For smooth call center operations, it’s essential to have an adequate number of frontline staff working at any given time. After all, having excess agents could lead to resource wastage, while agent shortage could result in poor customer experience.
Efficient call center staffing will help you resolve these problems and set the stage for smooth and profitable operations.
However, every call center has unique needs and should follow a staffing model that fits their needs perfectly.
In this article, we’ll explore three call center staffing approaches, some critical workforce management components, and three best practices to overcome staffing challenges.
This article contains:
(click on the below links to read a specific section)
- 3 Common Approaches to Call Center Staffing
- 3 Critical Components of Workforce Management
- 3 Best Practices to Overcome Staffing Challenges
Let’s get started.
3 common approaches to call center staffing
A significant portion of call center operating costs can include staffing and related expenditure like training, scheduling, commute, etc.
And while inbound call centers hire a team of support specialists, outbound call centers require an expert telemarketing staff. So it’s vital to choose the right staffing strategy that meets your business needs and helps you maximize profits in the longer run.
Here are three commonly used call centers staffing models:
1. In-house staffing
In this traditional staffing approach, a call center maintains an in-house team of customer service professionals for their inbound or outbound operations. The firm is responsible for hiring, training, and managing the agents.
With this approach, you’ll have greater control over different aspects of workforce management.
However, it’s a time-consuming and resource-intensive approach.
Firstly, you’ll need a worksite that’s big enough and has the infrastructure to accommodate your team. You must also ensure that the site has proper safety measures for the post-pandemic scenario.
Moreover, managing an in-house team would also require investing in technology solutions and a dedicated HR (human resources) department.
2. Outsourced staffing
Outsourcing staffing needs is an approach that has gained tremendous popularity in the last two decades.
Here, a company partners with an external customer service staffing agency that hires, trains, and manages a team of agents on the company’s behalf.
These agencies offer customized staffing solutions based on models like direct-hire, temporary staffing, contract to hire, and temp to hire.
Let’s check out the benefits of this approach over an in-house call center:
- Cost savings: Outsourcing your staffing needs is relatively cheaper than having an in-house team. It can provide a full-fledged workforce experience to a call center with limited resources.
- Access to top talent: Outsourced allows you to work with top-notch customer service talent from all over the world.
- Accurate cost tracking: It’s easier for a call center staffing agency to give precise cost per call and cost per hour data since they already have systems in place to bill their clients.
- Round-the-clock operations: Having an outsourced team gives you the freedom to run operations 24/7 with ease, which might be challenging with in-house staff.
Additionally, call centers can use outsourced staff as a backup to the in-house team during peak call volumes.
For more information, check out this comprehensive guide on call center outsourcing.
3. Remote staffing
Remote staffing or telecommuting has emerged as one of the most preferred staffing alternatives in the post-Covid world.
A remote staffing solution allows agents to log in from their home or any remote site and work as they would in a call center office. Remote technology also enables supervisors to monitor and record their calls in real-time.
Having an all remote staff or a combination of remote and in-house teams will give you greater flexibility with scheduling.
For example, a remote agent can easily cover call volume peaks in the morning and evening instead of an in-house agent doing a split shift. A remote staff also helps you save on real-estate costs of a traditional call center.
Moreover, the freedom and flexibility of remote work ensure high agent satisfaction and a lower turnover rate.
Explore how to hire and manage remote employees with this guide.
3 critical components of workforce management
Here are three operational functions involved with call center workforce management. Collectively, they determine the staffing framework of a call center.
1. Workforce planning
A critical task in a call center is to determine how many agents are required to answer customer calls with a minimum delay at any given time. Call center managers must be able to anticipate staffing needs and plan ahead to meet them.
Let’s check out processes that define call center staff planning:
A. Collecting and analyzing call data
Using past call data can give you vital insights into calling patterns, the types of calls, and the average time needed to address each call type.
Here, a team of analysts mines the call center software’s data and runs it through analytics tools to reveal any underlying patterns. Many modern call center and contact center tools can do this without manual intervention.
But why do you need this data?
The data and the report from the previous step will help you forecast the workload at any specific time during the workday.
For example, you may notice that your firm experiences higher call volumes during weekends and holidays or that the volume of inquiry calls is higher during power outages.
C. Estimating staff requirements
With accurate forecasting of the workload, you can ensure the availability of adequate staff at all times.
Call center managers generally use tools like the Erlang Calculator to do staffing calculations. Such tools can help you determine the number of agents required to handle the expected call volumes and meet the service level requirements.
Service levels determine how efficiently a call center is adhering to the performance standards that are obliged to meet. For example, as part of their service level agreement (SLA) with the client, a call center may be required to answer 80% of the calls within the first 20 seconds.
D. Scheduling and assigning
With an accurate estimate of the workload and the staffing needs, a manager can create shift schedules and assign agents to their shifts.
The schedule specifies the duration and the type of the shifts – fixed, flexible, or rotating shifts.
While creating a schedule, managers also map the agent’s skill set to the work demands during a shift. This ensures higher efficiency as agents are assigned the work they are most suitable for.
Check out this comprehensive remote scheduling guide for solid strategies.
E. Intraday management
Call center teams track inbound calls in real-time to ensure everything is going as per the plan. It helps them take dynamic measures to accommodate unexpected changes in the workload.
For example, they can call in the backup staff to achieve the service goal when witnessing a higher than usual call volume.
2. Performance management
A crucial aspect of call center staffing is monitoring and assessing agent performance. These assessments focus on consistency and quality of services.
