Forecasting for the Contact Centre – What’s New in 2020

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Hiya. In this post, I am sharing my experiences and thoughts with you about how forecasting as changed so far in 2020 and what the future holds.

I have a video version and a text version

If you’d like a read, grab a coffee and it’s all here 👇🏻

In today’s blog I have looked at 5 different aspects of the forecasting process, what’s changed so far this year for many forecasters and how we can adapt to the new world as we come out of lockdown.

Turn up the volume

Many centres have seen a change in contact volumes since lockdown, in some cases increasing for those in the financial sector or decreasing in insurance and retail. As the news changes daily, you may find it more appropriate to review forecasts daily rather than weekly or monthly as may be the typical process, to keep on top of how your volumes are deviating from the norm.

Many forecasters have become avid news watchers to ensure that they are up to date with any changes in the lockdown rules that may affect their own customers’ habits, for example when customers can travel more or shop more, will this lead to them needing to call you more or less often? Be careful not to assume how these changes will affect your customers’ habits, gather as much evidence as you can including speaking to the agents themselves – they really are the best source of information when understanding customers’ reason for calling. 

Centres have also found that the mix of contact types has changed, for example customers are contacting them through social media or web chat rather than picking up the phone.  This is an opportunity for you to reassess the forecast for all media types and link in with the scheduler to ensure you have enough agents trained for each contact type, and also nice to be able to give your agents a variety of contact types in their daily schedule.  If you have the right WFM tools then forecasting for non calls work should be just as easy as calls.

Every day is like Sunday 

Profiles are also being affected, the typical double peaks most of you will see in the morning and tea time may be altered now customers are contacting you at different times.  Many have seen flatter profiles which is some good news for schedulers!  They may have been able to amend shifts or allocate offline time more evenly.  Opening hours have also changed in many centres so this will also affect forecasting profiles.  As we come out of lockdown and your peaks return, it may be fruitful to reforecast daily to ensure the change in profile is as up to date as possible.  Keep in close touch with your agents to review the contact reasons.

The times they are a-changing

Average handling times or AHT is just as important when forecasting requirements as you forecasters know.  Some centres have seen a similar amount of calls but the reasons customers are calling has changed, typically leading to new and more complex calls and that means longer AHT.  Whether using analytical software or liaising directly with your agents, get a handle on the sorts of contacts you are receiving to ensure the change in AHT can be accounted for and planned.

Other factors that may be affecting your AHT could be the fact that customers are ringing from home rather than using the work phone for a quick call.  As they ring from home they are usually happy to stay on a little bit longer (we see this historically as AHTs typically rise at weekends and evenings).

If you are in a sector that has seen an increase in calls (and combined with potentially higher absence) you may be experiencing longer wait times/lower availability.  As WFMers we know this can lead to an increase in AHT too.

During this time ensure all of your agents are fully briefed in dealing with any new and complex types of contacts that you’re receiving especially specific questions about how the situation this year is affecting your particular business.  Make sure that they are fully briefed on the messages that you have put on your websites and IVRs so they can confidently and efficiently deal with these new queries.

Ensure you have realistic and honest messages about response times for calls, chats, email etc.  As we know any overpromising will lead to repeat contacts and I’m sure most customers at this time will understand that response times are a little bit longer than normal.  But have in mind as we come out of lockdown and return to normal as an industry we really do need to get back to our high standards of response times as soon as possible. 

Spread the word

Most centres will have some form of planning meeting, this is usually a weekly gathering of the WFM team, contact centre managers and team managers as a minimum, and also representatives from HR, IT, marketing, recruitment and other support areas.  During the meeting there will be a review of previous weeks and a collaborative approach to planning future weeks. 

If you don’t already have this sort of meeting then now is a great time to start.  As a forecaster it is an opportunity for you to discuss previous forecasting performance (and get recognition when it goes well!) and review the reasons for any inaccuracies (when it is not so good!).  Importantly it should allow for joint decision-making for future forecasts.  Especially at this time where many new and unusual factors are affecting your forecasts then many heads are better than one!  Typically, the forecaster will present different scenarios based on factors that may affect the volumes or average handling times in different ways and as a group you decide which scenario to use. 

What does the future hold?

I think for the next few months at least we may get used to a more short-term approach to forecasting, so reviewing daily/weekly rather than monthly/quarterly.  And together with this maybe seasonality will be less relevant for a few years.

Another benefit from this year is hopefully as a forecaster you are in closer touch with your intraday analysts, monitoring what’s happening today (and why) and discussing how it will affect future days and weeks, let’s keep this up and share our expertise.

Will the contact type mix be changed for ever? There has been a slow move over the last decade or so from phone calls to web chat and other social media types which this year has increased for many centres.  So maybe this year has acted as a catalyst for this change of contact method.  Many centres already forecast (and schedule) for chats, social media etc in the same way as calls.  If you have appropriate WFM software (such as Calabrio Teleopti WFM) then Forecasting and Scheduling for multi media types is just as easy as a calls only environment.

In summary 2020 has been a challenging, interesting, and unique year so far in forecasting land, we are finding new ways of doing things and as they say, it’s a great ‘learning opportunity’! 

Keep up the good work, keep well and I’ll see you soon


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