Category: Shrinkage

I see the future of planning – I see contact centres with no planners

The world is changing at a quicker rate than ever in history. As a race humankind is evolving faster than ever and inventions are changing our perception world on an almost daily basis. Whether it be technology or medical advances, humankind is achieving more in a few years than they would previously have done in a few generations.

Therefore contact centres and how they operate will be no different. The centre and how it operates that so many of us know today may be the subject of history classes within a decade or two. I personally think the contact centre with thousands of staff within a building, or number of buildings will be the exception, not the norm. As customers we will get used to dealing with Bots – or the Bots will be so sophisticated we will be unable to distinguish between them and an interaction with a living human being. And automation will take a lot of the menial work out of businesses. If we really think about it, is there anything more menial than the planning process?

A good planning process is exactly that – a series of processes which attempts to have a solution, or at least a mitigating step, for every scenario that may happen. Contact Centre planning is almost the perfect evolution of Deming’s simplified PDSA cycle. Plan / Do / Study / Act. With our defined roles of Forecasting, Scheduling, Real Time and MI we cover all elements of this. Whether is is well documented or intuitive, a good planning team will adapt and evolve as they watch what is happening over time.

AI and automation is likely to be the bain of the planning role in the future. I have to be honest and say I have to date been sceptical of software solutions offering AI and automation to the industry. Surely they are only as good as the algorithms behind them and if a process is mipmapped then the automation collapses and the software is less likely to switch to plan B than a trained and competent human. But let’s think about this in the context of technological advancement. True AI may be the subject of Sci-Fi shows, but if a truly neural learning approach is introduced then is planning at risk? Think about key elements of the role…

If we short staffed in that interval, let’s move lunch and breaks
We expect bills to be posted Monday, so volume will increase from Wednesday
If Agent X calls in sick, move Agent Y from channel A to channel B
Only allow X% off on Annual Leave on any day
If sickness is above X% cancel activity Y

I think we can agree that all the queries above, and probably many of the decisions made on a daily basis by planners are logical in nature. The query is granted if certain parameters line up, and rejected if not. If we get busy we have ways of maximising resource in the centre, if it gets quiet we have ways of using the time wisely. Most importantly from an AI or automation perspective we have a more restrictive suits of possible queries to deal with when compared with the almost infinite possibilities that front line agents deal with daily.

This leads me to the conclusion that the role of planners, at least as we now it today is going to change. The ratios of staff to planners will increase, but for those of us who fall into a career in planning I think it is fair to say the role may get more interesting. Any AI or automated process will only be as good as those who configure it in the short to medium term. Until neural networking leads to truly self teaching AI then creative thinking, problem solving, test and learn of new approaches will become the norm, not the current norm of sanctioning or rejecting Annual Leave, processing schedule swaps, or running revised forecasts for the umpteenth time. There may not be as many of us, for some centres it may be best to have contractors on reserve for so many days per year, but the role may get infinitely more interesting and definitely more challenging. After all, as discussed in a recent blog, we have to look at how to manage the Generation Z and beyond workforce in an efficient and effective way to please the customer, the employee and the key business stakeholders.

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