Let’s take a look at the various processes that constitute performance management in the call center.
A. Setting benchmarks
Performance management begins by defining what good customer service is. Managers set benchmarks and expectations so that agents have a clear sense of their duties and goals.
They usually set these benchmarks using several performance metrics and by taking into account:
- Current and future customer experience goals.
- Historical data (previous instances of good performance).
- Agent well-being and satisfaction.
Discover five key metrics to track with our detailed call center benchmarking guide.
B. Measuring performance
The next step is measuring performance metrics to assess how an agent is faring against the benchmarks.
Some of the standard metrics that a customer service manager or a team lead could track are:
- Average handle time (AHT): The average time an agent takes to complete inbound or outbound calls.
- Adherence Rate: Measures how efficiently the agents are following their work schedules.
- First call resolution (FCR): Providing a resolution to the callers during the first call itself.
C. Diagnosing performance gaps
When call center agents consistently perform below the set benchmarks, their supervisors should aim to identify the underlying problems at the earliest. This step is vital as it paves the way for course corrective measures to improve the performance.
Managers and supervisors use systematic approaches like gathering agent feedback, monitoring live calls, etc., to identify the exact issue.
D. Devising corrective strategies
After identifying the cause, the management team can work with the agents to improve the performance.
They could use a combination of corrective steps like:
- Retraining the agents.
- Giving targeted feedback.
- Developing a knowledge base for the agents.
- Using agent dashboards to provide real-time assistance and support to the agents.
- Investing in new hardware and software technology.
These four steps form the basis of call center and contact center performance management and help keep your staff performing at their peak.
It’s important to note that performance management is an ongoing process and requires a solid system to carry out the above functions.
3. Technology management
Technology investments per employee are usually higher in customer service operations than other business functions in a company. So it’s vital to manage it well.
Technology management involves planning, design, optimization, and revision of the call center technology solutions, such as:
- Recruitment software to speed up the hiring and onboarding for a customer service position.
- Training solutions to help coach agents on the various work processes.
- Scripting and knowledge management solutions to assist agents during live calls to deliver a better service experience.
- Telephone Systems form the core of call center operations and comprise solutions like VoIP (internet telephony), ACD (Automatic call distributor), IVR (Interactive voice response), etc.
- Quality Management Systems (QMS) ensures consistency in the service quality using features like voice recording and voice processing.
Having well-laid out plans and processes for each of these workforce management components will help you sail through the daily operations.
3 best practices to overcome staffing challenges
Call centers often face staffing-related challenges like high turnover rates and low agent productivity.
Here are three best practices to ensure that you stay ahead of these challenges and keep the call center running smoothly.
1. Develop a hiring strategy
Developing a hiring strategy for your business needs will help you recruit the right person for the job without running multiple recruitment drives.
Without a hiring and retention plan, you may end up with high attrition rates and spend excessive resources on recruitment and training.
Use the following tips to create a solid hiring strategy:
- Identify your current and future business needs and decide which staffing model works best for you.
- If you require agents with a specific skill set, post your requirements on niche call center job sites where you can find qualified candidates.
- Convey job duties, salary benefits, and other perks accurately to set the right expectations for a job seeker.
- Develop specific assessment modules that test prospective employees on various parameters like communication skills, empathy, technical know-how, etc.
- Gather feedback from employees leaving the company and consider implementing changes suggested by them to improve agent satisfaction in the future.
- Take measures to enhance your employer image among job seekers.
2. Prioritize agent well-being
A customer service job could be stressful, especially when service agents are cramped in a cubicle for hours and facing unrealistic targets.
Only a happy and satisfied customer service professional can deliver high-quality service experiences consistently.
Here are some pointers on developing a retention strategy that focuses on agent well-being:
- Invest in training programs to give your agents a solid foundation to perform at their peak levels. A well-trained customer service representative or sales representative will be high on confidence and skills.
- Create a robust feedback system that helps agents improve their performance.
- Empower your agents with technology solutions like scripting software, dashboards, etc.
- Engage your staff in meaningful ways to boost their morale and keep them motivated. It’s a great practice to develop an employee engagement program.
3. Manage employee performance
Policies on call recording, schedule adherence, time tracking, etc., provide clear rules and guidelines to the agents and minimizes instances of non-compliance.
To ensure their success, deploy user-friendly technology solutions that empower the agents and help attain your service goals.
You can also opt for software solutions like Time Doctor to help your in-house and remote staff stay productive.
What’s Time Doctor?
Time Doctor is a productivity management tool used by large companies and SMBs to boost performance across the organization.
Here’s a quick look at how Time Doctor can help you run more efficient call centers and contact centers:
- Your agents can use a simple start/stop time to track their work hours.
- Managers and supervisors can create tasks and projects and assign them to agents.
- They can track agents’ productivity using detailed reports like activity summary, web and app usage, etc.
- Time Doctor’s integrated payroll management helps you conveniently pay your agents on time.
- Your team can use Time Doctor on multiple platforms like Android, Windows, Linux, and Macs.
Understanding your call center staffing needs can set you up for sustained business growth.
You’ll have a stable team of high-performing call center representatives and won’t need to overspend on hiring.
Explore the staffing strategies shared in this article to maintain adequate staffing levels at all times. And don’t forget to use the workforce management information and tips we covered here to build a solid team of customer support, help desk, or outbound sales experts.
Andy is a technology & marketing leader who has delivered award-winning and world-first experiences.