Wipe Out the Illusion of Staffing Schedule Adherence

When it comes to workforce management, adherence is a tricky thing to deal with, that is for sure.  For such a simple concept, there are so many theories and definitions surrounding what adherence actually is, how it should be calculated, and how it should be handled.  Personally, when I am doing WFM consulting, I like to break it down to the most basic explanation.

By using state of the art complex calculations and specific histories it is possible to make very precise future predictions of when your business contacts will come in to be serviced.  With these predictions you can be very exact about scheduling the proper amount of your staffing resources to handle all  incoming or outbound contacts at the proper time.  Such a carefully computed staffing schedule can be efficient, money saving, profit producing, and even payroll reducing.  But if we make a beautiful, perfect schedule and no one follows it, then what good is the voluminous time and money spent on these wonderful schedule predictions?  This is the basic description of being out of adherence.  Generating a great and wonderful state of the art, carefully computed schedule and no one is working it.  Or more likely in a realistic contact center environment, people are only working it some of the time.

Not so long ago I was at one of many different contact centers that I consult with, and their adherence was reported at above 95%!  What a great achievement that would be.  But the actual ACD generated service level percentage report rarely reached above the high 60's all day long, every day.  Now, either the incoming data used to make the schedules was critically distorted, or something about the reported 95% adherence was not quite right.  And there it was, you guessed it; adherence was so high because supervisors (and other management personnel) were granting exception after exception when their agents were out of adherence.

Now, it wasn't that the supervisors were lying or deceiving or creating untruths -for the most part.  It was just that there are so often many legitimate reasons for pulling agents off of the phone to complete work that did not involve specifically handling contacts.  To be a little more specific, there were impromptu coaching sessions, awards sessions, discipline sessions, research sessions etc., that required agents to be in an unavailable state.  For the most part, the reasons for these off phone sessions truly needed to be addressed, and most of the time these off phone sessions contributed to ultimately completing the call flow in some way.  But here is the kicker.  When we removed the many exceptions from the adherence equations, the "actual adherence" percentage overall was at 48%.  This meant that the beautifully formulated, brilliantly calculated, and expensively created staffing schedule their WFM analysts were devising each week, was not truly being worked 52% of the time!  It is no wonder that the service levels could not be met.

Just because an agent is off the phone for justifiable reasons, does not mean that call answering statistics will not be negatively impacted.  In fact, genuinely required off phone work is the biggest culprit in creating devastating out of adherence scenarios.

Unfortunately, there are always going to be necessary exceptions that will pull agents off the phone when they should be working, or will keep them on a contact when they should be finishing up.  But in regards to maximizing adherence in dynamic environments, a few quick simple rules should always be considered and followed.

  1. If adherence exceptions are given, do not be fooled by the high adherence numbers.  Whether someone is pulled off the phone for call avoidance or for legitimate processes, they are still off the phone when the schedule requires them to on the phone.
  2. Though it is not possible to eliminate the need for adherence exceptions from most environments, it is always possible to streamline and cut back on what seems to be necessary reasons for not adhering. Essentially, it is always possible to "wring the water" out of your justifiable adherence exceptions (not to mention the non-justifiable).
  3. When attempting to raise adherence, more effective procedures will only help so much.  Building a cooperative culture with your WFM analysts, your floor supervisors, and your agents in order to harness the efforts of your entire staff in limiting the necessity to get off the phone, will raise your adherence up to the point where that beautifully configured schedule will be utilized to make your entire workflow more efficient.

In the competitive, dynamic environment we are all trying to profit in these days, a good WFM tool is invaluable.  If you are not using one, it is time to look into changing that practice in order to stay competitive.  If and when you are using a good WFM tool, rather than wasting the effort and money spent on the tool, be certain to learn the latest techniques in making sure your staffing adherence to that nearly perfect schedule that will be generated, is as high as can be possible in your unique  business situation.