How Do We Forecast How Many Contact Centre Agents You Need?

Silvia Planella/ October 11, 2017/ blog

Arema Connect have different staffing & pricing models depending on our clients current and future positioning. We are fully aware that requirements change over the time including seasonality, specific sales/ marketing campaigns and stages of your business growth. That’s why we pride ourselves on providing flexible models that work for you and your company. We aim to grow in partnership with you.

In this blog Sean Hickey, Arema Connect Operations Manager, describes the key elements used to calculate the number of agents allocated to your customer support team.

1.     Call Distribution and Average Handling Time

The first thing is to evaluate the call distribution per day of the week and hour. If you have previously outsourced or you have in-house call answering software, it could be relatively easy to obtain a full report of your call distribution. This report will also include the average call handling and wait times. By reviewing this information you will quickly see that some hours are busier than others. Additionally, you will be able to appreciate that by rule of thumb there are a lot more short calls but there are also a few with a much longer duration. Calls are distributed using an Erlang Distribution model. This statistical probability distribution, developed by A. K. Erlang, was created to examine the number of telephone calls which might be made at the same time to the operators of the switching stations. We have over 200 clients ranging from the SME sector to the large multinationals and we do have seasonal clients plus peak times during the day and all this needs to be taken into account in order to meet and exceed service level agreements.

Using the Erlang Distribution to determine the number of agents required has positive and negative connotations. Many people think that using this statistical distribution, a call centre will be overstaffed. However, this approach ensures that contact centres can meet service level agreements and reduce waiting time for callers when there is a peak in call volume. At Arema Connect we use a mixed approach. If the forecasted call volume is such that a dedicated team is required, then we use the Erlang Distribution to calculate the number of agents required. However, we take away one and replace it by three agents from our shared agent pool. From a staffing perspective, it provides us with greater flexibility to handle the increase in call volume and cater for unforeseen circumstances such as sick leave. From a financial perspective, it provides you with outstanding service for a fraction of the cost. Dedicated agents are billed by number of employees independently of the number of calls received; however, shared services are billed by volume of phone calls or by talk time.

In conclusion, some businesses are by nature 9 to 5 Monday to Friday; however, with the increase in Internet usage and online shopping this business model is declining. More and more we are required to provide 24 by 7, support 7 days a week – even if the volume is not there. The number of calls and average handling time will vary but usually, there are a larger number of short calls and a shorter number of long calls. In order to maintain service level when a long call is received, contact centres use the Erlang Distribution to calculate staffing levels. At Arema Connect we have the ability to be more flexible by allocating a number of shared agents to complement your dedicated team. This increases staffing levels when it is required without being overstaffed and charging you for it. It is a win-win situation. The first element used to calculate the number of agents that your business requires focuses on productivity and financial elements. However, not all businesses are the same. Depending on the sector that you are trading in, customer expectations can play a vital role while deciding staffing levels.

2.     Caller Expectations

Caller expectations can play a vital role in the staffing levels. The standard waiting time within the call centre industry is 80/20 (industry is moving quickly to 90/20). This means that 80% of all the calls should be answered within 20 seconds, but some clients require a quicker response time. Additionally, talk time is also impacted by caller expectations and the need for reassurance and rationalisation if they are purchasing a product online.

The number of agents required to meet caller expectations will depend on 1) expertise required for each agent; and 2) the complexity of the issue to be resolved.

Frequently Asked Questions are easy to solve reducing the level of training required and waiting times. Easy and accessible information through call centre software (e.g. wikis, learning management systems, knowledge base systems…) usually impact on the retrieval of information. However, here agents’ expertise also impacts on the call resolution speed. Expert agents can be in two fronts being their experience in handling phone calls, and their expertise in the call query. Both elements manage call expectations from two perspectives. Experience in soft skills addresses emotional caller expectations. They want to be listened to and when they are upset callers need to be reassured that their issue will be professionally managed. Procedure expertise addresses the logical (brain side) of the caller expectations. The industry is moving towards first call resolution and more and more clients are outsourcing the customer expectation and experience to third parties and expect us to meet their targets on percentages of calls closed and successfully resolved on initial contact.

Caller expectations are also related to the complexity of the issue discussed. As a norm, IT queries have a different time resolution expectations that retail related questions. Callers to sort a software enquiry, expect a longer talk time with a potential range of solutions to test before reaching the right one. On the other hand, retail enquiries which are by nature easier to manage usually require a shorter talk time and should be resolved by using the FAQ procedure.

At Arema Connect we have a strong training programme to ensure that our agents quickly become experts with the processes and procedures of our clients. All training is conducted by our Training Manager Sarah Foley. Additionally, it is paramount to understand that call centres that are able to retain their key account managers and agents are a valuable ally as knowledge and experience goes a long way to customer retention. We started trading in 2001, and our most experienced key account manager Kay Sheehan joined our ranks in 2002. Our agents stay with us an average of three years.

Finally, it is worth mentioning the difference between callers’ expectation levels according to demographic and social-cultural aspects. The access to the internet and the speed of information retrieval through this medium have reduced our ability to wait. We live in the ‘now moment’, and unfortunately, we are now demanding quick and accurate answers.

In summary…

In this blog, we have presented two of the key elements considered while evaluating the staffing levels required in Arema Connect for our clients.  The first one refers to the operational side, while the second one is related to human resources.

The operational side defines the number of agents required to manage call fluctuation and average talking time. Using an Erlang Distribution model, our operations manager is able to predict the number of dedicated agents required for a given account. This approach has some strengths and weaknesses as highlighted by practitioners and researchers alike. However, Arema Connect is able to overcome any flaw on this approach by supporting dedicated teams with shared agents.

The second element considered is caller expectations which are related to the expertise required for each agent; and the complexity of the issue to be resolved. This brings the concept of staff levels to the area of training. It is clear that call Centre agents are the most valuable asset for any contact centre. They are the voice and the brains behind each and every phone call. Call centres, like ours, that have a reliable and experienced team have a competitive advantage while managing caller expectations. They can manage emotional expectations quickly, and also focusing on the most technical side of the enquiries.