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Staffing Outbound Calls

Basics of Staffing for Outbound Calling

While call center forecasting and scheduling discussions generally revolve around the staff needed to respond to inbound calls, most businesses place outbound calls too. This article will address some of the differences to consider when planning staff for outbound calling campaigns. Forecasting Workload An inbound call center is at the mercy of the volume and pattern of the randomly arriving inbound contacts. Therefore, the forecasting process must include a thorough analysis of historical data to determine what the volumes and patterns of workload are likely to be in the future. Forecasting for an outbound center is slightly different since the call center is typically in control over when the outbound calls are placed. There are basically two types of outbound calls ones that are directly related to an inbound call, and those that are not. An example of an outbound call directly related to an inbound contact is in a dispatch center where an incoming call generates a request, and an accompanying outbound call is made as a result. Depending upon how soon after the inbound call the outbound call needs to happen, the outbound call workload may just be added to inbound workload, since it is in essence a part of that transaction. For many outbound call centers, the calls placed are not related to inbound transactions. Instead, the number of calls to be placed is related to internal business factors, such as a targeted number of calls to be made in a telemarketing campaign, or a specific number of accounts that need to be contacted for collection purposes. One might assume that forecasting for these situations is an easy process since the call center, and not an outside entity, controls the volume and timing of the calls. While that is true to a certain extent, there is still an art and science to determine when the calls should be placed to maximize their effectiveness. For example, past calling campaigns should be evaluated to determine the best days of week and times of day to place certain types of calls. This information can be compiled from contact rate information taken from automated dialer reports, or can be determined from simply asking customers their preferred times to be called. Determining the best times to call and then planning staff needs around carefully placed workload can make a tremendous difference in the success of any calling campaign. The results of one call centers lack of planning are shown in the table below. A careful analysis of best times to call indicated that the best time of week to call is on Saturday morning and the worst day of week and time of day would be on a Monday afternoon. However, due to staffing up for Monday Copyright The Call Center School, LLC., All rights reserved. Page 1

Staffing Outbound Calls morning calls, the center had extra staff available that afternoon and decided to use them to place outbound calls.
Time of Week Monday, 3:00pm Saturday, 10:00am Optimal Staff 50 80 Actual Staff 82 30 Net Staffing + 32 - 50

Even though there was plenty of staff to place calls on Monday afternoon, this was actually a poor time to make contact with customers, resulting in a very low contact rate. While fifty staff would have been plenty, the center staffed with 82 agents, for a net overstaffing of 32 staff. The dialer would place the calls, find few contacts available and reschedule the call for another time. The overstaffing at this time of day resulted in an hourly overspending of $320 per hour (assuming a $10 per hour wage rate). It could also have cost in terms of list burn if the list was a rented one with an agreement stating a maximum number of attempts per contact. On the other hand, with its staffing budget almost depleted with weekday staffing, the center was only able to staff with 30 agents on Saturday morning, even though past history showed this was the optimal time to reach customers. With the higher contact rates at this time, the optimal number of staff would have been 80 agents, yet the center only filled 30 seats. The result was a low number of contacts made. Assuming agents could handle 10 calls per hour and the average value of a call was $20, this understaffing resulted in unrealized revenues of $200 per person per hour, or $10,000 in lost revenues just for the one hour. Therefore, the forecasting process for outbound calling should include a careful analysis of the best days of week and times of day to call to determine the workload to be accomplished in each hour of each day. It should not be assumed that since the call center is in control of the calling that calls can or should be made at the centers convenience. Defining Workload Once the number of calls has been determined and allotted to the right days of week and times of day, then outbound call workload can be calculated for each hour or half-hour period, just like inbound calling. The workload is made up of the number of calls multiplied by the average handle time of a call. The average handle time may vary a great deal depending upon whether the call center is using an automated dialer or having the agents place calls manually. If the agents are dialing the calls manually, then a call processing or call set-up time should be factored into the overall handle time. The amount of call set-up time to build into the calls should include all the Copyright The Call Center School, LLC., All rights reserved. Page 2

Staffing Outbound Calls components of time associated with placing the call. The call center should analyze past calling statistics to determine what percentage of calls result in a live answer, busy signal, ring with no answer, and so on. These types should then be used to create a weighted average of the set-up time to be added to each call in determining the average handle time. A sample of these call distributions are shown in the table below. In this 100-call example, the weighted average set-up time is 35.2 seconds. This number would be added to the average handle time to determine outbound workload.
Number of Calls 40 20 15 25 100 Type of Call Live answer Machine answer Busy signal Ring no answer Set-Up Time 34 seconds 34 seconds 22 seconds 46 seconds 3520 seconds Talk Time 135 seconds 0 seconds 0 seconds 0 seconds 5400 seconds

