Impact of Digital Channels on Contact Center Forecasting and Scheduling

It’s a new world for customer service and support, and digital channels are a major part of it. The pandemic brought about many changes in the business world, one of which was to speed up the adoption of digital channels in many contact centers. During the pandemic, companies that couldn’t scale their phone-centric contact centers added digital channels to help them get through the difficult times. And now that these channels are in place, they are here to stay.

Contact centers that adopted new channels during the pandemic now need to properly incorporate them into the fabric of their servicing infrastructure, including their automatic call distributor (ACD) and customer relationship management (CRM) solutions. This is to say that it’s not enough to use the new channels to provide support; companies must fully integrate them within their organization in order to deliver an outstanding customer experience and journey. Integration is necessary to allow customers to interact in their preferred channel(s) and easily pivot from one to another, as they choose. For example, a customer who starts by viewing a website may use chat to interact with an agent. When the topic gets complex, the customer may want to transition to a live call. In most companies today, the only way to achieve this is to ask the customer to end the chat session and either provide a callback number or ask the customer to call in. This is not a good practice, as when you’ve got a “live one” who is close to buying or transacting, the last thing you want to do is end the conversation and give them a chance to change their mind and go elsewhere. 

One of the questions is how to staff for omni-channel interactions, as this approach adds tremendous complexity to the workforce management (WFM) challenge. Most WFM solutions are intended to handle voice, and possibly email transactions, and use erlang (a mathematical formula) for forecasting, which cannot be adapted by users to incorporate the handling of other digital channels. Handling of new channels should not be addressed by adding a new skill group to your existing WFM solution, as each channel has unique characteristics that require different types of algorithms or simulations in order to accurately forecast and schedule. (Erlang was not even designed for email transactions, as it cannot handle deferred work or a multi-step interaction.) Below are some of the high-level considerations to address when figuring out how to properly incorporate digital channels into your contact center:

  1. Which digital channels do you need to support?
  2. Do you plan to allow customers to pivot from one channel to another?
  3. If pivoting is allowed, can customers be routed to the agent who they started with in the first channel?
  4. Will agents have an omni-channel desktop that optimizes the handling of voice and digital channels?

Once these general issues are addressed, it’s time to evaluate your WFM solution and decide if it has the intelligence needed to properly forecast and schedule for an omni-channel contact center. Here are some of the items to assess:

  1. Does your WFM solution provide unique algorithms and simulation methods designed to forecast and schedule interactions that require immediate and deferred responses?
  2. Can your WFM solution handle deferred work and determine short- and long-term capacity?
  3. Does your WFM solution allow agents to handle multiple interactions simultaneously? Is this enabled just for chat and messaging, or does it also address front- and back-office work, and possibly the handling of two calls at one time?
  4. Does your WFM solution allow you to specify which channels are interruptible and which are not?
  5. Does your WFM solution support the use of different handling and response times for each channel?
  6. Does your WFM solution have an intraday management module that automatically adjusts throughout the day, taking into consideration real-time transaction activity levels, schedule adjustments from the self-service environment, and changes submitted by WFM administrators?

Final Thoughts

Now that the pressure from the pandemic is off, take time to institutionalize the proper handling of the digital channels that have been added to your contact center. Doing this correctly will include changes to your contact center infrastructure solution (ACD), CRM and WFM solutions, for starters, and will position your department to deliver the outstanding service experience your customers and prospects expect.