Anticipating the future is a core mission for any contact center. Inevitably, the CFO wants an accurate budget and the recruitment team needs to know how many full-time equivalents (FTEs) to bring on two months from now. With these demands alone, new call center analysts can easily be overwhelmed by the prospect of predicting costs and call volumes that include 12 months of forecasting.
Dig into the topic and things only get more complicated. Those hoping to up their forecasting game will be confronted with debates about ARIMA (auto-regressive integrated moving average) versus TES (triple exponential smoothing) and other details. It’s enough to scare off the most stalwart of managers.
Fortunately, contact center forecasting requires neither a crystal ball nor a math Ph.D. Workforce management software builds in the algorithms and analytics necessary to make forecasting a point-and-click endeavor driven by your own business understanding.
After some experience with a quality workforce management software solution, most analysts find that knowing what tomorrow will bring in the contact center isn’t much harder than consulting a weather app on their phone.
Creating the Annual Forecast
To get started, create an annual forecast, which the majority of contact centers will break down into quarters and months. This forecast is based on information from several areas.
Historical data about call volumes, average handle times (AHT) and service-level achievement help determine how many FTEs are required to meet expectations. Because programs and campaigns will vary, it’s important to evaluate apples and oranges—or sales campaigns and help desk operations—separately.
Many experts recommend looking back 36 months, when possible, to identify seasonal impacts and recurring fluctuations. If you already have a workforce management solution integrated with your call center software, it will be easy to analyze historical information for staffing and contact center budgeting purposes. If you don’t have a workforce management solution in place, the sooner you get one in place, the sooner you will be able to benefit from historical data.
On top of what’s happened in the past, contact center executives need to integrate expectations for the coming year. If the company is launching a new product in March, training-related shrinkage could increase and call volumes could rise. These factors should be reflected in the forecasting assumptions.
Most companies have plans to grow. By estimating year-over-year expansion, analysts can set contact volume targets. It is generally recommended to use an average growth rate from previous years as a guide, adding market insights or sales funnel information for refinement purposes.
Increasing Accuracy for Smaller Time Windows
With an annual call center forecast broken down by months, you’ll know when the “hurricane season” of high call volumes is due and when the lines will likely go cold and staffing can be reduced. These projections enable big-picture planning, but additional adjustments are necessary as the actual shifts approach.
Rolling Quarterly and Monthly Forecasts
As the year progresses, the annual forecast is likely to fall further and further out of step with the actual results. Growth can be more aggressive, chat more popular or new product launches more difficult to accommodate than predicted.
Recompiling quarterly and monthly forecasts, which is usually done 30 to 60 days out, can enhance the effectiveness of long-term planning efforts.
Weekly and Daily Call Center Forecasts
Perhaps surprisingly, weekly and daily forecasts can be the most complex to predict. At this point, contact center professionals often have information on which to build hyper-specific assumptions. For example:
- A newly graduated training class will be completing their first shift in production, so AHT is likely to be longer.
- Absenteeism is up because the flu has hit, so shrinkage estimates must increase.
- A training session is scheduled, so the overall task volume should be tweaked.
- A marketing email is going out and could drive higher contact volumes.
The great thing about workforce management software is the ease with which these assumptions can be incorporated, adjusted and compared.
For instance, if marketing emails usually boost call volumes between 15 and 30 percent, analysts can look at staffing plans for both ends of the spectrum to help find the FTE “sweet spot” and improve scheduling efficiency.
Building in a Feedback Loop
It’s worth returning to the long-term forecasts with the wisdom of hindsight. Workforce management solutions can be particularly valuable in documenting the impacts of specific event types and driving continual accuracy improvements.
Ultimately, contact center forecasting is a nuanced activity. There are many factors to take into account and various tricks and techniques to apply, far more than can be discussed in a single blog post. To take a deeper dive, download our white paper. “The Ultimate Guide to Budgeting for Your Contact Center” is just what it sounds like—a comprehensive look at call center planning. It’s an indispensable resource for anyone interested in leveraging forecasting techniques and workforce management software to get a better handle on contact center spending. Get yours now!