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  • Writer's pictureJohn Casey

Don't forget the basics

I have been privileged to be invited by Injixo to present key note presentations at their PlanCon events in London in 2018 and Manchester in 2019. In 2018 I discussed my experiences of over 20 years working in planning in a presentation called ‘Back to the Future’ and in 2019 I developed on the theme with a look forward to Planning over the next 10 years. Whether I am right or wrong with the latter we will have to wait and see. Click on the links if you would like to review a video of either presentation.

I won’t go into all the topics covered, but one key theme I discussed in both sessions is the need for getting the basics right. The principles of planning are quite simple. Calls or other contacts arrive and there are industry standard algorithms available to work out the headcount needed. For inbound calls this is Erlang theory (a great explanation by Call Centre Helper is available here) and my experience is that it is hard to beat the numbers output by this algorithm. Despite being over 100 years old, and designed before contact centres were thought of, the mathematics work today and show that the randomness of human behaviour, both customer and employee, have an impact on the service levels offered by our centres.

I have been privileged enough to visit many centres over the past 15 years in particular and I have seen impressive processes and models, usually in Excel and often so large that the file cannot be shared by email and often takes an eternity to open. They can be extremely complicated and combined with work rules about shift patterns and durations, when leave can or cannot be taken they often make me wonder if all the complexity is needed? WFM systems are also common place and planners are often taught to press buttons and complete tasks in a specific order rather than the basics of planning. This is all well and good when things are going well – but the complexity, or the lack of knowledge often prevent planning teams from explaining what happened when things go off-piste.

Speaking to other consultants in the industry who also have. the luxury of visiting many centres, we are more and more convinced that the basics of planning are overlooked. We need to ensure that we get these basics right and then build on them. e.g.

  • Don’t build inbound planning models on productivity etc… Erlang is needed to account for random behaviour (customers and employees).

  • When there are less calls we can’t pro-rata the staff needed in alignment with the volume expected. Lower volumes need exponentially more staff.

  • Cross-skilling contact types isn’t always a good plan – staff find it hard to stop a non-immediate channel (e.g. email) to deal with an immediate channel (inbound voice) and then switch back again. It can compromise service and quality.

  • Insisting staff are 100% or even 90%+ productive isn’t possible and has negative consequences on absence and attrition over time

  • There are 2 queues in an inbound centre – the customers and the employees. We need to balance them and ensure agents get breathing space as well as customers answered quickly.

  • Every planner needs to understand queuing theory and Erlang principles. They are what our WFM software use.

I’ll build on these (and more) topics in future blogs. But why not make a (belated) New Year’s resolution. Let’s examine the basic principles of planning and ensure we do the groundwork right – then build in complexities later. Those basics will quickly get us more than 80% of the way in building a good planning process.

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