Best practices and benchmarks for agent workload, throughput, and headcount planning

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  • Daniel Cooper
    Community Moderator

    You may be looking for details on Workforce Management and there are many tools that can help you with figuring out how to accurately schedule people and planning headcount. 

    Understanding demand

    Volume * Average Handle Time (this includes actual work, plus related wrap up work on a ticket) is the simplest calculation of this work.  This works pretty well for back office type work, but you'll likely want to forecast these numbers forward so you have an idea on what you will need in the future.  Since staffing is typically not done on the spot and has lead times baked in, its good to have a monthly forecast in place to understand what your monthly volumes look like and if you'll have seasonal swings.  the Society of Workforce Planning Professionals (SWPP) has a good article on forecasting monthly volumes.  You typically need two years of normalized data to really get into the weeds here - and COVID is likely to be a factor in skewing recent months - but it's a good practice to understand. There are also similar processes to do more recent models looking at the last several weeks.  You would want to forecast volume and handle time as time of year can change both metrics. 

    Understand your shrinkage

    There is a good write up of how to staff for shrinkage on the Society of Workforce Management Processionals page. I worked in Workforce Management for about 10 years and found that 30% was a good default estimation of shrinkage. If you know what your team's average time spent in time off, meetings, training, breaks, etc are - you can calculate a closer number that works for you.  A common mistake is that people will just add 30% staffing on top of their production number, but really you need to add 30% on top of each new person you add as well as they'll have their own shrinkage too.  This will help you 

    Service Levels & Coverage

    Another consideration to account for is your response time and service level commitment. If you purely look at a daily or weekly workload, you may not be accounting for staffing you have to have just to cover basic schedule coverage.  If you are 24/7 you may have to have a minimum of 3 people staffed at all times even if overnight volumes only suggest enough for one person worth of work. This is mostly due to the potential for someone needing to call out - and someone needing to take a break.  This is more important for phone/chat support with rapid response times - but it's worth considering if you have fast response times.  Typically when looking at the randomness of incoming volume, teams will move to a WFM solution to help calculate a demand curve for Service Level calculations for phone calls. 

    Time Tracking in Zendesk

    When working with Zendesk tickets, something to take into consideration is that the Time Tracking app only considers time where a ticket is open, and it may not capture the full time an agent is working as they might close out of a ticket tab or walk away during a shrink period (lunch, meeting, etc) that shouldn't be counted as productive time. This is going to skew your number for productive time in some capacity.  Time Tracking is a good first step - but you'll have some challenges getting accurate time tracking.  I recently saw Tempo had a really nice time tracking app and it might be worth looking at Tymeshift for something a lot more full features in the workforce management space.  I haven't used either of them directly, but I've talked with both teams and they are impressive looking. 

    Overall Capacity Planning Considerations

    Monthly forecasts are really helpful here in understanding what you need.  This should include shrinkage expectations for each month.  If you have weekly forecasts in place, it may be worth looking to see if one week is higher than the others and staff to that week as your hiring target for that month. You can always ask your team to try to target controlled shrinkage activities like mandatory trainings or meetings in lower volume weeks. You might know that HR always has mandatory training in September - account for that in your plan.  You may also want to include hiring, and projected attrition in your model.  Each month have a factor to show how many people you expect to gain/lose each month.  It helps you understand and visualize the actual staffing each month. 

    Some other resources I've found valuable. The Call Center School courseware was really comprehensive in learning how to do workforce management well.  It covered inbound, outbound, chat, and back office type scenarios when I went through it a few years ago.   Maggie Klenke rewrites her books every few years to keep them relevant and the one I read a few years back was like a WFM bible, they are available at the SWPP site.  Both resources were system agnostic which was great to help you get fundamentals down to pull into whatever system worked best. 

    It's been a few years since I've worked directly in WFM, so I'm sure some of my terminology is a bit rusty above, but hopefully the links can guide you to some resources on fresher resources to help answer questions a bit better. 


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