherence? 

It is a measure of whether agents did what we had them scheduled to do, when we had them scheduled to do it.  It allows us to know how accurate our forecasts are so we can continue to improve.  If I miss a service level or ASA goal for an interval, I need to check the volume, handle time, shrinkage and ultimately the adherence.  If I had planned on having 23 agents on the phones from 10:00 – 10:30 and what I really had was 19, then it isn’t a mystery as to why we missed our goal (assuming volume and handle time were correct).

So now that we know it’s important, we should set a goal for agents to achieve on their adherence. 

That goal is 97%-100%!

How will we achieve such an aggressive number?  We know agents will get stuck on phone calls or need to go unavailable to help a peer or make a necessary bathroom run because they haven’t trained their bodies to signal these needs exclusively during the break/lunch schedule that we assigned them.  There is a very tempting solution - make after-the-fact adjustments to ensure they hit the 97% adherence goal.  After all, we can’t punish them for things outside their control and we don’t want to encourage them to not give the best service to our customers just so they won’t get stuck on a phone call.

The problem is that I still didn’t have 23 agents on the phones from 10:00 – 10:30, I still missed my service level agreement and possibly increased my abandoned customers for that period but the adherence goal was protected and all is right with the world.  I won’t be able to adjust and improve my forecasts and shrinkage, but wow, that 97% is very impressive to executive management and possible future clients.

If we don’t accurately measure a metric, how can we possibly track its changes, both up and down?  If we can’t track the changes, we can’t develop any strategies to improve.  If we can’t improve, we will continue to follow the cow path and never see any increase in efficiency or decrease in staffing costs.  We will not be able to prove the value of what we do.

I could have an agent whose adherence is 89% and the only deviation was that they were stuck on phone calls, held longer in a team meeting and took one 10 minute bathroom break (unscheduled).  Is this person cheating the company?  Am I not getting my money’s worth out of them?

Many call centers are now readjusting their thinking about adherence and helping to educate about what the metric really represents.  If we set realistic goals, with the help of our agents, supervisors and managers, if we track our progress and results, we can use this metric to improve our overall performance and bottom line.  There isn’t a formula for what adherence should be, it is individual to a company and needs to have some thought put in to it.

Am I saying that your goal should never be 97%?  Absolutely not!  But if the only way you can achieve the goal is to put your numbers on the torture rack and make them scream for mercy, you aren’t really hitting the goal, you are just fooling yourself.  Be real - track your progress and make a difference.