It is interesting to note that of the total time spent in the calling process for these 100 manually dialed calls, 3520 seconds were spent in set-up activities compared to 5400 seconds of total talk time. In other words, 40 percent of the agents time is involved in look-up and dialing. These are the inefficiencies of a manual dialing process that make the return on investment of an automated dialer significant in many cases. Calculating Staff Requirements After workload has been defined by hour or half-hour, the next step in the staffing process is to determine the number of staff needed. Staffing for an outbound calling scenario differs from the inbound staffing models in that the calls can typically be placed as one right behind the other. The workload does not follow the random traffic pattern seen with inbound calling. The workload is in a sequential pattern and therefore, the Erlang C model is invalid for this outbound staffing situation. While there is a traffic model (Erlang-Engset) that can address the smooth traffic pattern that outbound calling represents, it is far more common to use a simple ratio to determine the number of staff needed relative to the hours of work to do. Since agents may be able to process one call after another with no down time in between them, a simple one-to-one ratio can be used as a starting point. Therefore, if there were forty hours of calling to do between 8:00 and 9:00, then forty staff would be the starting point. However, since staff cannot be expected to complete task after task with no breaks in between them, a reasonable occupancy level should be set and this productivity level built into the staffing calculation. For example, if agents are expected to work at a 90 percent occupancy level, then the forty base staff would be divided by .90 to determine the total number of staff needed. (40 / .90 Copyright The Call Center School, LLC., All rights reserved. Page 3

Staffing Outbound Calls = 44 staff). The occupancy number to be used in this calculation can vary. Some call centers may wish to factor in occupancy levels between 80% and 90% for outbound calling, just like inbound operations. However, an outbound sales center where agents are being compensated on sales may find that agents do not wish to build in as much free time between calls. They might rather place calls back to back in order to maximize their potential for compensation. In a call center that utilizes an automated dialer, the dialer can be set to speed up or slow down dialing to accommodate these varying levels of desired occupancy. It is also important to be aware of the changing regulations regarding telemarketing which include rules about the percentage of connections to live answer occur in which there is no agent available to take the call. This limitation can require a higher level of idle time that might otherwise be desired. Scheduling Outbound Staff An important staffing and scheduling consideration is whether the outbound calls will be handled by a separate group of staff specially trained for outbound calling, or whether the calls will be blended with inbound calls. Typically, the outbound call workload is calculated as a separate workload each period, and it is usually staffed and scheduled accordingly. Even if staff who handle inbound calls are the ones to place the outbound calls, most call centers distinguish between the inbound and outbound workload with an individual agent doing just one or the other during the hour or half-hour period. If this is the case, then periods off the phone (during the time scheduled for incoming calls) would simply be built into the schedule so that the agent is free to do another type of work (placing outbound calls). Other call centers choose to blend the two types of workload on a call-by-call basis. The outbound predictive dialer vendors have touted the capability of placing outbound calls during periods of staffing availability as a great way to increase call center efficiencies. In the case of true call blending, an agent may handle an incoming call, followed by the dialer placing an outbound call or two, and then receipt of more inbound calls. In this scenario, the outbound calling workload would be added to inbound calling workload for each period and staff requirements calculated for the combined work, with schedules created accordingly. While there are some situations where contact-by-contact blending might make sense, more often than not, this approach is stressful for the staff and stretches their capabilities past reasonable limits. This scenario is one in which technology may drive the staffing decision, sometimes to the detriment of quality and employee satisfaction. Most agents are better at doing just one or the other of the two tasks. Others may have capabilities to do both, but still find it disruptive to handle either in a quality manner if constantly changing back and forth. These Copyright The Call Center School, LLC., All rights reserved. Page 4

Staffing Outbound Calls staff will be better utilized if devoted to a specific type of calls on an hour-byhour basis. It is typically only the few agents that thrive in a constantly changing environment that will find call-by-call blending challenging and rewarding. Therefore, scheduling for outbound calling typically involves scheduling for a separate group of agents. Once the workload has been determined, a base staff requirement determined, and occupancy limits and shrinkage factored in, the schedule requirement is known for each half-hour, much like the process for inbound calls. Summary In many ways, staffing for outbound calling is a simpler process than staffing for inbound calling. The forecasting process is different, with less information generally driving the workload forecast. Once workload has been calculated, the staffing process is much simpler since calculations of bodies in chairs are based on sequential workload model, not requiring the mathematical modeling of Erlang techniques. The biggest issue surrounding staffing for these types of contacts is how the staff will be assigned to these tasks. An important staffing and scheduling consideration is whether the work will be handled by a separate group of staff specially trained for outbound calling or whether the workload will be blended with inbound calls. It is important to consider not just the technological possibilities here of blending different types of work, but also to consider the human factor. The skills and the desires of the staff should be a major factor in deciding how these new types of work will be handled within the evolving contact center.
About the Author. Penny Reynolds is a Founding Partner of The Call Center School, a company that provides a wide range of educational offerings for call center professionals. Penny is a popular industry speaker and is the author of numerous call center management books, including The Power of One, Call Center Staffing: The Complete, Practical Guide to Workforce Management and Call Center Supervision: The Complete Guide for Managing Frontline Staff. She can be reached at 615-812-8410 or by email at: penny.reynolds@thecallcenterschool.com.

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